Have you ever experienced a moment where you had empathy for an individual and the struggle that they were going through? I mean, you had no direct relational experience with their issue, but your heart went out to them, particularly because you could see the pain that it was causing them. You may have prayed for them or offered them a word of encouragement, but soon you became so self-consumed and self-absorbed with your life and your schedule that their issue was just that…their issue. As sad as it was for them, it had no direct impact on you…until it did.
Let me ask you this: the last time you filled out an application for employment or answered the questions on a medical history form prior to seeing a new doctor or even completed an application for a new car, did you ever have to stop to ask yourself these questions:
Who am I?
Where was I born?
What is my identity?
Who are my parents?
Do I have siblings?
Is there some major health concern in my bloodline that I should know?
For most of us, these questions are easily answered. But there is a population of people who have never and possibly will never know this information. Not because they were too lazy to search for the answers, but because the law says they are not entitled. Yes, you read that correctly. There are laws in place in New York and in several other states that make it illegal for this segment of our population to access their identity or obtain their health records. Tens of millions of Americans are blocked from ever accessing their original birth certificates.
A very good friend of mine shared with me his frustrations with not knowing the answers to these questions. I knew that being adopted affected him greatly but, until now, I never really understood the true depth of his struggle. There has only been one other group of people in US History who could relate to what he was going through, only one other group has ever been legally denied access to their birth records…Slaves. He, being a black man, has been denied the right to know his identity not once but twice.
This does not affect every person who was adopted, but if an adoptee was born in a state that still has sealed records laws on the books covering the year that child was born, that person is not entitled to know any information regarding said adoption.
This is more than just a problem for those who were adopted. This is an issue for society as a whole. The fight for civil equality was not just a black and white issue. We all have rights to fundamental freedoms in our lives. Part of those fundamental freedoms includes knowing our identity. How dare law makers decide that any class of people be denied a right to know their identity, to know their ethnicity and to know their health history.
I read an article entitled, “When it is Illegal to Know Who You Are: Adoption & Adoptee Search, Unsealed Initiative, New York State” by Cynthia Cherish Malaran. The article was written in response to the Assembly hearing for the Adoptee Bill of Rights A909. The author was invited to a public hearing on legislation to allow Adoptees access to their original birth certificates. In the article, she mentioned an adult adoptee who was there to give her testimony. At this hearing, Ellen Mohr spoke of the void that she has carried in her heart all of her life as a result of being blocked from obtaining her original birth records. At the age of 87, her parting words were presented in the form of a question, “Who am I?”
Who am I? Can you imagine? Seriously, can you imagine living 87 years of life never knowing your true identity? Never having the right to find out information relating to your family, never fully understanding what your potential could be because you were never given the right to know your past? Let’s put this into perspective. Imagine your child being deathly ill, you take them to the doctor in hopes of finding the reason for the illness and most importantly the cure. The doctor begins asking you all sorts of questions relating to your family’s medical history in hopes of gaining an understanding of what is presently going on with them…You open your mouth to answer the questions only to realize that no words are coming out because you don’t know the answers. Your child could die because you don’t have the knowledge you need to save them. It doesn’t affect you until it affects you, right?
Granted, I am not an adoptee. I was blessed to know my birth family and I understand many of the giftings and personality traits that I possess, because I have had the privilege to observe similar traits in my family members. I know where my big nose comes from. I am fully aware of the source of the curves and the shape of my body. I know the origin of my quirky sense of humor and my artistic creativity. But I started this blog by saying this struggle did not directly impact me until it did. I have been impacted because I am human. I have been impacted because I believe that everyone should have the right to know who they are. I have been impacted because we all should know where we belong. How can we declare independence as a country and not allow freedom to the individuals within that country?
I hope this blog has opened your eyes and brought awareness to yet another venomous attack on our civil rights. The Unsealed Initiative movement needs our support. It needs our attention. If you or anyone you know has gone through the struggle of not being allowed access to their humanity, please encourage them to speak out. The only way we can make a difference is to make a difference. There is currently a bill that has been written to allow adoptees the right to finally obtain their Original Birth Certificates, but it has to be passed before adoptees can act upon it. I encourage you all to lift every voice and sing.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”
Declaration of Independence
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.