State Del. Elijah E. Cummings, most likely the next U.S. congressman from the 7th District, took the podium last Wednesday to talk before a group assembled at the Laurence G. Paquin School. But he wasn't there seeking votes.
He had come to talk about adoption -- adopting black boys, specifically, who are in foster care the longest and are the hardest to place, according to state Secretary of Human Resources Alvin C. Collins. Cummings had come to talk of the need for adoption and used a boyhood friend named Gerald as a parable.
"My parents had seven children and unofficially adopted a neighborhood boy," Cummings reminisced. That boy was his childhood chum Gerald. His parents working-class poor folks with already enough mouths to feed took Gerald in after his father died of a heart attack.
"My parents didn't officially adopt Gerald," Cummings said. "They just did it." In school, the unofficial foster brothers were in a special education class. The two made a pact to get out of special education together. Today Cummings is speaker pro tem of the House of Delegates, and Gerald is a brain surgeon in Boston who sends the church Cummings' mother attends about $10,000 annually.
Such is the lesson of a successful adoption. Secretary Collins called a summit meeting at Paquin to address the crisis of black boys in foster care. The theme was "One Man-One Boy: Give a Boy a Dream." Collins said the issue of adopting African-American males is "a big one with me" and wants more people to do what Cummings' struggling parents did: provide a nurturing environment for black boys in the child care system.
"All these kids need is a good loving home," Collins said. Of prospective foster parents, Collins added, "You don't need to be rich. You don't need to be married. You don't need to own a home."
Dr. Carol W. Williams, an associate commissioner with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, added her testimonial by telling a tale of two boys. One, Demeron, has been a foster child since birth and has yet to be adopted. The other, Robert, also was a foster child at birth "and languished in the system of six years," Williams said.
"He tested dull [to] normal on his IQ tests" after being placed with an unmarried man. Today, Robert is 20, an honors scholar at the University of Notre Dame and an athlete. He is not unique, Collins said. Many "Roberts," once placed with families, go on to lead successful lives as adults.
Boys who don't have the "good loving homes" Collins referred to run the chance of being "adopted by the streets," Cummings said. He told the tale of one boy whom he met at City Hall. The boy's mother stopped Cummings in the hallway.
"I need to talk to you," the woman said. Cummings told the woman he had to see some other people and would attend to her afterward.
"I need to see you now!" the woman insisted. Cummings relented. The woman said her problem was her son, whom she could no longer control. Cummings talked to her son, who revealed his tale of how the streets had sucked him in.
It started with the hoodlum element befriending the boy. Soon, they were buying him expensive athletic shoes and jackets his mother couldn't afford. He eventually carried drugs for the dealers and by age 9 was selling drugs and toting a gun. If his thuggish overlords had told him to, the lad confessed, he would kill his own mother in a heartbeat.
That poor boy is probably forever lost to the streets. Collins wants more black boys adopted before they are lost forever in the foster care system. The Baltimore Department of Social Services has put out a calendar of 12 such adorable boys ranging from 3 to 8 years old just waiting for a loving family to take them in. Ralph is a "tall, thin 9-year-old who likes math and basketball." Lamar is 8 and "considers himself a champion chess player." Marquiese is also 8 and "does well in his studies."
Those who don't want to adopt out of compassion might want to do so out of self-interest. Among these boys may be the next Michael Jordan, Bobby Fischer or Albert Einstein.
Gregory P. Kane's column appears Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Pub Date: 3/20/96