Tag Archives: B.J. Lifton

Lessons from Harvard, B.J. Lifton . . . and Oprah

February 1, 2011

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/gRuGHW

I attended two events over the past weekend that, in very different ways, made me think of Oprah Winfrey (who is on the minds of many of us inside and outside the adoption world of late).

On Friday and Saturday, I participated in a national conference at Harvard University that focused on ideas to help the high number of African American children in our country’s foster care system. The conference didn’t address adoption much, but some speakers talked about the importance of children and youth maintaining biological ties, others touched on identity issues, and yet others broached the impact on parents and siblings of separating children from their families of origin. Those are all big, universal themes that affect tens of millions of Americans to varying degrees at various times of their lives. And, of course, they’re all significant concerns within the adoption community.

For a couple of hours in the middle of Saturday, I excused myself from the brain-straining conversation at Harvard to attend to a matter of the heart: I crossed the street in Cambridge to join a packed room of people paying tribute to B.J. Lifton, a spectacular human being and cherished friend whose recent death I still cannot quite believe or accept. It was a powerful, moving memorial service during which speaker after speaker directly addressed one adoption issue after the other, in particular B.J.’s passion for greater openness, honesty and restoring the right of adoptees to access their original birth certificates.

Oprah’s name didn’t come up at either event, but it was impossible for me, and I’m sure for many others, not to feel her presence. That’s because the media superstar’s revelations last week – that her mother had placed a child for adoption nearly 50 years ago, that she had now reunited with her half-sister, that she had herself given birth to a baby when she was 14 – along with the commanding images and emotional words of all three women, brought myriad adoption issues into the homes of a huge number of Americans to an extent they probably have rarely, if ever, experienced before.

At their core, of course, they were the same issues that resonated at both events I attended over the weekend. What one of the most famous and respected women in the world did was provide televised testimony for some essential truths: that people who create lives never forget them, and deeply grieve their loss; that everyone wants to know from where and from whom they came, regardless of their circumstances; that sibling relationships are innately powerful magnets, rivaling those that draw together parent and child; and perhaps most pointedly and poignantly (and certainly most clichéd), that truth and honesty beat all the alternatives, in adoption as in other aspects of life. Without question, they lead us onto the road to healing, however difficult and complicated the journey might be. Continue reading