You may have read a bit about my family’s unique story in my own feature, but I finally got the chance to talk to one of the “founding members” and I am excited to share her perspective with you. To recap, here is a “Reader’s Digest” overview so you get an idea of where Deena is coming from.
I (Skye) have four biological siblings who were born to a white mother (Shelley) and black father (Blanche). Our mom passed away in 2002, which left our 65 year old father to care for five kids. Before our mom passed, she and our dad named Deena and Steve Parker (who they had become very close friends with) as our Godparents. After a while, Deena and Steve realized that it was not in our best interest to continue living with our dad, so we all made the mutual decision to move in with them (and their 3 kids) and they became our legal guardians. We quickly became one big family and have never looked back!
NAMES AND AGES OF ALL FAMILY MEMBERS:
Deena Parker / 55
Steve Parker / 57
Stevie Young (Parker) / 30
Gunnar Martin / 29
Ali Parker / 28
Skye Felsing (Martin) / 28
Kolt Martin / 27
Chase Parker / 26
Rane Martin / 24
Huntar Martin / 22
Blanche Martin / 79
Shelley Bristol-Martin / deceased
RACE/ETHNICITY OF EACH FAMILY MEMBER
Deena Parker - German, Norwegian
Steve Parker - Native American, German, other European
Stevie, Ali, Chase - German, Norwegian, Native American, other European
Blanche Martin - African American. Possibly of West African Heritage
Shelley Bristol-Martin - Euro-Caucasian mix of Scottish, French, German and English
Gunnar, Skye, Kolt, Rane and Huntar - half Euro-Caucasian and half African American
WHERE DO YOU LIVE?
Our families both have their roots in Mason, Michigan, but most of us have since moved to different states.
Deena, Steve, Skye, Huntar, Blanche - Lansing/Mason, MI
Ali - Los Angeles, CA
Gunnar and Rane - Atlanta, GA
Chase - Denver, CO
Kolt and Stevie - Chicago, IL
HOW DID YOUR FAMILIES MEET?
Ali and Skye played on the same soccer team so they became friends. I (Deena) met Shelley through arranging rides to practice and we became friends.
WERE THERE ANY SIGNIFICANT OBSTACLES TO YOUR FAMILIES COMING TOGETHER?
I wouldn’t call them significant obstacles because none them kept us from bringing our family together. There was some push back from Shelley’s family. They were concerned about the kids not growing up with family and if they would get the attention they needed with so many kids under one roof. There were judgements from people in the community and negative opinions. None of it was really about the kids being a different race though. It was more about who were the best people to raise the kids. Should they stay with their dad or move in with other people? We did have concerns of course. About the kid’s personalities, would they get along? Was this even possible financially? And logistically? How would we fit everyone in the house? None of our concerns were about adding 5 half-black kids to our family.
WHAT TRADITIONS DO YOU CELEBRATE IN YOUR HOME?
Our traditions have come from a melding of our two families traditions. Both families celebrated Christmas, so when we started celebrating together we just made our own new traditions, like Christmas Olympics.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FAMILY TRADITION? WAS THIS TRADITION FROM ONE OF YOUR FAMILIES OR DID YOU CREATE IT TOGETHER?
Anything that involves everyone. All the kids live all over the country and any time we can all be under the same roof is my favorite.
IS THE COMMUNITY YOU LIVE IN DIVERSE?
The community that our family started in is not very diverse. It’s a mostly white, small town, though over the years it has started to become more diverse. Even though our community isn’t very ethnically diverse, all the kids were always very culturally aware and understood that people were different from them and that was OK. Now, most of us live in very diverse places and it’s great to have so many different places to visit!
IS YOUR EXTENDED FAMILY SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR BLENDED FAMILY?
Yes they are and they always were. They all thought we were crazy, but they never thought it was a bad idea.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR YOUR BLENDED FAMILY?
How all of the kids love each other and have figured out how to make it all work. I love that they are all friends and know they can count on each other for anything.
HOW WAS THIS TYPE OF BLENDED FAMILY RECEIVED WHEN THE KIDS WERE IN HIGH SCHOOL?
When the kids were younger people would ask if we were their real parents. I think in our day that would have been more prevalent and I think there would have been a lot more open judgement. But still, when the kids were younger we dealt with a lot stares and people not knowing what to say.
WHAT IS THE MOST SURPRISING/UNEXPECTED THING YOU'VE LEARNED FROM HAVING A MIXED RACE FAMILY?
That love overcomes adversity and obstacles in ways you could never imagine. I already knew that, but having our big, crazy family has just reinforced that truth.
ARE THERE ANY COMMENTS YOU ARE REALLY TIRED OF HEARING FROM PEOPLE IN REGARDS TO RACE/CULTURE?
It really only happened when we were out with one or two of the kids, people always wanted an explanation of why the kids didn’t look like us. The most frustrating thing was how it affected the kids individually. I felt that some of the kids were more singled out in some situations.
WHAT ACTIONS WERE TAKEN TO TEACH THE CHILDREN ABOUT EACH FACET OF THEIR CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS?
Only when the kids had to do school projects. It never really came up.
DID YOUR CHILDREN ASK ABOUT RACE?
It wasn’t something that we ever emphasized. The Martin kids asked their parents about it, but once our families came together it never really go brought up.
DO YOUR CHILDREN IDENTIFY AS MIXED OR SOMETHING ELSE?
The Martin kids identify as mixed race, but each one has their own interpretation. The Parker kids identify as white.
HOW WERE THE KIDS RAISED TO HONOR DIVERSITY IN OTHERS?
Just teaching them to love each other and others for who they are and no other reason.
WHAT DOES BEING PART OF A MULTI ETHNIC, BLENDED FAMILY MEAN TO YOU?
I think it means there is more love to go around. I think we all learn from each other because we are unique individuals with unique perspectives.
WHAT IS YOUR DREAM FOR YOUR CHILDREN’S FUTURE AND THE FUTURE OF AMERICA IN REGARDS TO RACE?
I’m more concerned about everyone just accepting everyone for who they are. I don’t want race or ethnicity to be the first thing my kids think of when they see someone. I really want people to focus on the positives things and not so much on the negative. I don’t want to ignore race or the problems America has with race, but I do wish there was more positivity about it all.