Jessica: Hey, everyone. Welcome back to the Going Scared podcast. Join me here every week for conversations that encourage you to live a life of purpose by leaving comfort and going scared. I am so excited to be back here with you as we kick off a new podcast series. In this season of high tensions, elections, an ongoing pandemic, let’s face it: we’ve been quick to judge, cancel each other, and in many cases, we lost opportunities for understanding and connection when confronted with people we don’t agree with.
Learning to listen, really listen, is one of the most radical acts of love. Do you need help in this area? I know I am always looking to grow and how to listen and how to have difficult conversations. The kind of conversations where I open myself up to feedback or conflict or setting boundaries or I’m simply able to say what I believe with someone who may not believe the same things.
Learning how to have these conversations is the heart behind this new series. Join me as we spend these coming weeks learning the art of difficult dialogue. What does it look like to agree to disagree? Beyond finding common ground, I hope these coming episodes offer an opportunity for you to see what lies on the other side of discomfort and disagreement and how important it is for us to really listen to each other.
To kick off this series, we are joined by Sam Collier. Sam is a pastor, speaker, writer, and host of the “A Greater Story with Sam Collier” TV Show and radio podcast. He just launched his first book, so go check it out on Amazon. “A Greater Story: My Rescue, Your Purpose, and Our Place in God’s Plan.” Sam is Black and was adopted by Black parents out of the foster care system. He shares his story today, but what made this a difficult and vulnerable conversation for me is I wanted to understand his perspective on me. On me being a white woman who adopted a Black son. I will forever hold on to his answers. Sam brings an incredibly compassionate presence and is a force of nature. He knows where he stands, and let me you tell you guys, he walks right in and he just stands. Here is my conversation with Sam.
Sam Collier: Confronting the Past and Shaping the Future
Jessica: I am so struck that in these times you are releasing a book, "A Greater Story." And it is about how we can tell our greater story through our trials. And I think a lot of us would say that 2020 has been a trial, I mean, in so many ways. And what do you think that we’re learning about ourselves kind of universally right now?
Sam: Well, I mean, well, first, I wanna say, I just appreciate you for even having me on, and for highlighting this book, for highlighting even my voice, and even for following me on Instagram, it’s been a great time just to interact back and forth. Love what you’re doing around the world. What you represent, my wife, obviously, can’t stop talking about it enough. But also, I’ve spent my time in just research. I’m just like wow, Jessica, Noonday, I mean, it’s just incredible. The impact that you’re having around the world and so I’m grateful. I think as we talk about, what are we learning, I think we’re learning a lot, Jess. Can I call you Jess?
Jessica: Go for it. I like it. We’re there. Thirteen minutes, we’re in it.
Sam: I think that we’re learning so much. I think a couple of things that we’re learning. One, I think we’re learning what we need to work on. There’s something about isolation that reveals who you naturally are and who you have become and what you’ve been pushing down. I don’t think… I don’t know if this is religious podcast at all, but…
Jessica: It’s kind of a little bit of everything.
Sam: Right. We just kind of flow in and out. I think… I don’t think God creates pandemics, right? I don’t think He causes, if you will, the darkness of the world. I do think He leverages it. I do think He uses our trouble to get the greater things out of us and to make the world better. Many people say, "Well, does God give cancer?" I don’t think God gives cancer, but I do think He uses it. And I think what He has done in this moment is He’s leveraged this pandemic, that has been horrific for all of us to make us better, to lift up the cobwebs. In the midst of this, it’s been “Okay, well, now that everybody is at home, Black Lives Matter, right?” Okay. It’s like, here we go. We’re gonna have civil unrest all around the world, and you’re not gonna be able to get away from it because you’re not doing it.
“I don’t think God creates pandemics, right? I don’t think He causes, if you will, the darkness of the world. I do think He leverages it. I do think He uses our trouble to get the greater things out of us and to make the world better.” Sam Collier
Jessica: That’s true.
Sam: And so, I think that… I think He has definitely done that. And I think He’s helped us, you know, suicide and anxiety is through the roof right now because people are having to wake up in their own skin every day and you gotta look at yourself in the mirror. When things were running, it was really easy for all of us to just run away from us. And now, I can’t because I’m in it all day. I think He’s fixing marriages. I think He’s bringing things to light, right? You can’t get away from your spouse anymore, right? You just… Every day, you’re still…
I think He’s bringing families closer together. You can’t get away from your kid, you got to raise them, you gotta love them, you got to create moments because they’re there every single day. So, I think one of the things that He’s doing is that He’s showing us what we need to work on, where we need to grow. I think the other thing that He is doing during this time is He’s showing us that we have more in us than we think. I think He’s showing us we have more in us than we think, that we’re stronger than we think, we can bear more than we thought we could bear, that we’re more agile than we thought we were.
Pressure makes diamonds, but it also lets you know how much you can really take. And it lets you know how much you can’t or how much you need to grow. Again, back to that first one, how much you need to grow. But I think I’ve seen so many people be strong in these moments, and I’ve seen so many people push further than they thought they could ever push just because they have the opportunity. So those are a couple of things that I think that we’ll learn.
Jessica: My next-door neighbors are this 80-year-old African American couple. And at the very beginning of shelter-in-place, we were hanging out in our front yards, and she just said, "Every kick in life is a boost." And when you hear that from an 80-year-old Black woman who has been through a lot it’s just it gave me… I just held on to that because at the beginning I thought Noonday was gonna fall apart and, I mean, people are slowly buying earrings. We’re all about gathering woman physically. Now suddenly, we couldn’t do that anymore. Our artisan partners are in these areas where there’s no COVID testing and there’s not enough ventilators if an outbreak, so they went into shelter-in-place. I mean, it was so intense. I’m happy to say we’re thriving, that women on a mission are unstoppable. That’s what I’ve learned during COVID. But I just held on to that and agree that we actually can thrive outside of our comfort zones. That’s the truth. But we don’t flow towards outside the comfort zone, we flow towards our comfort. And there’s good lessons to be learned, and so many lessons in your book, which is part memoir, call to action, reflection, part reality check. And what are some of the conversations that you’re hoping to start with the launch of your book?
Sam: Wow. I think for me, there’s a massive desire to let people know that in the midst of our chaos, with the help of God, He can bring order to it. He can take a mess and turn it into a message, a mess into a miracle. I think for me, my story — I met my biological family on the Steve Harvey Show for the first time in 25 years. And that’s what the story is about. Our life started in poverty, extreme poverty. We were rescued. Mom’s, our biological mom’s, steps trace back to a prostitution house, dad addicted to crack. He died from COVID a couple months ago, biological there. Hadn’t met him, maybe talked to him twice in my life, since we reunited with our family on the Steve Harvey Show. And, you know, me and my twin sister were counted out at birth. I mean, it was my parents came to adopt us, my adoptive parents, they told my parents that we wouldn’t be much because we came from poverty, we came from prostitution, we came from drugs. They said, "They’re probably gonna be mentally challenged." And they adopted us anyway. And…
Jessica: You and your twin sister, right?
Sam: Yeah. Me and my twin sister. And they felt like God was saying to them, "No, they’re gonna be okay. I put my hand on them." And my sister grew up to be an industrial engineer, dual scholarship to Spelman, Georgia Tech, and I’m doing all the things I’m doing today. But… And then we reunite 25 years later, it’s a miracle.
And I think God took our mess and He turned it into a message. And I think that’s one of the main things I want people to know during the season of unrest. Whether you’re Black, brown, Asian, Hispanic, white, and also of distress where, we’re in the midst of this pandemic. That it doesn’t matter how dark your situation gets, or no matter how much you lost. With the help of the Divine, you can make it and things can get better and you’re stronger than you think and you can pivot and you can do great things in spite of the pressure that you may have. I always say that it’s not about the cards you’ve been dealt, but it’s about how you play the hand. And that’s been my story.
We got dealt a crazy set of cards. No, we weren’t raised rich. We were raised in a middle-class family. But we had to do the best with what we had. I mean, the abandonment, the all sort of thing. We had to take our cards and we had to play them the right way. You know the story. There’s so many kids that they have crazy stories that have been adopted or in the foster system where they get dealt similar hands, but they still make other choices. And I think if you play your hand the right way, anything is possible. And so that’s the biggest message I wanna give to people in this season.
“I always say that it’s not about the cards you’ve been dealt, but it’s about how you play the hand. And that’s been my story.” Sam Collier
Jessica: Okay. So, I watched the Steve Harvey episode, and I cried my eyes out earlier today. And I am just thinking, okay, you know I have a son that we adopted from Rwanda. And Tony and Jack, I mean, Jack loves Tony can I just tell you because Tony is really funny and Jack, my son, is, kind of got that born comedian in him as well, really quick on his feet. And they bonded last summer, and God bless Tony because she’s thinking I’m getting away from my motherhood gig. And I’m like, "Hi, here’s my 10-year-old little rambunctious, smelly boy." So, I’m just imagining, you know you’re going on the show, with the thought you think that you’re going to go get word out, "We want to find our bio parents." But certainly, you know, this is the Steve Harvey Show. They pull those, you get a like, "And ta-da here they are." So, I was just on pins and needles during the first part of the interview like, "What’s Steve gonna pull out of hat?" So, were you thinking okay, something, "I’m gonna meet them today?" Take us back to that day.
Confronting the Past
Sam: Yeah. I mean, it was Chicago and they flew us up, and we get on the show and they tell us, "We’re so sorry. We couldn’t find anybody." Now, pause for a second. To back up a little bit, around age 24, my dad has this moment, my adopted dad, where he says, "It’s time to go find your parents." We’re like, "What are you talking about? So, what are you…" He said, God told me…" This is what he says. "God told me that Steve Harvey’s gonna help you find your biological family." I thought he was… I said, "You’ve lost your mind." But he has a barber shop… had a barbershop. He’s 84 now. He had a barbershop down on Auburn Avenue, and he would watch Steve Harvey every day and talk trash, I mean, cut hair. I mean, that’s what you do it’s a Black barbershop. He said that while he was watching Steve Harvey Show, God told him. And so, he comes home and he’s like, "You need to go do this." And he’s like, "You could grow up one day and marry your cousin and you’d never know it." I said, "What?"
Jessica: You make a really good point.
Sam: It’s just like, what? And so, I thought he was crazy. "And Steve Harvey’s gonna help you do it". I got up and walked out. And he convinces my sister two weeks later to write in to the show. So, I’m like, "Why did you write in to the show?" And she was like, "Because he just kept yelling and Steve Harvey’s not gonna call us back anyway. It’s all good." A year goes by. My sister calls me, I answered the phone. She says… I said, "Hello,” she says, “The Steve Harvey Show just called me, now they’re go call you. Bye!" and hung up the phone. I said, "What?" In the next five minutes, my phone rings, it’s The Steve Harvey Show. I answer. Dorothy says hello. And she says, "Hey, I just get hired on the job. I used to work at Jerry Springer." I was like, "What?" And she says, "Well, they gave me 100 stories. Yours is the top on the stack. We think we can help you find your parents. Do you wanna do it?" I said, "Well, let me call my sister." I call my sister and she says, "I don’t wanna do it but I feel like we have to do it. This doesn’t just happen." They fly us up to Chicago. And they say, "We’re sorry. We hired a private detective, but we couldn’t find anyone."
Jessica: Pause for one second. It sounds like you and your sister… This was directed from your adoptive dad. It sounds like there hadn’t been this big pull from you and your sister like, "We need to go find our bio parents."
Sam: Right. Here’s the deal. Had it not been my dad, I probably would have been 50 before I even thought about it. In my head, it was like, "Oh, I guess, one day we should go do that." Right?
Jessica: There wasn’t this big hole in your heart, this missing piece of your story. I’ve got this longing that was pulling you. It really was your dad saying, "Gosh, I don’t want you to marry your sister on accident."
Sam: Right. It was… It was 100% him. And I say this: If adoption is done right, and there can be many things on how you think. I think God helps with that. But if it’s done well, if it’s a loving family, if there’s a great amount of acceptance, if there’s honesty along the way, that not perfection, but love and honesty and health and some sort of value system that hopefully is rooted in maybe some spirituality but even if whatever, if it’s done right, then it fills the holes that you may have had from not knowing. And it doesn’t happen in everybody’s case. But I think…
Jessica: For you and your sis.
Sam: … for me and my sister, we never had a hole. And that for a lot of people is very shocking. So, even as I tell people the story, they’re kind of like, "Oh, aren’t you so excited?" Even after we… We were just like, well, I mean, my biggest concern before we go on even as, is, you know, where do I put you. I don’t know where to put… Okay. Pause. Okay. Go back to the story. So, we go on the show. And they say, "We didn’t find anybody. And we want you to come on and make a plea that maybe they would show up." So, we’re backstage rehearsing lines. I don’t know if you have you ever been on a talk show, but at the time, I was kind of a public figure, but not really. And so, they kind of just had me on as kind of a regular guest and this is a story and all of that. And so they’re making you rehearse your lines. They write your lines because they want to make sure you don’t sound crazy. And so, you’re going over these lines. And, I mean, we probably went over those lines just for, I mean, like 10 times. And so, we get on the show and in my mind, I’m going, "There may be a 50% chance they’re lying because it’s national television, but, ah, who knows?" And so, we get on the show and we make this plea and we go to commercial. And Steve Harvey is just crazy. So, on the commercial break, “Earth, Wind, and Fire” comes on. He’s singing in the crowd. I mean, it’s…
Jessica: Steve Harvey is a Noonday fan by the way, just…
Sam: Come on. Let’s go. Let’s go. I love Steve. We were able to reconnect. He knows about the book. And, you know, “Earth, Wind, and Fire” goes on. So, we’re just… I mean, it was crazy. So, we come back after commercial break, and he’s, "We’re here with these twins." And he looks at us and says, "We know we told you we didn’t find anybody but that’s not the case. Your biological mother is here. Eleanor, come on out." And our mother walks out, and we meet her for the first time on national television. And then he says, "And your siblings are here." Which, we didn’t even know we have siblings, same mother, same father, and we all look alike, and there we are. And the point I was trying to make was my biggest battle after that was not, "Oh my gosh, there’s this thing that’s been complete," even though it was helpful. It was, "Where do I put you? Because the mom hole is already filled, the dad hole is already filled. It’s easier to add my brothers and sisters because it’s kind of like cousins. But, mom, I don’t know where to put you." So…
Jessica: And you said something that I wanted you to break down. It was something about your spirit was saying, thank you, but your mind was saying something else. Tell us a little bit about the tensions that you’re holding in that moment of meeting your biological mother on national TV.
Sam: Yeah. I think the tensions were one of the reasons why we wrote the book. Just to explain more about what happens in this process. I think for me, if you look at the clip, I put my head down. And I put my head down because our mother walks out and I kind of freeze. And I freeze because I’ve got 100 emotions going on at the same time and I don’t know which one to choose. And at the same time, I’m on national television, and I’m going, "You’re not crying, and your sister is. You need to figure out what to do." And so, I put my head down because I’m going, "People are gonna think I’m crying, which is great for people. And then two, it helps me figure out what the heck is going on."
“And I put my head down because our mother walks out and I kind of freeze. And I freeze because I’ve got 100 emotions going on at the same time and I don’t know which one to choose.” Sam Collier
Jessica: Right. Good strategy.
Sam: Right. And so, as these emotions, I’m happy, I’m sad, I’m mad, I’m angry, I’m surprised. I’m like, "God, what am I supposed to do? I think I’m mad at Steve, but I don’t know if I should be. Like, how do I approach my mom?" I’m just like, "What in the world." And honestly, I hear the Lord say to me, "Snap out of it, you’re on national television." And I snapped out of it. I get up and give her a hug. But I think the tension for me in that moment was I just didn’t… It was just so much at one time. I’m like, "What’s the right response?" And, again, I didn’t know she was coming out so I’m like, I didn’t have time to prepare.
Jessica: Did you later feel a little bit exploited for this story, or do you feel like you had approached The Steve Harvey Show anyway with the intention that they could help find your parents?
Sam: Yeah. I think, I think we went on there for that. I think we were okay. I think 50%… We knew there was a 50/50 chance that they would find her or that they were lying. You know what I’m saying? And so, I didn’t really feel that they got us. I felt more so they were just trying to create television, and we kind of put ourselves in that fire, and so, you know, it’s gonna get a little hot. And I was okay with it. I think they let me tell the story afterwards. I think had they not let me really even be on here talking about it and write a book about it and all that other stuff that I probably would have felt some type of way. But they let me take it and tell it. So, it’s been cool.
Jessica: It’s so brave. I mean, it’s extremely brave to be that vulnerable. That’s what I was feeling the whole time is, what a brave man and your sister to embrace your story, and then says so much too of your adoptive parents who are also present on the show that day who were so proud and so excited for you to make this connection. It did make for good television because it’s truly a beautiful story which is why you wrote a book about it and why everyone after listening to this interview is going to go purchase your book because it’s a beautiful story. And I don’t know if you know this but Noonday Collection, we started as an adoption fundraiser to adopt my little guy from Rwanda and we continue to do givebacks to families that were adopting. So, we’ve given almost a million dollars…
Sam: Oh my gosh.
Jessica: … to adoptive families over the last 10 years. But I have to tell you, and this is new water for me that I’m just gonna jump in and swim because we’re not live and my producer can edit. I was nervous. Jack is amazing. He is my son, full on fully my son. But obviously when I’ve been around Black people, which were around Black people out in our neighborhood, etc, that I’m always aware, how am I being perceived? Am I this white savior? And I think I’ve played down our adoption story a bit over the years because of being afraid of how I would be perceived and obviously not wanting Jack to just be this story. I’m curious. As a child who is an adoptee, as a Black man, what could the conversation be with me about how I can enter into Jack’s story or even deeper into the African American community having a Black son? A part of me is like, would you have judged me before your Christian gap experience? If you would have seen me walking and then like, "Who does she think she is?" You know?
Opening a Dialogue
Sam: Wow. I… First of all, I’m glad you brought it up. I think it’s great that you brought it up. I got… I have a lot to say about it. Let’s…
Jessica: Say whatever. That’s what this series is all about, just putting it out there.
Sam: Yeah, I think that the first question, would I have judged you before my Christian gap experience? I don’t know. I don’t know what I would have thought. I think… I don’t know that I would have thought anything bad. I think I probably would have thought what I think now. But well, let me say this, a portion of what I think now because I have a lot about this, on this topic. I think what I would have thought probably before is ”Man, I’m glad he was adopted.” I would be concerned about him having a Black experience.
So, my biggest hope and desire would probably be in that moment, I hope that she sets up experiences and a lifestyle for him that exposes him in his culture, and puts him around his culture so that he can have a sense of identity there. Now, I think… So, I probably would have thought that but also would have been grateful that he was adopted. Here’s what I wanna say though, overall.
There are more black kids that need to be adopted than any other race in America. I think you know that. Black kids are the last ones to get adopted. But also, there’s a huge poverty issue overseas. So, there’s a ton of Black kids that need to be adopted over there too. I said all of that to say, if every person in the world adopted a kid, no matter what color they were, we would save the world. And whenever I get into conversations with… and I haven’t been privy to many of them, with Black families or Black people that try to judge white people. Again, I haven’t been in that many yet, you probably have seen more. People tend not to, I guess, have the conversation with me. I don’t know why I just never been around it. But if I’ve ever been even asked that dialogue, my thing is, ”Well were you gonna adopt him?”
“If every person in the world adopted a kid, no matter what color they were, we would save the world.” Sam Collier
Jessica: Yeah. Right. Right.
Sam: Because… Go ahead, you go.
Jessica: Well, I can’t because I don’t think my primary concern is how I’m being perceived by the Black community. I guess, maybe what I would like to ask is for you to… because we do have a lot of adoptive moms that listen to this podcast and I know that it would be remiss of me to not go deeper into that part of your story, because I think you might be the first Black adoptive adult maybe that I’ve had a conversation with, that I know of. So, I just wanted to take the opportunity to just, and this podcast series is all about hard conversations. So, what does… When you say you want him to be exposed to more Black experiences, what does that look like for you?
Sam: Yeah. I mean, one, I definitely think being okay with being white and adopting a Black kid is very important. It’s very important. Because, out of that place, as the only reason I kind of went in that direction was because out of that place determines how you interact with the development of his experience, right? If you think that Black people are gonna judge you for having a Black son, then you’ll be apprehensive to expose him to Black culture.
Jessica: That’s a really good point.
Sam: …because you feel like, "Oh, they didn’t want me over there either." Again, I think the majority of Black Americans are going, “Hey, like somebody has to take care of these Black is like that somebody has to take care of them.” I would have… I got adopted by a Black family, which is not that common. But had I not been adopted by a Black family, I would have loved to be adopted by a white family because I needed to be adopted by somebody. Because in that system, the statistics, and you know in the foster care system, I don’t know if it’s 30% or even more in the prison come from foster care. And in other countries, almost 60% of people in prisons come out of foster care because they don’t have a stable home.
A good friend of mine, Reggie Joiner, he runs organization Orange. They do curriculum, they do tours, they do this, but they focus on the development of the next generation. And he says this, and I totally agree with it, "Every kid is one loving adult away from being a success story. Every kid is one loving adult away." And so, it’s the same thing when we start talking about what you’re doing. What you’re doing is amazing. And I’m not here, I know you’re gonna, you know, to praise you or just to make you feel because I know you may feel like that. I’m really being honest and serious about the idea that if you didn’t adopt him who’s gonna adopt him? And it needed someone to step in. So, I don’t wanna… I don’t think we need to diminish or come down against white families that are adopting Black kids. I think we need to continue to encourage everyone to adopt more kids that are of the Black persuasion because the reality is they’re not being adopted.
So, with that being said, take pride in what you’ve done because it is helping to save a life. There’s a difference between helping to save a life and the white savior complex. There is a difference. The white savior complex is, "If I didn’t step in and as a…” Let me say it this way. I’m finding my identity in adopting. That’s a different story, as opposed to, I am doing the work of generosity and I’m doing the work of sacrifice so that someone that didn’t have without could now have. If you find your identity in that, then now we’ve entered into white savior. But if you find your identity, one, and depending on Christians out there, in Christ, but then, two, just in being there for someone that needs you, and understanding that you’re leveraging the influence and the resources that you’ve been given for the sake of somebody else, which is why we’ve been given resources anyway, then now you’re doing a phenomenal work.
So out of that place, I know I just went a long way to get back here, out of that place is how do we now steward the gift we’ve been given? How do I now steward this the best way? So, if I would… I’m gonna flip it on its head and kind of take it out of black and white zone and go if I go and adopt a Hispanic kid I would do it that way. Heck, if I adopted a kid from Nairobi, then I would try to build into the way that I’m raising them connections back to their culture. And is that going to be easy? Yes and no. Yes and no. And it’s not gonna be easy just because of the history of our country, the history of our world, so on and so forth. But even for me, I’m not Hispanic. So, what that would mean is that I would have to go and now build relationships in the Hispanic community for them to be exposed to where they come from. Now, where I will probably start is in where I’m taking them to school. I will probably start with finding diverse environments. I always say this. You gotta be on the role, Jessica. You gotta be on the role. I’m sorry. I told you I had a lot to say.
Sacrifice, Intentionality, and Stewardship
Jessica: We just switched all of our kids to… I love this role. I really was… This is kind of one of the conversations I was wanting to have but yeah, we just switched. I mean, his new middle school has a Black principal, and it’s the most diverse school I could find in Austin, which, by the way, has had Black flight because all of the white tech companies have come here. So, it’s not a very diverse city. I mean, like, I go to Atlanta, I’m like, "Whoa, this is amazing." I love Atlanta. But, yeah. And that’s one reason we took Jack to Rwanda last summer was for his 10th birthday, that’s what he wanted to do. And then, in particular, it was really awesome for me to get to take him with a group of women where there were a lot of women of color on that trip, so he got to have this very multifaceted experience. And of course, because of my work with Noonday, we’re extremely connected with Rwanda. But he’s also learning about Rwanda’s history, which involves a genocide and a lot of heartache. And then now with the, George Floyd’s murder, we have had a ton of more conversations about the history that we have in America, how that’s impacting systematic racism now, and it’s a lot. And he’s just a little 11-year-old boy. So, I’ve just turned to "Blackish". "Blacklish" is just helping me through. Thank God for "Blackish."
Sam: Right. Thank God for "Blackish."
Jessica: We watch it every night. And that’s basically the context of how we’re having these conversations.
Sam: Well, it’s good. And I think what you’re talking about, you’re talking about intentionality and I always say this: the hardest work to do, as we talk about kind of the creation of culture, roads, all ministries, whatever, the hardest work to do is the diverse work. It’s easy to create a monolithic anything. It would be there, and how I relate it to kind of this is it’s easy to create one lifestyle that you live and have him just in that. It’s more difficult to create a lifestyle that includes another route that may be different from your average lifestyle or even from, I don’t know if you have other kids, but even from your other kids. And so, it’s harder, but it’s more rewarding. And after you build it, then it just starts to, you know, everything is downhill.
“It’s easy to create one lifestyle that you live and have him just in that. It’s more difficult to create a lifestyle that includes another route that may be different from your average lifestyle … it’s harder, but it’s more rewarding.” Sam Collier
But it’s a harder work. It’s a more self-sacrificial work and it requires a lot of intentionality and work on your end. And I think he’s gonna be better for it just be able to be… And let me say this. It requires, and I’ve said sacrifice, but I’ll say it again, it does require going, "Man, what’s the best place for us to go?" If that means I got to drive them an hour across town to go to school every day so that he can be around people that look like him, so that he can discover who he is, then I’m gonna do that. Now, there are some families that say, "No, we ain’t doing all that. That’s too much." But that I would say to that family, that family is forfeiting their responsibility for their own comfort. And a part of this work is going, you know, it was picking up the sacrificial stick when you adopted him and going, "You know what? I’m gonna adopt everything about who he is, and everything about what I have to do to now help." Again, it’s about stewardship, make him the best that he is supposed to be so that when he gets 24 and 25… When he’s 24 and 25 he can do his…he knows what to do, right? At that point.
Jessica: I hope he’s like you when he’s 24. I mean, you have… I mean, was just watching you on the show, I just was like, "Wow, he has such a strong sense of self."
Sam: Yeah. My Dad, I’m gonna tell you. My dad parented us like we were his kids, because we were. I mean, he parented the heck out of us. I wasn’t perfect at all. And when I say heck, I mean, good, bad and ugly. Can I tell your a story? And this is in the book, and I go deeper. I got suspended from school when I was 16 for 30 days, 30 days. I was messing with girl; I was living two lifestyles. It’s a whole nother story. But I grew up on hip-hop. So, I mean, that’s why I’m like adoption from poverty doesn’t save you from the ills of the world. It just gives you a proper foundation to hopefully make good decisions. And that doesn’t mean you always make good decisions. That’s why I talk about the cards you’ve been dealt. But I got suspended, messing with a girl, I was getting ready to do some things, did not do it, I got caught, got suspended. I went to a performing arts high school so they kind of made me an example, which Iget.
My dad has me at the house, and Jess, I sat at that table. I thought my life was over. Let’s just say that first and foremost. I thought it was over. I thought he was like, "Look, you’re never going outside again. Give you the keys. You’re getting your license when you’re 21." And he sat across that table from me with my mother, my adoptive dad, and he said to me, "At this point, we have taught you everything that you need. You know right from wrong. You get somebody pregnant, you gotta take care of them. You end up in jail, you got to get yourself out. But at this point, I am handing the keys to your life back to you." No punishment and that was it. Nothing. He said, "It’s on you now."
And can I tell you, I gave my life to God that night for the first time, by myself. I don’t know what happened, Jess. But something about him going, "It’s on you now," it was tough love. Something about him handing me the… That’s why I say he parented us. He didn’t take pity on us. It was like, "No, this your life. Let’s go. And I’m gonna be responsible for having the hard conversations. Because, I mean, you got found…” Let me say it this way. He never let us settle for our circumstances or our limitations. I couldn’t even imagine saying, "Well, our mother gave us up, so dah, dah, dah." Oh, I could not imagine. He would have looked at me and said, "Okay, so what? So, she gave you up. Okay, great. But what you gonna do now? You with us. You got a great job. You have somewhere to put your head, you can sleep, you got food, we do everything that you need. What are you going to do now? You just gonna be upset that she gave you up or are you gonna take, are you gonna take advantage of the opportunity you have now? Because you can spend your life…" I mean, that’s how he would talk to us. And it was that, because that’s how he would talk to his own kid. And so, it was that type of parenting that gave us a sense of foundation.
And sometimes he would go a little far, but it was fine. We were backstage, Steve Harvey Show, my sister was like, she has this breakdown. And she’s just like, "What if they don’t want us? I don’t wanna hate him." My dad is, you know, because she was kind of acting like she didn’t wanna go. And my dad was like, you know, this is when he went too far. But I just wanna kind of give you a glimpse into who he was. He’s just like, "You should be grateful. You should be grateful. She gave you up. You fine." You know what I’m saying? He’s just… That’s just who he was. I just want to give you… And I had to calm, I’m like dad come on now. So, then the counselor comes in and he says something to her that I’ll never forget, which is amazing. The counselor says, "Hey, what you came in here with, you’re gonna leave with. There’s nothing that you came in here with that you’re not gonna leave with. So, you came in here accepted, you came in here loved, you came in here supported, you’re not gonna lose it."
Jessica: That’s powerful
Sam: And to this day, my sister, I mean, my dad’s 84. She takes care of, I mean, we both take care of him. But she, I mean, she’s there every day, every day. So anyway, it’s just a little glimpse into it, so. But that’s why we’re so this way because my dad and my mom they were crazy.
Shaping the Future
Jessica: Well, I just appreciate you going there with me today. This new series is all about having hard conversations, and I think that what you just said, what that counselor said, if we can remember that, that we’re loved, that we’re accepted. I think oftentimes we think to go into more vulnerable conversations, especially with people that we love, we’re afraid that we will lose that. It’s that abandonment, that fear of abandonment, and sometimes that fear keeps us from going to those places of vulnerability. And when we can remember that we’re loved and we’re accepted, that nothing can change that, that really fuels you to be brave, to have the hard conversations, to be able to go on the Steve Harvey Show and meet your biological mom in front of the world. And you have that. I gotta meet your dad someday…
Sam: You gotta meet him. He’s…
Jessica: …up in Atlanta.
Sam: He’s strong, strong guy. You’re doing a great work, Jess. Let me say that don’t… I think if I could say anything to you, and we can talk offline about this, but hopefully this will help even other parents that have adopted. I think you’ve got to keep in the back of your mind, if you didn’t adopt him who would have? And there’s pride in that’s that’s a healthy pride, not I’m a savior kind of… No, there’s a… No, God gave him to you. And don’t ever be ashamed of that. And as somebody… as a Black boy, Black man who was adopted and rescued, I’m telling you, it saved my life. And what your son is gonna need and what all these kids are gonna need, no matter what color the persons that adopt him, is somebody that loves them no matter what, will fight for them, is not ashamed of them or to have them but will do everything they can to put them in the environment.
“What all these kids are gonna need, no matter what color the persons that adopt him, is somebody that loves them no matter what, will fight for them, is not ashamed of them or to have them but will do everything they can to put them in the environment.” Sam Collier
So, if that means, showing up every day at an African American symposium, right, and they looking at you like you crazy, it’s like, I don’t care about that because I got to steward this kid, and whatever hard conversations I gotta have again… And who cares what they think about you. I’m telling you as a Black man… And again, not everybody is that way so don’t even think that. But as a Black man that was adopted, he needs the fiery Jessica that built Noonday and that built everything that you have fighting on his behalf for everything he’s gonna be. Who cares what the naysayers say? They didn’t adopt him, and they probably wouldn’t have.
See, it’s the people that don’t do the work that then have something to say about the work. You got me be started. Don’t get me… It’s like people that try to come talk to me about race but have never done anything for race. It’s like, okay, you wanna talk to me about systemic oppression, but you’ve never done any work in the hood. You’ve never done any work there. I did work there for three years, we saved 80,000 kids, and you wanna talk to me about how to do race relations? You’re a critic from the sidelines without any receipts. Sorry, I’m going too far.
Jessica: No, your feed was one of the ones where I just would go and read all the comments because there was some crazy, good… Well, people that I knew weren’t crazy but were actually well-intended saying crazy things. You know? And you held that space. You held it. I don’t know how you do that. How do you do that?
Sam: Can I take you into a dark moment I had.
Jessica: Please, I’m here for it.
Sam: A dark moment I had — two weeks into the pandemic I was frustrated with everybody. I was upset with Black people, I was upset with white people, I was upset with Hispanic, I was upset with everybody. I was upset because what I was taught in civil rights and in cultural revolution is what Dr. King taught. And it was nonviolent resistance, speaking truth to power, love being the basis in which we come from, creating a sense, a level of agitation where protests are valued. But violence doesn’t work as a means to an end. Because, again, Dr. King always taught, and Jesus taught this, that whatever seeds you plant is the one you’re gonna reap.
So, violence only creates more violence. So, we don’t wanna plant a seed that we don’t wanna sow. So, I was upset because there were leaders that taught me that weren’t doing what they taught me. And so, I was like, wait a minute. Now all of a sudden, the pressure is on and now we’re about violence like, whoa, I’m all about progression, speaking truth to power, agitation for the sake of cultural advancement, right? And I’m all about also understanding where the violence is coming from. I empathize. But we don’t teach that either. So, I was upset with that. And then I was upset with white people that was just in the midst of the greatest civil unrest that we’ve had in the last 40 years still saying “all lives matter.” I’m like, "What are we talking about?" So, I was upset at everybody. And I got depressed for a moment to the point where I was like, I gave up. I said, I just, why am I the only one standing in the middle bridging the gap? And that’s how I felt. I felt alone.
I text Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece. She’s a mentor. She’s in the book. I’m really close with Martin Luther King’s daughter as well. But I text his niece. Her mother’s Dr. King’s sister. And I said to her that, I just expressed myself, and I said, "I don’t know where to stand, I feel alone." And she said to me, "You’re not alone. We know what’s right." Hername is Angela Watkins. "We know what’s right. You got to stand on what you know is right, no matter what anything looks like." And she said, "Fight from where you stand." And then she said something I’ll never forget. She said… she quoted Dr. King and said, "The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice." And then she said, "What we are witnessing right now is the bending."
And I don’t know what it was about that text, Jess, that helped me. But it gave me a sense of foundation, that no matter what was happening around me to pick where I was gonna stand and fight from there. And I was a little… the only thing I wanted to tighten up a little bit more, because I did a lot of research on MLK that night, was I wanted to be more truthful in my words, I wanted to speak more truth to power. I was speaking truth. But I felt like there was an unadulterated truth, unfiltered truth that he spoke in always, and I wanted to be more of that. So that was what I wanted to amp up and I did. And then I just stuck to my guns. And I think, and that really helped me because, in the midst of civil unrest around the world, you have so many people from, you know, you have polarizing views and all of this.
And what I’ve been telling people in this struggle that we’ve been in lately is there’s no one you can stand in this fight without getting hit. There’s nowhere. If you’re too liberal… if you’re liberal, you’re too liberal. If you’re conservative, you’re too conservative. If you’re in the middle, you’re too balanced. I mean, if you’re too loud, you’re too loud. If you’re too quiet, you’re not saying nothing, right? I mean, there’s nothing… there’s nowhere you can stand without getting hit. So, you might as well stand for what’s right. And so, for me, understanding that, what it said to me was, you’re gonna get hit no matter what. So, you might as well be who you’ve been created to be and what you’ve learned. Stand up your truth and stand up for what’s right and keep pushing the needle for it. Who cares what anybody else thinks? So, I had to get a sit… MLK’s niece had to ground me.
“There’s nowhere you can stand without getting hit. So, you might as well stand for what’s right.” Sam Collier
Jessica: What’s crazy, Sam, is that’s what you just did for me earlier. That’s exactly what you said to me. Stand in your story that God’s given you with your son, and who cares what anybody else thinks, and steward that story. So, it’s powerful. It’s powerful to stand. When you know, when you can stand, it’s only from that place I think that you can be a changemaker.
Sam: Yeah. Yeah, 100% you… We love Dr. King now, but many of the freedom fighters that we love today were hated in their life. When they were fighting, they was like…
Jessica: And like, he got assassinated, you know? He didn’t die of old age.
Sam: Come on, he was the most hated man in America when he died, and we look at him now as one of the most loved men in the world. But I think for me, it taught me… Because I think when we think cultural revolution and we think…we feel like we’re gonna be the knight shining armor, we’re gonna have our Superman capes on, and everybody’s gonna be screaming Superman, Superman look at how much you… But when you look throughout history, that’s not how freedom fighters were even regarded mostly.
Most of them were looked at as tyrants, and divisive individuals, and villains. They villainized our hero. And so, it’s interesting that now when we stand up for what’s right, we tend to bow out of the fight when we get a little pushback. It’s like, well, maybe I’m doing something wrong. It’s like no. When you stand up for what’s right, you’re not always gonna be loved. But you still gotta stand up. I mean, again, this is not a religious thing, I mean, but Jesus was crucified. It’s like, come on. And so, why do we think that we’re gonna get a pass from agitation when we stand up for what’s right? It’s gonna be… we’re gonna have to take some lashes, but that’s okay because what is the sake of the, you know, what is the future of the next generation worth? It’s worth everything.
Jessica: Oh my gosh. This was actually a really hard episode for Eddie to edit because Sam and I, we talked a lot. And I have continued to replay this conversation in my head because it was the first time that I’ve knowingly had a conversation with a Black man who was adopted. And this was really meaningful for me as the mother of a Black son who is adopted. Being white, I have just experienced a lot of insecurities about how I am perceived and wondering if I’m being perceived as this white savior.
Shedding light on this and engaging in this grounding, raw, honest conversation was uncomfortable for me. But I got to walk through it with Sam in the most remarkable way and I’m forever grateful for having spent this hour connecting with him. I hope it if you have any friends and your life that might be in the adoption process or have kids that they’ve adopted, I think this is a really important episode to share with them.
You know, this is the magic of exploring or discomfort and letting ourselves stay in these conversations, no matter how hard. And guys, we are just getting started. To keep up with Sam, head on over to agreaterstory.org. And as we kick off this new series, I would love for you to go ahead and review and rate the podcast. It’s going to help more people find this series, and I truly believe that this series is what we need right now.
Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my friend Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.