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Black kids in Mennonite families bridge 2 worlds

By Carolyn Davis

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Published: Friday, Dec. 30 2011 7:07 p.m. MST

Malachi sat on the short ledge bordering a public playground one day after classes and said he didn't really remember his mother, who is from New Jersey. When he was about 2, Autumn took him to visit her in the Riverside Correctional Facility. For his third birthday, his mother, still at Riverside, sent him a card and a toy milk truck. When he was 4, he and Autumn visited his biological grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins in New Jersey over the July 4 holiday.

His biological half-sister lives with a Mennonite family about a 40-minute drive away, so he sees her a few times a year when the two families get together.

Autumn still takes Mikal to Philadelphia for monthly visits with his birth mother.

Malachi wonders about his biological relatives. "I just want to see them again — they're really nice."

He doesn't think he feels different from the boys and girls around him, though some children from a Mennonite church the family doesn't attend have said mean things.

Malachi looked down toward the playground's shredded blue rubber surface and lowered his voice. "They say, 'You have ugly black skin.'" Malachi shrugged when asked his reply. "They just don't play with me."

Said Autumn, standing nearby, "I always hoped my own kids wouldn't face things like that. But I told myself, 'They will.'"

She has warned her children that people might say unkind things about their skin color, that the words will sting, that the they should tell Autumn and Justin how they feel when it happens.

The parents also advise them to walk away from those situations or calmly ask the other person, "What is it about me that you just can't accept? You know color is only skin deep."

As she talked, Autumn seemed to feel pangs from her past.

"In God's eyes, we're all the same. There is no race," she said. "Of course, when you look around, there are all kinds of colors. In the real world, there is a difference. It's not always easy when the difference is you."

Online:

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Information from: The Philadelphia Inquirer, http://www.philly.com

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