We Are Westmont 2012
Our community here at Westmont is made up of a wide array of different experiences, backgrounds, and identities. This session is geared at taking a deeper glimpse within our community to reflect on who we are as a Westmont community. The goals of this session are to encourage awareness about student diversity, to encourage students to be themselves, and to own their stories. We hope to spark conversations around tough issues like race, gender, faith, and history.
Name: Zach Erwin
I was an orphan who was left on the front steps of a police station one day. I was found and brought to an orphanage. From this moment on, my life changed. I was adopted and brought to the United States at the age of seven months from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia by two parents who happened to be white — parents who grew up in the Midwest and then relocated to California. 7 months later, my parents went back and brought home my sister from Ethiopia as well. Even though she was born in the same city that I was, we are not biologically related.
When I was a young child, I never noticed a difference between us. I always looked at my parents as my parents and nothing else. But as I became older, the reality became clearer to me. People began commenting more and more about my parents. I was questioned in many different settings, such as church, school, and in our neighborhood. I often got weird looks from people in the store. How our family was treated at the movie theater illustrates this well. My parents would pay for four tickets, but after they went in, my sister and I would be stopped until my parents said, “They are with us.” The possibility that I was adopted seemed like the last thing on people’s minds. People thought that either my parents were divorced so I had a white step-mom or vice versa, or that I was a foster child. When one of my parents was with me alone, most people thought my parents had a bi-racial marriage. Some other kids said they didn’t know what they thought, but they just didn’t understand. We were different and different attracts attention. A common question asked by many adults and peers is, “Do you know where your birth parents are?” I so wish that I could answer this with a yes, but unfortunately I can’t. In Ethiopia, a child may not be adopted unless their birth parents or significant relatives cannot be located. Since my adoption I have had no connection with or information about my birth parents, but it has always been a curiosity of mine to uncover the mystery of where they are. Someday I hope to travel back to Ethiopia and be gifted with a greater knowledge of my birth family and African heritage.
Through all of my life, I have dealt with and experienced some difficulties which I believe are connected to being black in a white community. For a long time, I have asked myself the question, “Where do I fit?” I have never seemed to find a set group of friends where I feel that I completely, one hundred percent belong. Sure, I have friends with whom I spend time, but finding that place where I fit in perfectly has been and still is a struggle. I have never had the opportunity to call somebody a best friend even though I have wanted to so badly. I don’t know if this is because I am black in my mostly white world, including school and church, or if it is just a typical part of growing up and discovering who I am. In junior high, I had a culture shock. For the first time I saw black kids sit separate from white kids at lunch. I had never seen this before. I had no idea where to even sit. I was faced with a clear choice that I never had to make before. I went to where I felt most familiar and comfortable ⎯ I sat with the white kids.
By this point in my life, accepting and acknowledging all of the ups and downs I had experienced so far, I was ready for a change – I was ready to feel like I belonged. In eighth grade, I transferred to a private Christian school and finished out my secondary school education there. My passion, for as long as I can remember, has been worship music and I was finally able to express it at this school. In eighth grade, I joined the chapel band which I was involved in through high school as well. I also got involved with leading worship at my youth group, which I still do to this day whenever I go home. Even when I no longer felt comfortable in the large public junior high, although it was a sacrifice, my parents allowed me to attend a private Christian school where my love for worship music gave me a sense of belonging. Even here at Westmont, I have the privilege of leading the Vespers ministry where my passion for worship music can further be expressed.
My junior year in high school everything changed for me. My parents sat my sister and me down and told us they were getting a divorce. Really? After all that I had already been through and finally feeling like my life is going well, I get this massive curveball thrown at my face. I was devastated as any child would be but I had to trust God that He had a plan for all of this. My senior year in high school was spent going back and forth weekly from my dads house to my moms house back to my dads house, etc. It was hard at first but it eventually became a routine that I got used to. I never thought I’d find myself in this situation but I am in it now and believing God has something greater for us. Looking back, I honestly do think the divorce was for the better even though I would give anything to be a family again.
Many people today ask me if I mind having white parents. My answer is no. I actually love having white parents. It makes me different from everyone else and it is all I have ever known. It is where God placed me after being born in one of the poorest countries in the world to a family that could not care for me for whatever reason. Ending up where I am is nothing short of a miracle. People make assumptions about me such as I come from a poor family or I’m an athlete. I’m neither. The truth is that my parents have actually provided well for me and I can barely dribble a ball. I am fortunate to have hard working parents who have been able to provide me with more than the basics. To many people, I am known as “the whitest black person they have ever known”. They look at my skin color and not my story. Who I am is far deeper than the color of my skin. I know who I am as the person I am in Christ.
Therefore, if someone has an issue with me not being “black” enough, then that is his or her issue, not mine, for they do not really know me. For people my age to really get and appreciate who I am within my uniqueness is what I am really looking for. I am glad to have a story that is different from most people’s stories. It stands out in the midst of commonality. It has brought some sadness in not being like everyone else while also giving me hope and a feeling that I am a part of some unique purpose. So who am I? I am a black man who has two wonderful white parents who love me dearly. I am a man who is not ashamed of being black or adopted. I am a very blessed and fortunate man. But most of all, I am a child of the Most High God. That is who I am. My name, Zachary, means “God hath remembered”. God remembered ME in Africa. I feel so blessed for that and will live everyday as a testimony for His glory!