Kathy and John Harris, an interracial couple, were raising a family of adopted African American children long before Black Live Matter.
Kathy grew up on a farm in New York, attended Alfred University and earned her master’s degree in social work (MSW) at Hunter College. She subsequently worked in foster care at Babies Hospital of Columbia Presbyterian where she saw many patients with respiratory and cardiac problems. Finding homes for children was part of the job. “Most people wanted babies; I knew who really needed adopting – school-aged boys,” stated Kathy. In 1977, she chose to become a single white adoptive parent to African American sons, Sean and Fabian, ages seven and ten, and to join a group actively promoting transracial adoption.
John hailed from Pittsburgh, PA, attended Penn Tech Institute majoring in electronic technology, which led to a career installing and servicing computerized medical equipment for cardiac catheterization labs, including at Columbia Presbyterian. He wanted to be a father. “I knew single women, but nobody I wanted to marry,” stated John, so decided to foster David, an 11 year-old boy.
Kathy and John met, not at the hospital but at a picnic hosted by the authors of The Special Child Handbook, a book on adoption. Both brought their sons and clicked. John often worked at Kathy’s hospital, where they got to see and get to know one another better, and, increasingly, saw one another outside of work. Their boys also enjoyed each other. When Kathy and John married, they adopted another son, Jim, then age ten; five years later they adopted a daughter Cherie, then aged three.
As the family grew, Kathy and John continued to support groups that were active in promoting adoption and foster care. In 1992 Kathy co-authored a book, “Transracial Adoption: Children and Parents Speak,” which describes the difficulties, successes, rewards and joys, and providing answers to questions about transracial adoption experiences.
Over the years all the children thrived and multiplied. “Ten children claim us as grandparents, and we have two great-grands,” said John. When friends ask, “Didn’t you want your own children?” John states, “They are my own children.”
In 2001, the Harris family moved to Howard County and became active in adoption support groups, including serving the Family Resources board of directors as a leader on adoption for older children, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia as Social Action co-chairs and the Mental Health Players. John also became an organizer in the Living Legacy Project, conducting civil rights tours through Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi.