In Our Ancestors’ Shoes

The S.S. Coronia
My grandfather arrived on the SS Coronia with his 5-year-old son. His wife was able to follow four months later with their second son.

This week, Donald Trump signed orders that attempt to close the doors on immigration, to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, to bar green card holders from returning to the U.S., to bar immigrants for seven predominantly-Muslim countries, and one meant to punish sanctuary cities. He is also threatening a Muslim registry. How many other actions will he try to put into place before he makes the U.S., not one of the more respected countries in the world, but one of the most reviled?

Most of us who live in the U.S., unless we are 100% Native American, are of immigrant stock. On my father’s side, I can trace my heritage back to the Mayflower. On my mother’s side, my great grandmother came from Germany. Her daughter married my grandfather, an English immigrant. Through Ellis Island records I was able to discover that he came to the U.S. in 1906 from England aboard the S.S. Coronia, with my uncle Ernie, then 5.  Four months later, his wife came aboard the S.S. Umbria with my uncle Les, age 11 months. My grandfather married my grandmother after his first wife’s death. I never learned what brought him here, but I’m sure it was not the ravages of war taking place across the world today that drive many to seek asylum in the U.S.

The fact that we are trying to close our doors to immigrants now has little, if anything to do with economics or fear of terrorism. In 2013, there were 406,496 deaths caused by gun violence and 3,380 deaths caused by terrorism. In either case, one is too many, but which do YOU think is the greater threat?  With regard to concerns over economics, immigrants generally hold different jobs than American workers, so they are thereby strengthening the economy, rather than putting a strain on it.

I am happy to say that I and my family live in what is considered a sanctuary city. Our city welcomes refugees from other nations, recognizing the value they contribute in terms of economics, cultural awareness and diversity, the Arts and more. I believe it is a win-win for this community.

I thank my daughters, immigrants in their own rights who came here as adoptees at 9 months of age, for giving me the opportunity to meet some of these refugees first-hand. As volunteers through invitation by their French teacher, they began tutoring refugees to assist them in improving their English and building math skills in order for them to go to college. One evening, additional tutors were needed, so I jumped in and began working with an ambitious young man, known to his friends as Dino. Dino is probably in his early 30’s, he stands about 5’8″ and he has sparkling brown eyes, an infectious smile and a very funny sense of humor. He is married, with four children. He works all day in construction, then goes each night, Monday through Friday, to the refugee center for two hours of tutoring so that he can start studies at Monroe Community College in the Fall. The online study program serves up a menu of some very challenging questions for someone whose native language is not English. When he correctly answers one of those difficult questions, we celebrate with a fist-bump or a high five.

Dino spent eight years in a refugee camp before he and his family were selected to come here. He doesn’t like working outside in the cold weather, but he doesn’t complain. He is happy to be earning money to support his family. This past week, he excitedly shared that next month, he will celebrate his first year anniversary of being in the U.S. His goal is to become a social worker, as he was in his own country and in the refugee camp, so that he can help others. I am impressed at how well he already speaks English, after less than a year here.  I tell him he’ll be a great social worker because he’s so wonderful with people. His already-radiant smile somehow brightens.

I look across the room on Monday evening. Each computer is occupied by an adult or student tutor alongside one or more refugees working hard to acquire the necessary skills for success here in the U.S. In each of them, I see the hope, perseverance and determination it must have taken our own ancestors who sought to come here, with few resources, a different way of life and possibly, limited English language skills.

I wish every person had this first-hand opportunity to work with these wonderful, warmhearted, ambitious people and experience, to some degree, what it must have been like for their ancestors to come here as refugees. Get to know these people, and it is easy to understand that the way to stem the tide on terrorism is not to close the doors and push people away, but to welcome them and help them become loyal, appreciated citizens and contributing members of society…like each of our ancestors.

Although the particular program my family is involved in focuses on tutoring adults, there are ample opportunities to assist through working with children, “adopting” families, donating clothing, furniture, appliances, money or time, and myriad other ways. If you want to get involved, search on “refugee services” and the name of your city.

It is a gift that gives back in so many ways.



A Child Named Hope

I  take up “the pen” today because it’s the only way I know to wrestle with disquieting feelings I’ve had recently.

aidAs a marketing person, I post to many social media sites – both my own and to those for which I work. One Thursday, about two weeks ago, I had a most unsettling experience.

Through one of the non-profit facebook sites I run, I received a message where the writer asked whether the organization I posted for is truly community-oriented, or “a liberal propaganda house.” He pointed out that there are conservatives and libertarians in the community.

We had a relatively positive message exchange, where I indicated the organization welcomes everyone, and that, as a public access television station, we broadcast everything submitted, except media that advocates violence.

The individual pointed out that recent posts were “Left of Center.”

I thanked him for pointing this out, and stated that our purpose was not to alienate anyone.

Now I will say that the leanings of most of the people who work at this organization ARE, in fact, “left of center.”  As one of the more diverse organizations in the city of Rochester, attracting people of all ages, socioeconomic levels, ethnicities, political leanings and religions, that is the mindset of those who tend to apply for jobs and work there. It also tends to be the mindset of many of the independent producers whose work is shown on the channel. So, the individual writing is probably accurate in his assessment that the posts I have made have a tendency to be somewhat liberal. Following his comment, I actually thought about the fact that we should, perhaps, reevaluate our social media strategy to make it “more balanced.”

Then, in thinking about this exchange, I was curious what had prompted his note.  I clicked on the story I’d posted. That is when I became unsettled.

togetherIt was a story and photo, originally posted by Malia Obama, about Anja Ringgren Loven, a Danish woman doing social working in Nigeria. The first photo showed her feeding an abandoned and severely malnourished two-year-old Nigerian child. In the second photo, it shows the same young woman holding the child at some later point in time. She has now adopted the child, who she named Hope. He is the picture of health and clearly shines with the love he feels.

When I originally shared this post, I considered it a purely inspirational story…the story of one human coming to the aid of another.

As someone who has adopted children internationally, I know that there are some who would say this child has been robbed of his heritage. To those critics, I would say, “Better robbed of his heritage than robbed of his life,” which is likely what would have happened. Every child should have the chance for love, no matter what.

But to discover that this post could, in any way, be construed as a political message totally flabbergasted me.

I am distressed and disgusted that this election cycle has catalyzed a toxic environment that has become so divisive and so polarizing that politics trump humanity and a story such as this can be construed as anything other than inspirational.

What have we, as a nation, come to when we cannot simply rejoice in the rescue of A Child Named Hope?

Disclaimer: This is the opinion of Carol White Llewellyn and should not be construed as representing the opinions of anyone within any of the organizations with which she works.


Responsibilities of The Mature Parent

This was a very difficult post for me to write, and probably one that’s hard for you to read, but one that I simply had to share. While this is aimed at the adoption community because adopted parents are often older when they become parents, this really applies to all parents, young and mature.

* * * * * * * *

little-boy-looking-up-sxc-smallMany older parents decide to adopt after going through years of infertility. Others select that path simply because they met their life partner later than they would have anticipated. Sometimes people simply aren’t ready to become parents until they’ve done certain things in their lives, then suddenly realize they’ve missed out on what they consider to be one of the most important aspects of it…children .

When my husband and I adopted, we were only two years younger than my father was when he passed away, leaving a wife and three young children adrift without the beloved father/husband who filled our days with joy and gave us all gentle direction. There was also no financial plan in place for his demise. I have often had to deal with the fear this past raises for me in thinking of my own daughters’ future.

Fortunately, my husband and I are both healthy and we look and feel fairly young for our ages… at least most of the time. I know that I am a much better and more patient mother than I’d have been when I was in my twenties or thirties. Still, the specter of my father’s untimely and unexpected death haunts me.

I recently read a story of a woman who adopted young children when she was in her 50s. I ask, “…and why not,” happy that this is now an option. Yet a nagging voice in my head fervently hopes she has a plan in place, “just in case.” Of course, an accident or health issue can happen at any age, and all parents – but mature parents in particular – have a responsibility to their children… to make a will, to plan for their child’s financial security, to identify loving and competent guardians who will protect, love and guide their child, assuring his or her future.

Of course, no amount of planning can ever replace a parent. These steps simply assure that the child set adrift by loss can and will be cared for in whatever ways are needed. It is the least and also the most that parents can do to protect their children. It is the most important gift you can give your child.

This post was originally published on my Family, by Choice blog on March 21, 2011. Although I have made the decision to close that blog, I chose to re-post some of the more important information here, on this blog.

Click here, to view videos that were part of the Family, by Choice series.

From a Child: Celebrate Achievements with a Wall of Brilliance

Rishi's wall of greatness
Rishi’s Wall of Brilliance

The other day, my friend Ashweeta posted a photo on facebook that caught my attention. It was of a wall in her home that her young son had decorated, all on his own, with his accomplishments from kindergarten.

Now this was no ordinary wall of accomplishments. This was a wall showing his hard-won victory. You see, Ash had adopted Rishi from India, the country where her parents and older brothers had been born, when the boy was three. As with many adopted children — especially those adopted beyond infancy — Rishi has had to work harder than most children to attain those successes.

Now, the wall virtually blooms with achievements, a daily reminder for both of them of the great possibilities ahead….

When I contacted Ash to ask permission to write about her story, she gladly agreed and told me that the wall had helped her realize something very important.

“I remember crying one night because I was so scared that first grade would be too hard for him. Then I saw that wall he put up, and I realized that it didn’t matter where he was – this is where he is and it’s perfect. I call it the wall of brilliance”

She went on to say, “ I’m going to follow in my boy’s footsteps and create my own wall of greatness – things that I forgot I did. The logo of the first job where I felt that I made it, the lease from my first apt., my Hunter College ID, etc…Funny when I looked at Rishi’s wall, it took me a long time to figure out what my wall would look like. How can we move forward if we forget how brilliant we really are?”

I was touched and inspired by what Ash wrote.

Today, more than ever, we are on a constant treadmill…to make more money, to get the next promotion, to build our business, to get more social media followers, to finish the next project, to create the next technological advance that will corner the market, to write our next novel or create our next major work. Even contemporary expressions such as “You’re only as good as your last …” allude to “the next one.” Apparently, the status quo is not to be celebrated.

And yet….

As Ash says, how can we move forward if we forget how brilliant we really are?

I am not denying the virtue of advancements and progress. They are essential. But it is equally vital to celebrate the now of each success, to carve a notch in your personal totem so that where you have been will keep you on track and buoy your confidence to take you where you are going.

Each person has to find his or her own best way to celebrate achievements. Perhaps it’s with a special activity or an evening of celebration. Or maybe your successes belong written in a journal, or captured in photos in an album. Or why not try Rishi’s method? Create your own wall of brilliance to share with those you love who will help you celebrate your greatness!



Ferguson: Different Tools for a Different Outcome?

McLuhanLast week, I came upon a quote by philosopher, writer and educator Marshall McLuhan that resonated with me: “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and thereafter, our tools shape us.”

Years ago, for a conference I organized, I was working with  Doug Goodman, an uber-talented photographer who works for Ad Age and a host of other high-profile clients. Our organization always relied upon him to photograph the staff  and chronicle the litany of meetings we held throughout the year.

I was surprised that, when he heard a brief description of one employee, without even hearing the man’s name,  he was immediately able to identify the individual.

I realized, at that moment, how looking through the lens of a camera honed a photographer’s vision and perspective. In Doug’s case, since he specializes in portraits and events, the camera gives him a particular view on people and how their personalities, skills and idiosyncrasies are reflected on their faces and conveyed through their body and the clothing they choose to wear.  In all his shoots, his camera functions as a tool to “see into his subject’s soul” and capture the essence of the individual. He excels at that, and his camera functions as the tool that shapes his world, which is filled with friends, beauty, light and intelligence.

Now I juxtapose the camera with a very different type of tool.

In recent weeks, many across the nation have been outraged at the shooting death of the unarmed youth Michael Brown Jr. It has been the catalyst to a widening chasm filling, from both sides, with a fermenting brew of distrust, fear, suspicion and outrage. For the community’s sake, I hope this event does not engender the long-term troubling effects and insidious repercussions I fear.

If you look at an event such as this through McLuhan’s perspective, I can’t help but think that the tools issued to police – guns and tazers, pepper spray and tear gas, handcuffs and bulletproof vests – shape their perspective of the world and the community around them as a darker, more sinister place where weapons are needed for everyday life.

What if police officers  were given another type of “tool?”

I’ve recently read articles about the reduction in police violence within communities in which officers are required to wear cameras on their uniforms. That’s great if it helps, but it doesn’t get at the root of the problem, which I see as a “them” and “us” mentality between officers and residents.

What if a police officer’s arsenal of tools  for protecting the community was augmented to include volunteer time? Volunteer time, not in the community in which they live, but within the community in which they serve. Suppose  5% of the time for which they are paid was given back in the form of service to a volunteer program of their choice…at a rec center, for a reading program, to a youth sports program, in a soup kitchen, at a drug rehab center or some other initiative that contributed to the welfare of the community in which they serve?

No doubt, many police officers do volunteer work. But what if their experience on their beat was shaped by their paid volunteer service, within the footprint of their beat, where they had the opportunity to get to know residents on a personal level…to know their interests and hobbies, their families and friends, the joys and tragedies of the lives of those they are paid to protect? What if each officer who is paid for a 40 hour work week were encouraged to commit 2  hours of each week to paid volunteer service within his community, from day one of working there?

Some may say this is a naïve proposal, but in my personal experience, when you really get to know someone — especially people who are very different from those you encounter in your daily life — it’s hard to see them as the enemy. From my perspective, familiarity breeds understanding, compassion and often, friendship, rather than the contempt suggested by the old idiom.

There are many objections that could be raised in opposition to this idea: from budget restrictions and taxpayer objections, to  concerns over officer safety (especially in communities where there is a long history of distrust between residents and the police force).

But I’d like to throw down the gauntlet and challenge communities to try it.

If the police force in your community already does this, or if you as an officer already commit volunteer time within the community your serve, I’d be interested in hearing if it has changed your perspective, and if so, how?

As an addendum to Marshall McLuhan’s quote, I add this plea:

 Let our tools not be those of darkness and destruction, but of light and learning. That will make all the difference in humanity’s outcome.


Congratulations, You’re a Backer: Touching the Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama, Still from Mickey Lemle trailer for Kickstarter Campaign
A still from the trailer for a Kickstarter Campaign to support the making of Mickey Lemle’s film about His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

Although I make it a regular practice to donate to and support various non-profit organizations, I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I am a neophyte when it comes to kickstarter campaigns.  I’m not really sure why it’s taken me so long to jump in, because I love the arts and believe in supporting them. I guess I’ve always thought that what I could contribute to most films or art projects wouldn’t make much of a dent in the budget needed to produce the work. But that’s where I finally realized I’m wrong. Every dollar makes a difference.

Linda Moroney of Low to the Ground Productions, a good friend that I met through Rochester’s documentary filmmaking scene, is working with Mickey Lemle on a film about HH, the Dalai Lama. Late last year, she participated in a filmmakers’ panel I facilitated where she spoke about some of the exciting adventures and challenges she encountered during her trip to India to film this piece. It was quite the adventure!

Because I love Linda’s work (she’s currently collaborating on another documentary called Turn the Page about a literacy program in the Ontario County Prison System), and because the Dalai Lama inspires me, I wanted to support the creation of this film. So, with some hesitance, I ventured over to the kickstarter page and found that there were levels that provided donor encouragement for almost any budget. So I chose my level (each level offers a different gift of appreciation) and paid through my Amazon account, which gave me a sense of reassurance. I pushed the button, and done!

Then I received the confirmation email. Honestly, and as silly as it may sound, it was one of the most exciting emails I’ve ever received because it was a receipt that exclaimed, “Congratulations, You’re a Backer!

“I’m a backer?!!!” I thought with wonder.

Wow, those are powerful words! In all the years I’ve donated to charitable organizations, I don’t ever recall feeling that little jolt of , well, power.

Although there is great satisfaction and a sense of “paying it forward” in donating to a charitable organization whose work you believe in, it’s a lovely, intangible reward (the value and importance of which I’m not underestimating, mind you).

There’s just something different and almost seductive about making a contribution to support the production of a work of art. It’s not about the tangible gift of appreciation at all. It’s something more.  It’s almost as if, by donating, you become part of the work! Suddenly, I had a sense of touching the Dalai Lama.

Somehow, the stakes change when going from “member,” “patron, or “donor” to “backer.”  That one small shift in semantics changes me from being a passenger, complacently donating money to a cause, to someone who is a co-pilot, actively driving the success of its creation.

When the money is raised and the project is completed, there will be a tangible contribution to the world that can be seen and can be experienced emotionally. And anyone who has contributed will be a part of it. That is the power of kickstarter.

Hours later, “Congratulations, you’re a backer” still makes me smile.


  • For those thinking of contributing to this or another kickstarter campaign: you may be surprised how great it makes you feel to back a project.
  • For those developing a kickstarter campaign: How can you make your donors feel as if they’re a part of, even touching the work?
  • For Non-profit organizations: How can you run a fundraiser so that you capture that “kickstarter zing” that makes your donor feel as if there is a tangible outcome that can be seen and experienced whose success they’re driving?

It’s worth thinking about.


Kintsukuroi: Let the Light Shine Through

Let the Light Through

Recently, I have been feeling as if I am running short on time to make a difference on this earth.

For many years, I have been running around doing projects, undertaking activities, implementing initiatives that I hope will make “a difference” – for my family, for my daughters, for my friends, for future generations.

I worry that not enough is happening, that I’m not making the impact I want.

Today, a post on facebook from Project Happiness made me realize I need to look at my goals differently. The caption for the photo at right was “Forget perfection. Everything has cracks, it’s the only way to let the light in.”

Today, I realized that it really doesn’t matter how many initiatives I undertake, how much money I earn to give away to important causes or what stature I attain.

What matters is how I let the light in, to shine through to others, and how I touch their lives.

Those rays are stronger than any single project I could undertake or donation I could make.

Thank you, Project Happiness.