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.



Thanksgiving, Family and Chocolates

1363289_handmade_chocolatesIt’s Thanksgiving week and almost the end of November, National Adoption Month, so I wanted to share a very personal post. In truth, it has only a little to do with adoption, but much to do with giving thanks for family.

I have only very recently reconnected with family members… cousins on both sides of the family and an uncle who were “lost” due to factors, some within, and others totally beyond my control.

Over the years, in spite of the fact that we were out of touch, I thought of them often. But it was only in reconnecting that I truly realized how much I missed them and how our shared history and memories enriched my life. I regret those “missing years.”

Yesterday, I was thrilled to get back in touch with two “long-lost” cousins while visiting their father, my uncle, who is terminally ill. My cousin Joan remarked, “so what have you been up to the last 30 years?”

Thirty years? How could it have been that long? How could we, who were once almost as close as sisters, have let life get so in the way of staying in touch? Fortunately, we fell into easy conversation, in spite of the sad reason for our reunion, and we were able to pick up where we left off. I’m certain we’ll all stay in touch now, certainly via email or facebook… in spite of living more than half the country away from each other.

As I think about Family, I realize it’s a funny thing. Family is like a box of chocolate. Sometimes you love them to pieces. Other times, a little goes a long way. But even the ones that are a little nuts sweeten your life.

So this week on Thursday, I will be giving thanks for family. I will give thanks for my wonderful husband and two amazing daughters who wouldn’t be family without the institutions of marriage and adoption. I give thanks for friends who are like family and family who are friends. And I will give thanks for finding lost treasures.

What will you give thanks for?

This post was originally published on November 21, 2011 on my former blog, Family, by Choice.

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.


Lament for Swimsuit Shoppers, with Apologies to Lewis Carroll

Image: Library of Congress LC-USZ62-74076
If you consider shopping now, Then surely you’ll despair! Why not a suit that breaks the mold, Such as worn by this comely pair?

The time has come,” the retailer said,
“To stock up many things:
Of back to school–and Halloween stuff —
that make the registers ring!
And woe to those who’ve waited too long
to buy their summer things.”

But wait a bit,” the woman cried,
“Before you display all that;
I fear I still need summer clothes,
some sunscreen and a hat!”
“Well hurry!” growled the retailer.
“My sales are getting flat!”

“A swimming suit,” the woman said,
“Is what I chiefly need:
something fitting for the beach
Would be very good indeed–
Now that the weather’s warmed up dear,
It’s important I succeed.”

“You’ll find one here!” the retailer cried,
We still have quite a few!”
He led her toward his empty racks,
picked over, through and through.
“The selection’s fine,” the retailer misled.
“Are you seeking one suit or two?”

“It was so hard for me to come!
Swimsuit shopping makes me lose my mind!”
The woman began mumbling to herself,
“Now I’m in a bind:
I need a suit, my old one’s worn,
to wear these, I’d have to be blind!”

“It seems a shame,” the retailer said,
“To play you such a trick,
You should have come before July 4th,
our swimwear sells so quick!”
The woman she said nothing but
considered giving a well-placed kick.

“I weep for you,” the retailer said:
“I deeply sympathize.”
But to himself he chortled,
he’d sold almost all in her size!
To be this low on summer stock
was a most wondrous surprise!

“O madam,” said the retailer,
“I’ve had such pleasant fun!
Will you be shopping here again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
she’d turned on her heels and run.


Inspired by The Walrus and the Carpenter, with apologies to Lewis Carroll

Image: Library of Congress LC-USZ62-74076

Celebrate Successes to Savor the Journey

paddling-1187322-mI’m not sure when we became such an attention deficit society.  It’s probably the result of the industrial age. Today, new technologies and inventions come along much more quickly than they did even 25 years ago. It’s simply expected. One invention makes its predecessor obsolete in a matter of months, or even weeks now, not years.

That phenomenon creates a strange type of attention deficit.

Think about the difference between a kayaker slowly paddling down a body of water, and a speedboat aficionado navigating that same waterway. In a speedboat, the landmarks come and go much more quickly. In the kayak, it’s much easier to take in and savor the scenery…to imprint it in your mind.

Our multiple and ever expanding  “to do” lists become our speed boats. It’s a race to see how many items we can check off, so we can get on to the next and the next and the next….

Some of those items on our “to do” lists have a different level of importance than others. Some are landmarks; real achievements and accomplishments, such as publishing a book, finishing a challenging project, being nominated for an award, graduating, achieving the next fitness level, getting a high grade, breaking your previous record in sports.  They merit recognition and celebration, not just another check mark.

It’s important for adults to remember that. And it’s important that we adults remind our kids of that, for their speedboats will be moving even faster.

As we speed through the 21st century at an ever quickening pace,  the one certain way to slow things down and savor the journey is to plant our own landmarks and celebrate our successes.

What will you celebrate?