Review by James Pylant
A Wealth of Family: An Adopted Son’s International Quest for Heritage, Reunion, and Enrichment. By Thomas Brooks. Softbound (2006), 256 pp., illus., $17.95, plus $4.95 for shipping. (TX residents add $1.48 sales tax.) Published by Alpha Multimedia, Inc., P.O. Box 722034, Houston, TX 77272 US; tel.: 1-800-431-1579; fax: 1-713-583-9038.
Although always viewed as a “Black” boy in a Black family, Thomas Brooks was aware that he was multiracial. Brooks, raised in Pittsburgh by a divorced mother, had a strong sense of family from his extended maternal relatives, the Lowrys. He was surrounded by a family-oriented group, with aunts and uncles and cousins, and an especially close bond with his grandfather. But Thomas was unaware, as were many of his cousins, that he was adopted—a fact he did not learn from his mother, Joan Brooks, until age eleven.
Thomas overcame the obstacles faced in the Pittsburgh ghetto and followed his dream of going to college, yet the gnawing need to know about his biological roots was something he had to satisfy. In 1992, twenty-six year-old Brooks, finishing his last year of the University of Maryland’s MBA program, started the search for his background. “I was taken aback to receive any information at all,” he recalls of the letter he received from the agency handing his 1966 adoption. Thomas learned that he’s a quarter Jewish and half Kenyan. His biological mother, a white American, descends from Lithuanian Jews. “She gave birth to me at the age of nineteen. My biological father was a black Kenyan foreign student and about twenty-six years old at the time of my birth,” Brooks says. “I was multiracial. Both of my parents attended college.”
This only child from a Pittsburgh family eventually learned that seven half-siblings: three white brothers and a sister living in London and two black sisters and a brother living in Kenya.
Brooks’s biological mother, Dorothy Blazer, eagerly welcomed their reunion and his questions. And it was she who accompanied him on his Kenyan journey to find his biological father, Mboga Mageka Omwenga.
In delving into his family’s history, Brooks discusses his maternal grandmother’s Lithuanian Jewish ancestors, the Rittenburgs and the Kahns, who escaped persecution of the Orthodox Russians. His maternal grandfather came from the Blaziers of western Pennsylvania, who were believed to have come to America in about 1750 from the Alsace-Lorraine area. But he also learned of his African ancestry through the memories and rich oral tradition told by his hundred year-old paternal grandmother, Kemunto, in the village of Kisii. Brook’s paternal grandfather, Omwenga, was a clan leader and widely respected in the Kisii district.
In an interview with the author, I told him that I found the most touching moment in his book was the reunion with his Kenyan family. Brooks says that experience was overwhelming. Arriving at the Nairobi airport to meet his biological father, he was stunned to see fifty relatives waiting outside of customs eager to greet him at 3:30 a. m. For the reader, Brooks has captured the strong importance of extended family, the acceptance, and the culture of his Kenyan kin.
A Wealth of Family is a success story; a single mother struggling to raise her only child, and the search and reunion with a white family in both America and England and a black family in Kenya. Brooks’s search did not diminish his relationship with the Lowrys, the family of his adoptive mother. As one of his Lowry cousins explained, “He is not adopted. His is just family.”
“Instead of having just the one great family in Pittsburgh I grew up with,” writes Brooks, “I was blessed with a wealth of family. I had a total of three outstanding families in various locations around the world.”
A Wealth of Family: An Adopted Son’s International Quest for Heritage, Reunion, and Enrichment (Family Success) is also available from Amazon.com (affiliate link).
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