Who Are We? series: Becketwood Members are part of a diverse range of families and communities. In this ongoing series, we will get a deeper look into the lives of the Members who are willing to share their personal stories and experiences.
This episode by Michelle Schutt, Becketwood Member
In May of 1970 I made a call to Lutheran Social Services to inquire about the possibility of adopting as a single parent. This was pre Roe v Wade, so there were many children waiting for adoption. They scheduled an appointment for me to meet with an adoption social worker and my adventure began. After several meetings with the social worker, it was decided that they would work with me to make a single parent adoption happen. This would be the first one for them.
I was living in Chicago at the time near Wells and North Ave, right behind Second City. I lived in the Community of New Life, a group of seven friends. We shared our salaries, took turns cooking for the group on a weekly basis, shared a couple of vehicles, and generally acted like a family.
The agency decided they would look for a white child under four years of age and it would be a girl. I said that was fine. I also said I would take a child with medical issues.
At that time I was teaching in a preschool program at a Lutheran Church in Chicago on the near west side. We served the Jane Addams project area near the Chicago Medical Center (which included Cook County Hospital). Most of the children in the school were Black. I had lived in that neighborhood for years years earlier. Urban Renewal took the beautiful brownstone building I had lived in.
I finished my background study at Lutheran Social Services and was waiting to hear from them. In August one of the Community members got a call from her mother who lived in Iowa. Her uncle who lived in Chicago had died and the mother wanted her to represent the family at the funeral. Through her attendance at that funeral, I met her cousin, Bob Engstrom, who later became my spouse.
In October I got the call I was waiting for… they had a child for me. She was four and a half months old, had a very bad skin problem, and was/is Black. Within weeks she was living with me at the Community. Bob had driven me out to Oak Park to pick her up, so he was involved with her from the beginning.
Two years later Bob and I decided to get married. Shortly afterward we went back to Lutheran Social Services to try to adopt another child. This time we asked for another Black child and a boy. We ended up with another Black child, but it was a girl. She came to live with us the week after Natalie turned three years old, on Bob’s birthday. We named her Jorie. She was five months old.
Our family moved from Chicago to Minneapolis when the girls were four and one and a half years old. We were happy to see so many transracial families here and were part of a transracial group for several years.
In 1980 we became pregnant and added a little boy to the family. The girls were ten and seven when Scott was born. After awhile it became apparent that Scott was not meeting typical development milestones. He is developmentally delayed. Besides the typical parenting issues, our three children have given us the opportunity of learning and meeting the challenges and opportunities that go with racism and disability issues.
We currently have eight Black grandchildren and one Black great-grandchild. We have a larger stake than most White people in how our country decides to deal with the legacy of racism in the future.