KAAN 2015: Intersections of Race, Identity, and Adoption

As the media buzz kicked off by #RachelDolezal swells around “new” conversations of race, identity, and misappropriation, a national adoptive community organization prepares for its seventeenth annual conference on these same topics. Leaders from across the country will converge in St. Louis, MO from June 26-28, 2015 at an event hosted by KAAN (the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network).

“This conference places adoptee voices firmly at the center of discourse and offers others the chance to learn how to be true allies,” says executive director Stacy Schroeder. She and assistant director Kimberly McKee signed an open letter expressing concern about the recent misuse of the term “transracial” by Dolezal and the media. For over fifty years, transracial is associated with the particular type of adoption – the adoption of a child of a different race than the adoptive parents.

“If you want to find out why co-opting the term ‘transracial’ is harmful to the adoption triad, and especially transracial adoptees; why Rachel Dolezal passing as black is problematic; and what #BlackLivesMatter has to do with adoption studies; you probably want to be at KAAN this year. ‘Cause it’s gonna be on,” says Shannon Gibney, part of KAAN’s powerful opening panel which will address the significance of race-related events in Ferguson and other places to the lives of transracial adoptees and their families. Other panel members include local Judge Judy Preddy Draper, Robert O’Connor, Susan Harris O’Connor, and Lisa Marie Rollins, who was recently interviewed by the Washington Post and also addressed recent events head-on at the Lost Daughters blog.

A distinctive aspect of the conference is KAAN’s commitment to facilitate dialogue between individuals and groups across many perspectives. “Adoptees are the largest demographic, which is also reflected in our leadership and conference presenters,” says Schroeder. Invested relatives—parents, spouses, siblings, and children, from both birth/first and adoptive families—are also actively engaged. Scholars, authors, artists, social workers, adoption agency employees, organization leaders, and others come together to give KAAN its dynamic blend of viewpoints. While KAAN’s core and roots are connected to the Korean adoption community, members of other adoptive communities will find common ground.

Mark Hagland, transracial adoptee and KAAN Advisory Council member, describes the conference as a unique forum for the in-person discussion of incredibly important issues around race, racism and white privilege, racial identity, and transracial adoption. “Participants make interpersonal and conceptual connections at KAAN as nowhere else,” he adds.

KAAN 2015 will also showcase keynote speaker Hollee McGinnis, a screening of Memory of a Forgotten War, and performances by hip hop artist Dan Matthews (Dan aka Dan) and Marissa Lichwick-Glesne, whose monologue Yellow Dress: A Solo Show chronicles her personal adoption journey. Additional sessions delve into topics such as birth family search and reunion, culture camps, queer identities, Hallyu (the Korean Wave), parenting adopted teens, mental health, and how to support your adopted spouse/partner. Adoptee-mentor-led programs for children and youth ages 3-17 are offered in collaboration with Connect-a-Kid.

KAAN is a project of The Foundation for Enhancing Communities, fiscal sponsor. KAAN was founded in 1998 to help build a national adoption community, seeking to understand and improve the lives of adoptees and their families. Annual conferences travel throughout the country and in 2006 even took place in South Korea. This summer’s seventeenth annual conference takes place at the Renaissance St. Louis Airport (9801 Natural Bridge Rd, St. Louis MO 63134). Registration information and full schedule can found at http://www.KAANet.org.

QUESTIONS? Please contact Executive Director/President Stacy Schroeder (717-574-3629/stacy@KAANet.org).

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