Why Broken Child Mended Man: Part II

“Why did you end the book without including your wonderful family?” I’ve received many variations of that question, so it’s become necessary to address it with my current and potential readers. Here’s the gist of it; I had to end the book at some point. It made sense to end Broken Child Mended Man on a positive note after revealing the trials I had to overcome to earn a college degree. The book is written for struggling teens or people who want to better understand their situation. I was and continued to be a very complex person. Articulating the pride I feel being a father or the ups and downs Emily and I have faced through twelve years of marriage are easily two more books touching on becoming a husband and father without a shining example. I could’ve easily written a 500-page book had I included the last decade in my memoirs. At some point the reader would become overwhelmed, so it made sense to break it up into future books. Next, I’ll likely write a children’s book to benefit Urban Light Initiative before diving into my outline I have for a book related to my experiences as a proud daddy.

Although I touch on these dreams in the book, I didn’t become an Olympic-caliber athlete or ever have my movie scripts accepted by a Hollywood producer. The vast majority of us don’t go on to lead extravagantly incredible lives. We have dreams, that get downsized to goals and we eventually settle for successfully supporting ourselves or raising a family by any means necessary. We graduate high school as expected, earn a degree in higher education and hopefully get a job in a related field. Some of us go on to get married and have children; none of those milestones necessarily in that order. I ended up graduating college, starting a family and working consistently at a national restaurant chain as a successful manager and was promoted up the ladder. I’d venture to say most people want some variation of that lifestyle. It’s consistent and it allows us to be satisfied with getting by throughout life.

The appeal of Broken Child Mended Man is that it lacks an extraordinary element and that is the point. I don’t mean that my story is bland. Instead, my story of overcoming the odds and breaking the cycle is achievable. As I stated above, I didn’t become a move star, pro athlete or even a hot shot executive, so my story lacks glamour. However, my story has that grit that’s necessary to keep the downtrodden pressing forward for a better day. My story was nothing extraordinary other than making a conscious decision to turn my life around at the last possible moment. Most people will be able to relate to my shortcomings and successes because it has something most people have faced at some point in their lives, but have handled in different ways. Some of my ways exuded strength while other reactions and decisions were downright reckless.

The most amazing thing we can do in life is discover our purpose. I was very upfront with my struggle to comprehend religion, but I refuse to believe that we are all just aimlessly wandering around on this planet. I’ve always wanted to be extraordinary in that sense, but knowing where to begin has been a constant battle. It’s tantamount to starting your life in a dark cave with nothing but a candle light that flickers in and out causing you to stumble along the way. Still I kept reaching out, risking disappointment before discovering the need for the Urban Light Initiative. Well over 400,000 foster children, a million plus homeless and countless at-risk youth. Standing on the shoulders of my community, here’s my chance to pay it forward to a small percentage in my little corner of the globe. After experiencing the neglect too many children face today, I want them to have the resources and support to one day achieve the sense of completeness of the family life I’m experiencing today.

The Broken Child Mended Man e-book is available at several online booksellers:

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Chapter 13: Toward Self-Actualization

Renowned psychologist, Abraham Maslow once stated, “What man can be, he must be. This is self-actualization.” In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is at the pinnacle of the pyramid and can only be achieved when all of the other basic needs are met.

I made a conscious decision my senior year to dissolve any lingering drama, doubts or reservations and committed to reaching my true potential. Inwardly, I always knew I had more intelligence to showcase, but acknowledged that my self-inflicted struggles got the best of me in previous years. Most of my story, right up to the end, centered on school milestones because education lit my pathway. Although I spent most of my years well behind the learning curve, my school environment eventually provided a sense of security and fulfilled nearly every other necessary need (esteem, belonging, safety) to realize my potential.

In Toward Self-Actualization, I discovered that my accomplishments were never about making people proud of me or proving my doubters wrong. This was for me in preparation for making a meaningful contribution in my little corner of the world. At graduation, I realized that I didn’t have it all figured out at graduation, but that was okay. I decided to continue setting high standards for myself if for no other reason than it was going to be better than what life could’ve been had I settled for being a victim of my circumstances.

I had much to be thankful for on graduation day, but I was grateful for all of the random people who stepped up throughout my life at the right place and in the right moment. Life’s pass or fail pendulum could’ve swung in the most unfortunate direction, but thanks to those who stepped up when it mattered most, it managed to swing in my favor more often than not. Now it's my turn to pay it forward. 

The Broken Child Mended Man e-book is available at several online booksellers:

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Chapter 12: Lost in Transition

This following is a test of Adam’s Emergency Determination System. This is only a test.  ------------------------------


To date, I can only recall two other years in my life that were as mentally testing as my junior year at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU). After my whirlwind summer, Emily and decided to move into an apartment together against all forces of common sense. Being young and in love, it’s doubtful that anyone else could’ve convinced us of an alternative. However, we were predestined for heartache throughout the year as I had to reveal what had happened in England. 

In a sudden turn of events, 9/11 reignited a sense of anger I hadn’t experienced in several years. I wasn’t especially fond of the Mennonite faith at the time, and I had lost my religion altogether by that point. Emily helped me understand the deeper meaning of the Mennonite faith allowing me discover the true meaning of pacifism. While I couldn’t wholeheartedly adopt the philosophy, I incorporated into my makeshift value system while trying desperately to make sense of the chaotic world as I saw it at the time.

There weren’t many times during my junior year when I’d wake up ready to face the day. Almost immediately, self-doubt crept in and made itself right at home. I felt dejected and contemplated whether every decision I’d made up to that point was a mistake.  There were certainly days I had convinced myself that this life wasn’t for me. Using sports as a much-needed outlet, I withstood the appeal to give up school, end a confusing relationship with my fiancée, and returning to a much simpler lifestyle. Through self-reasoning, I decided that the consequences of giving up that easily would have been a disappointment in the long run and led to a constant wonderment of a love lost. Instead of giving into the stressors of finances and new compromises, Emily and I decided to stick it out for the long haul. In what was tantamount to feeling my way through the dark, I also managed to rediscover a light to find my way to the graduation finish line.

This concludes the test of Adam’s Emergency Determination System.  You may now enter into Self-Actualization

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Chapter 11: Out-of-Body Experiment

It’s unusual to meet a couple in their early thirties who have been married for over 12 years already, but that’s describes my wife and I are at today. We are happier than ever as we managed to find away to meaningfully support one another and discover what love meant for both of us over the years. However, that wasn’t always the case.  From the start, our relationship wasn’t only complicated; it was in a deep mess. In Out-of-Body Experiment, I struggled to convey what was going through my head during my cross cultural trip to England.  Emily and I had only been dating for a few months, when I made a series of poor decisions during what was supposed to be an educational experience.

When I stepped into the New Castle and York night scenes, I turned into an entirely different person. The myth that everyone overseas loves Americans turned out to be true in my case and that was the only thing I could imagine sparking my heightened level of confidence. Looking back, that self-assurance warped into arrogance as I repeated that same reckless behavior throughout the trip.

I returned from England with a lot of fond memories and just as many regrets. People frequently asked me would I do it all over again and the answer I usually respond with is “no!” I would’ve done things very differently, but life rarely offers do-overs. In this case, I would have to live with the consequences of my actions and rightfully so.  The fallout continues through the next chapter, Lost in Transition, and negatively affects everything from my contentious relationship with Emily to my less-than-impressive academic performance throughout my junior year.

I was of two minds about including this chapter, but ultimately decided that it was more important to maintain the imperfect man theme. It was such an unnecessarily complex time in my life, but I wanted to present the dynamic of being too young to consider marriage since I never really had my act together. The ultimate lesson I want people to get from Out-of-Body Experiment is that we all make mistakes along the way. It’s important to own up to it if for no other reason than someone else may learn from the errors of our human ways.

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Chapter 10: Coming of Age

After working all summer, I approached my junior year more free spirited than the previous.  The weight of not knowing what to expect was removed with my freshman experience and my biggest stressor, credit card debt, was paid in full. However, new challenges would arise, and I would re-experience failure in the classroom. While it wasn’t intentional by any means, the initial shock derailed my plan to major in Business Administration.

After having an injury that required surgery, I also had to come to the decision to give up on my dreams of competing at the Olympic level. The hurdling events in track and field carried me farther than I ever imagined when I started, but my inability to focus solely on sports and lack of resources would be nearly impossible to overcome. Instead, I chose to focus on my studies and earn a degree. I can only imagine that most readers will relate to this story and think about the dreams they once pursued. Many of us have extraordinary dreams, yet mange to settle for an ordinary life for myriad reasons.  Maybe God had bigger plans for me than just galloping over hurdles for a short career. Whatever the case, it’s hard to push back the “what ifs” any time a track meet is on television or the three Olympics that have come and gone since I put my dream aside to accomplish other things. I ultimately accepted the outcome, but I haven’t been satisfied with a career since that moment. Twelve years later, the concept of Urban Light is beginning to restore a sense of fulfillment that hurdling would’ve never attained.  Ultimately, I had to accept that being an Olympian just wasn’t in the cards. Although I never lost my competitive edge, I was okay with settling for less than great while I tried to discover a sense of purpose during my Coming of Age.

During my sophomore year at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), I discovered other potential for leadership qualities I expressed while founding Future Leaders of Equality and Diversity (FLED). The objective of the club was to bring everyone together to address our differences in an appropriate forum. For the first time, I was proud of an accomplishment outside of track and field.

 I also met the love of my life, Emily. Without giving too much away, it’s not your typical love story. We were at very difficult points in our lives, yet somehow knew that we loved one another. I found it difficult to convey what was going through my head, but the story only becomes more difficult to explain during Chapter Eleven: Out of Body Experiment

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Chapter 9: Lessons in Gripping

Lessons in Gripping details my freshman year at Eastern Mennonite University. It was an opportunity I’d worked so hard to achieve, yet I spent little or no time preparing for what would be in store. For starters, I had minimal experience with a computer, so getting used to typing all of my assignments required retraining that I stumbled through during the year. After trying to determine what was preventing me from focusing, I had another awakening calling on me to forgive those who had betrayed me throughout life, so I could stem the overwhelming anger that was still consuming me. Once I did, the world opened up to me on a grand scale  and would continue to do so throughout my collegiate journey.

My unguided years leading up to college were evident throughout Lessons in Gripping. While I was a decent human being by that point, I didn’t have the life skills necessary to make it on my own. A father figure or a sense of a stable home life would’ve been most helpful in my case. My inability to understand issues such as money and consequences would come back to haunt me later in the year.

Regardless of how much difficulty I faced, there was never any doubt that graduating from college was my only opportunity to succeed in life. When writing this chapter, the old saying, “Grab life by the horns” came to mind, but no one taught me exactly what that would entail as a young man experiencing his first taste of independence. As a result, learning-by-mistake was the theme for that year. There are hard lessons throughout the chapter, and it offers a cautionary tale for young adults venturing into college.

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Point of Controversy: Race Matters

Currently, our country is at a conscientious crossroads when it comes to race matters.  The influx of white hate groups since the inauguration of our first black president and the multiple media-induced firestorms that have ignited the country into a furious debate has only managed to divide us further since then. Other than current economic conditions, I'm not sure why so many people feel so unwelcomed in the progress of our nation. Slogans such as "take or country back" fail to recognize that the good ol' days they continue to reminisce about are happening right now. We cannot go back in time and that means accepting the "here and now." This is as good as it's going to get unless we dial back some of this anger and learn to coexist. That means giving everyone a seat at the table. 

Racism is a very carefully taught characteristic. The sense of hope I express toward some of the angriest Americans is hanging onto the notion that they can unlearn and relearn so they can participate peacefully in our society. To initiate a meaningful national discussion, I’d recommend starting on a much lower plateau by addressing each other’s needs fully by understanding our history, acknowledging shortcomings, and leaving hypersensitivity at the door. For starters, we cannot initiate the conversation during the height of our emotional plateau (i.e. justifying whether or not an deceased black male deserved his fate) if everyone begins with their preconceived ideas mixed with prior life experience, television portrayals, and outright ignorance with regards to each other's plight in life. 

We spend so much time associating actions with our skin pigment, which becomes silly or downright humorous when critics open their mouths with invalid opinions on a subject that they’re clearly uncomfortable with. Being a black male has nothing to do with wearing your pants around your knees with your backside hanging out, aspiring toward rap or hoop dreams, or poor grammar skills. Being white has nothing to do with having a monopoly on hiking adventures, country music and proper articulation of words. I like those things, and I’m still black. Believe it or not, there are a lot of black people in America who value education and become doctors, lawyers, engineers, contractors, construction workers, truck drivers, etc. Whether I was a high school dropout or a PhD with an academic journal article in my name, I’m still black! And I accept and love that about myself. My point is that actions are determined by social influences, circumstances and will power, which ultimately display our true character. Something as simple as skin color cannot determine your capabilities, preferences, or actions.

On another level of the debate, whites can neither justify the need for affirmative action nor comprehend the notion of white privilege. Blacks can’t seem to understand the confusion caused when they refer to each other as niggas, but wouldn’t dare let a white person say it. They can’t realize the antipathy when they attack a white person for incorporating some form of black culture into their music, clothing, etc. Stereotyping is one thing, but for example, the heartache related to Taylor Swift’s new Shake it Off video didn’t warrant a serious discussion on racism. If anything, it detracted from what was happening in Ferguson, MO and across the country, which indeed needs to be addressed.  Furthermore, the notion that blacks think one way and whites think another presents us with a false dichotomy that doesn’t even begin to address the diversity of opinions on the issues affecting all of us and our ability to coexist.

What does this have to do with Broken Child Mended Man? A lot! My book tackles racism from both the black and white perspective. My battle has been twofold; proving my Americanism to whites and my blackness to blacks. It’s been a psychological tightrope until I learned to accept myself. I was berated by other black boys for “acting white.” Black girls rejected me because I was too articulate. I had to endure being called “OJ” by white boys during the following weeks of the jury’s decision and someone leaving cowardly notes referring to me as a “nigger” in my school locker. The uncomfortable list goes on and on, but my point is this: no one is exempt from the meanness and fear that creates the framework for racism. I’ve been called an Oreo by a black man (black on the outside, but white on the inside) and a good-for-nothing nigger by a white man within the same day!

Even with all of that, it pales in comparison to what my ancestors and cultural intellectuals endured in the not-so-distant- past. Thankfully, race matters didn’t consume my life experiences. Most of my experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. Racism only occurred enough times in my life to acknowledge its crude existence.  That’s what allows me to stand tall every time someone attempts to degrade me. Throughout my journey, you’ll discover that I had to learn to accept my blackness as society constantly barraged me with conflicting messages.

My views on race are very eccentric because of my willingness to be myself and other’s openness toward me. In turn, I chose to embrace the positive aspects of America’s cultural variety discovered everything from the beautiful sounds of the cello and harp to authentic Mexican cuisine. Being open to the diversity that America beholds is truly the only way to reach across the spectrum. There will always be bad people from every ethnicity, but that shouldn’t require slapping a label on all members of that particular race. As for me, I’m human by design, American by chance and black by genetic fate. That’s my starting line for determining my position in this vast world. I’ll never forget starting from the bottom to become the person I am today. I’m still learning and still forging ahead to make a better life for my family. At the end of the day, that’s where most of us are at.

Insolence is a fragile person’s attempt to fortify power. They are usually weak or fearful and justify their existence on their ability to bring others down to their level. As history has noted before, it will take help from a group of courageous whites to stem this crimson tide of hate. There’s a silent majority, but I’m confident with the likes of my fellow EMU alumni leading the online and offline discussion, the majority will eventually speak loud enough to suppress the rancor of the angry white minority.

However, history has changed course for blacks. Many still believe in the notion of some overarching black leader, but what blacks need access to now more than anything else are economic prospects, educational equity in public schools, and a prominent return to exercising our citizenship.  If you’ve read my story, then you know just how much potential is within each lost or broken child. Although I didn’t live the complete stereotypical black experience by growing up on the countryside, this potential resides in urban neighborhoods as well. Equal access to resources and education will allow black communities to rebuild the economies that once thrived in WilmingtonTulsa and Rosewood. Regardless of the ugly end of each one of those situations, history tells us that we are beyond capable. However, it is the responsibility of the black community to rediscover value in education. It’s not a white thing or Asian thing; it’s an American thing.

Whatever the next phase of our movement will be, it cannot be exclusive to one race or another. As a black man married to a white woman with three biracial children, the direction of this nation continues to worry me as our society continues to rally with such vitriolic rhetoric towards one another during every act perceived as a racial threat. I would love nothing more than to see a post-racial America in my lifetime. Even though we’ve come so far, we have such a long way to go. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” I’m always open to discussion without the hypersensitive caveats that usually derail race-related inquiries before they can even begin. I have my mind open and hand extended; what say you?

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Chapter 8: Lord Willin'

“Lord willing and the creek don’t rise” is another idiom I used and it simply means, if all goes well or barring unforeseen events. In its most biblical sense, the phrase appears to have originated from James 4:15. Looking back, it appears fate somehow intervened during my high school senior year as it had always managed to do throughout my life, but these strokes of luck didn’t come without my usual share of hardships.

Lord Willin’ is a roller coaster ride depicting events during my senior year in high school. My unconventional path to college included self-inflicted drama, surprising awards and recognition, a celebrated graduation, financial illiteracy and homelessness. If your teenager needs to read one chapter in this book, I’d highly recommend this one. The consequences I put forth in Lord Willin’ may spare them from unnecessary distractions and ill-timed mistakes I endured my senior year. Nevertheless, I graduated high school and in just three short years before that, it was a feat no one, including myself, could’ve imagined.

The fortunate ten percent of foster children attending college are unlikely to arrive on a straightened path. I highlight my passageway from the viewpoint of education since it provided my ticket out of an unfortunate situation. I also took a calculated risk by displaying my genuine flaws up to that point in my life because it’s important for my most vulnerable readers to understand that they can accept who they are and still overcome the odds against them. So many books, especially books related to our historical heroes, rarely display their flaws. I’m not a hero in any sense of the word, but I hope this book will encourage people to accept their imperfections and spend their energies on something more positive. By this point in the book, the reader already accepts me for who I am or they have rejected me. Such is life in a society of judges...For the more forgiving sorts, there is an encouraging message throughout my journey. Just keep reading and sharing with anyone having difficulty with self-acceptance. 

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Chapter 7: Sporting Chance

After my transformation and charting a new course toward college, I finally started the process of accepting who I was becoming. There was still some doubt to overcome, but most of it was externally related. Again, life presented the usual hurdles to overcome but my Sporting Chance – a reasonable probability of success – had finally arrived. Just the possibility of being a standout after feeling distant for so many years brought about a newfound sense of hope that carried me through the year. 

Using sports as an outlet, I discovered what it felt like to excel at something and those opportunities provided the jump start my confidence needed to prevail in every aspect of my life. Sporting Chance reflects my determination in sports, as well as my limitations and a girl who made that year something special despite the necessary outcome of our relationship. It turned out to be the down time I needed before being tested in more ways than one the following year.


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Chapter 6: Trial by Fire

When I finally decided to straighten out my life, no one told me to beware of the impending rat race. I was paying more attention to the news, the bombardment of advertisements and subliminal messaging. The message was loud and clear: I wasn’t good enough unless I had this or that or acted a certain way. I didn’t have a girlfriend. I didn’t play sports. I was a known troublemaker. I was one of the dumb kids with no future prospects. I was a loner.

In an effort to repair my misguided image and make amends, I wanted to prove my worth by keeping my head in the books and achieving my first honor roll report card. I joined the basketball team and had a girlfriend shortly thereafter. Next, I needed money and a car and had no way of accessing either. I couldn’t add a job to my already hectic schedule since my foster mother had lost all hope for me by that point. Like everyone else, she was waiting for the other shoe to drop. In their minds, there was no way I could maintain this phony act.

Trial by Fire is an idiom meaning a test of one’s abilities under duress. It’s the ultimate life situation testing resiliency and character.   While I maintained the act and made success a habit, it didn’t come without a price. Due to what I thought society wanted from me, I unintentionally placed an unnatural amount of stress of myself to perform remarkably well in every aspect of my life. When I fell short of those goals, or things didn’t go my way, I felt betrayed. When I felt betrayed, I reverted back to the old me and made some careless mistakes. By normal accounts, this should have been the end of my story. If fate hadn’t intervened, I’d be in jail or dead. Instead, I landed on the A/B honor roll for the entire year and life continued. I hope you enjoy what I considered the most interesting chapter in the book, my Trial by Fire.

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Chapter 5: Swift Awakening

Chapter 5, Swift Awakening, is part two of five for the Black Foster chapter series. As I entered high school, life continued spiraling downward as I became completely lost in a world I couldn’t even begin to understand. I saw my friends maturing and forging ahead while I was stuck in a constant state of hopelessness. There was nothing desirable about the events leading up to my pivotal moment when I had to ultimately chose which direction I wanted to take my life.

I acted the part of a thuggish kid, but that was only on the surface. That cold-hearted persona never reached the depths of my soul, which may have been one of my saving graces. Deep down, I never really wanted to be that bad kid. I hated the person I had become and needed the combination of a wake-up call and a prayer help me find a way. My turnaround has been referred to as unlikely or unbelievable, but just as some can quit a bad habit at the drop of a hat, some individuals have the wherewithal to instantly change their ways without a profound explanation. In Swift Awakening, you’ll discover just how the stars aligned to help a completely dejected and broken child find his light. However, as quickly as my light shone, it dimmed with a blatant reality that I wasn’t quite cut out for the burden of society’s demands. 

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Point of Controversy: Religion

Broken Child Mended Man is filled with eyebrow-raising antics, but nothing will likely irk both sides of the contentious religious debate more than my experience with religion. If your faith is strong, then you should have no worries to my story shaking your foundation. If you're not a believer, please be understanding of my upbringing. As for me, my faith has never been steadfast. My spirituality remains in a constant struggle between my good and wrongdoings. In short, I’ve had a somewhat contentious relationship with God. I grew up with the Southern Baptist interpretation of Christianity. I was also saved and baptized twice, but it rarely curtailed my inner demons that consumed most of my life during my formative years.

My first memorable introduction to religion was the song Jesus Loves Me. The tune carries like a lullaby and my mother (in her sober state of mind) used to sing it trying to console me when she would carry my sickly body throughout our home. I had multiple bouts with pneumonia during my first three years in Woodville, Virginia, so I knew the song better than I knew my ABCs. Mom would also read bible stories to me from a blue book with a broken spine. However, we never attended church during our time in California or Virginia.

I didn’t begin attending church until living with my first foster family, and the Sunday tradition continued with my second foster family. Again, largely segregated by race, sermons were performed differently, but the pastors provided similar messaging.  I had a vivid imagination as a child, but I was also quite the literalist.  They couldn’t tell me I was drinking and eating the blood and flesh of Jesus without sparking my curiosity. At eight years old I convinced myself that, this is definitely grape juice and crackers, but reluctantly went along with it. They couldn’t convince me that theirs was only one faith worthy of the Kingdom of God without me observing the Presbyterian Church sign during our drive home and wondering what they’re like. However, it wasn’t my place to question the church, and I eventually just learned to go with the flow. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter.

Prayer was the one aspect of Christianity that I practiced continually, even when I didn’t believe anything would come of it. In my chapter, Swift Awakening, I attribute prayer to helping my finally begin turning my life around. I also turned to prayer during my college years to help me forgive all the people I felt betrayed by throughout my life. The heavy resentment was hindering everything I wanted to become, and I had to find a medium to help me release it.

My relationship with organized religion is complicated. With God, it’s even more complicated than that. I presented my experience in the most respectful way possible, but I understand believers and non-believers alike may question my logic. That’s perfectly reasonable.  I welcome discussion on the matter but can’t promise that I’ll have a definitive answer for every aspect of my faith.

Every journey is different. As humans, we naturally form into groups to identify with one community or another. That bond can be powerful and positive in nature. However, it’s important to refrain from judgment of someone else’s chosen path and instead reach out in times of need. If God indeed exists within this chaotic world of ours, then I safely believe we have been empowered to respect one another by affording everyone the dignity to walk their own journey home.

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Errors

This is my first publication, so errors are likely in a few spots throughout the book. If you find anything misspelled, grammatically incorrect, or any other kind of awkwardness, please let me know by filling out the form or in the comments section below.  I appreciate your willingness to hold me to a higher standard. I'm always looking to improve as a writer, so feel free to help me become the best that I can be!

Chapter 4: Black Foster

After three years living in a white foster home, my brother and I were placed in a black foster home. Placing me in a positive black neighborhood back in my Rappahannock safe haven was supposed to alleviate my problems. However, no one anticipated the quiet storm within forming into a three-year whirlwind of destructive emotions.

Adapting to black culture was a positive outcome in several ways, but the one thing aligning me with people of my same skin color couldn't contain was the anger waiting for one negative moment to ignite it. In chapter four, you’ll get into the chaotic mind of a deeply troubled child. If there was any time that society should have given up on me, it was during this interval of my life. However, my foster mother, friends (the few I had left) and the larger community would instead, lift me up.

Black Foster was by far the most difficult chapter to write. Several negative instances occurred that I can chalk up to hard life lessons, but the real challenge was articulating what was going on in my head during that time. Revisiting that period of my life required reopening old wounds most adults at this point in my life would tell me to “just get over it.” However, the events that happen to us during our formative years ultimately end up molding who we become as adults. We make most of our judgments based on our life experiences and continue our lifecycle based on those events.

Thankfully, I was able to transcend most of those incidents and overcome the negative events that could have easily come to define me. Whether it was by a stroke of luck or the grace of God, I’ve always struggled to make sense of it all. What was the purpose of that struggle? Why did I make it and so many others didn’t overcome the circumstances? Black Foster begins to mend the broken child led astray by believing he could fight his way through the confines of his surroundings only to realize the very people he was trying to push away were trying to embrace him the entire time. 

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Chapter 3: White Foster

Our nation’s reluctance to discuss race matters has led to continual misunderstanding and consequently the lack of healing our unsettled past. I labeled chapter three White Foster in an effort to highlight the shallowness of skin color and the one thing that mattered in the grand scheme of things.

My first foster family was white, and I had no idea they were any different from any other human being. At eight years of age, some would point out that it was child-like naiveté, but I had much bigger problems than race matters at the time. I recall having to deal with the uncertainty as I sat awake in their home that first night wondering where my other two brothers were. Physically, adapting to the new setting was relatively easy since I didn’t have to scrounge for food and slept in my very own bed. Mentally, I was a wreck. The level of distrust I had for everyone who had ripped my world apart initially turned into acting out at school and later settled into a deep depression.

Looking back, it didn’t necessarily stem from my first foster family. It largely stemmed from an inability to connect with my race. Through the boundless ways to define one’s blackness, my way didn’t fit into the only box available. Being an outcast from my own race left me in a constantly confused state of mind. As I shared in my excerpt (see Facebook page) last week, I didn’t dress like the black children at my new school, so I was a target from day one. Floyd T. Binns Elementary School, and by extension society at large, depicted that whites and blacks were just too different to get along. There was an unspoken price to pay for associating with whites, and living with them was almost sacrilegious.

Without a doubt, society gave me a rude introduction to race relations, but not in a way many would expect. I was catching heat from two black boys who determined that I acted “like a white boy” and a white girl who never relented when referring to me a “slave” or a “nigger.”  Other than how to endure the torment, I learned absolutely nothing schoolwise during that dreadful fifth grade year. Conversely, the negative experience managed to positively form my wide-ranging views on race to this very day.

In chapter three, you will discover the inner workings of a newly-placed foster child trying to process an uncertain world. I felt the need to depict this account from my inner child perspective. I was not the model child portrayed in many books. That is likely the case in many foster care situations. Many of the children have internal issues that may or may not be solved with mental wellness and enrichment programs. However, the potential to do great things is within every broken child. Believe in them. Love them. Support them. The rest should fall into place. 

The Broken Child Mended Man e-book is available at several online booksellers:

http://www.adamstarksonline.squarespace.com/order-book/

What’s up with your publishing strategy?

It goes without saying that publishing a book is an expensive and time consuming process. When I initially researched the traditional publishing route, I immediately determined that the possibility of successfully going through those channels would be very slim. Most of them hedge their bets on guaranteed best sellers and pay handsome advances to their well-known pool of authors. I don’t have time to chase lottery-like dreams, and I’m not obsessed with big-named author type sales either (ex. J.K. Rowling, I’m not gonna lie; it would be nice though!). Plus, it could take well over a year before the book would be available on the shelves or electronically. In short, I needed more sense of urgency and flexibility than what the traditional publishers could offer.

Next, I looked into hiring a literary agent. The downside (and a deal breaker for me) was that there was no guarantee your book would be a priority when they’re shopping a small hoard of books to would-be publishers. The royalty schemes were too much to bear in my opinion. Plus, there wasn’t a guaranteed time table, so I’d be at the mercy of whether or not my agent would genuinely care enough about my book to advocate on my behalf.

With a small budget and family to consider, I reluctantly decided that I had to push this book through more affordable and reliable channels. Of course, the other side of that coin requires me to put my marketing savvy to the test (minored in Marketing at EMU). That means more time dedicated to that effort to avoid having stagnant book sales (not doing this for my health…well kind of) and outreach.

I also considered fundraisers such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo, but couldn’t bring myself ask friends for money for this endeavor. It may not make sense to some, but it felt too selfish to do it this way. I also want to be able to take pride in saying, “I did this.” There are some things, such as starting the Urban Light Initiative, which I will not be able to accomplish alone, so using “we” doesn’t have the same negative undertone.  Throughout the BCMM chapters, I acknowledge several people who helped me make something of myself, but this effort required that I stand on my own two feet.  With all of that in mind, my current plan and timeframe looks something like this:

BookTango: e-book release to all major e-book distributors - September 1st-8th. Unfortunately, I can’t nail down a date since I’m at the mercy of the e-book retailers and how fast they can review BCMM and push it to market.

Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX): Audiobook release expected mid-October. I’m self-narrating since no one can tell the story quite like I can. Plus, it results in a 25% royalty increase since I do not have to share with a professional narrator.  

Dog Ear Publishing: Pending results from e-book sales, the hardcover and paperback versions should be available for order Late March-Early April. Pre order will be available online through all major book distributors. I will have to work hard to get the large retailers to order books to place on shelves. That process could mean that it wouldn’t be on shelves until the summer.

I also have to find out how to get this book in libraries across the country, press release, submits for review, etc. There’s obviously a huge learning curve that I will have to continue overcoming. It took 10 long months and countless late nights to complete this project, so I have no intention of giving in now. No doubt, this will require persistence, and I’ll probably deal with my fair share of frustration along the way. However, until I see BCMM on retail shelves, I’m going to enjoy this ride for what it is – another learning opportunity. 

Chapter 2: Virginia Raised

Like any other state, where you’re raised is only as relevant as what you choose to make of it. It’s also largely about the circumstances we fall into, which are uncontrollable during childhood When I arrived on a large farm in Rappahannock County, Virginia, I can recall the culture shock from being pulled against my will from the city life in Burbank, California. That uncertainly would continue to spiral long into my teenage years.

Our futures may belong to the paths we choose or the opportunities presented to us along the way, but nature-nurture sequence of events have a lot of pull in that destined outcome.  My sister was left behind in a California city with her father who had custody of her. My brothers and I went with my mother cross-country to rural Virginia.  My sister went on to live a solidly normal life and graduated from the prestigious Stanford University. She also went onto graduate from Duke with a master’s degree and UNC-Charlotte with a Ph.D.

On the other hand, Virginia Raised highlights my desperate attempts to ensure my brothers and I would survive before being swooped up and taken into foster care. For readers thus far, the chapter has brought many people who know me personally to tears, but I only ask that you think of the hundreds of thousands of children facing the same fate in the U.S. right now. I made it out okay, but too many of them never overcome the trauma of being taken from their family never to be reconnected or facing hunger on a daily basis. It’s difficult to overcome that type of instability, but it can be done with the help of community members willing to step up in place of absent/negligent parent(s). I didn’t realize it as an eight-year old, but my community stepped in at the right moment to remove us from a terrible situation. I hope this chapter offers a glimpse into the lives of foster and at-risk children throughout our country.

Now back to my sister’s results compared to my outcome. We both took very different pathways, with her journey being more secure while my formative years were faced with turmoil. However, we both ended up with PhDs. She is a successful professor at Providence, and I am a successful federal employee with a wife of 12 years and three amazing children. While the nature versus nurture debate rages on, I want everyone to understand that every child has potential. It is absolutely vital to our society’s future to help these broken children recognize their worth and unlock that potential. Regardless of our circumstances, we have a responsibility to act in the best interest of our children. I don’t know why there are so many people who neglect their own offspring in this country, but we must come together to find viable solutions to a snowballing problem. Then, and only, then will we unveil the absolute potential of our nation. 

The Broken Child Mended Man e-book is available at several online booksellers:

http://www.adamstarksonline.squarespace.com/order-book/

What’s that cover picture all about?

Several people have asked, “Hey man, what’s that cover picture all about?” or said, "Dude, it looks likes you're dead!  In short, it’s an allegory (a method of communicating a message through symbols and images) of my life up to this point. The child in the picture has clearly been through a lot in his early life. The straight face and saddened eyes give a sense of a boy filled with worry. When I find my two boys saddened, I embrace them with a hug. That’s the reason for embracing my picture.  That Broken Child needed a hug, and if I could travel back in time, that’s exactly what I’d do.

You can’t really tell in that cover photo, but I even went through the painstaking process (12 reruns of a YouTube video and 25 minutes later) of tying a trinity knot to represent past, present, and future (see if you can find my tie in other pictures throughout the web page!). The vibrant red is symbolic of courage, passion, action, love and intensity. The suit was…well, I just look good in a suit!

Now, what kind of crazy person lies in a cold creek in fresh threads? This guy…anything for the perfect shot! That’s my artistic flare coming out of the woodworks, which hasn’t happened since my grade school days. The image came to me while dreaming one night, and the photographer was able to snap a mirror image of what I conveyed to her. The water symbolizes a cleansing or letting go of a past that I never had the will to confront until I unveiled it on paper. Water currents, rough and smooth alike, are largely representative of life.  While the waterways (future) can’t be seen over their entire distance, it indeed goes on. Life ebbs and flows much in the same way; inconsistently and beautifully at the same time.

Photo (all talent, no photoshop required) courtesy of Amy Jenkins, In His Light Photography.

The Broken Child Mended Man e-book is available at several online booksellers:

www.adamstarks.com/order-book

Chapter 1: California Born

Being lucky enough to have been born in southern California in the early 80’s, I can recall the breeze blowing through palm trees and all of the vibrant red color in our apartment during my first 5 ½ years. My earliest memory resurfaced as an 18-month old falling out of my stroller and busting my head on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (both, my mother and sister confirmed the story when I told them about it). Without giving too much away, I was surprised by how much I remembered during those first 5 ½ years once I quieted my mind.    

I have mixed feelings about those early years. Obviously, I was too young to recognize my mother’s mental illness and addiction. I did my best to write from the perspective of that innocent child, but this chapter proved to be the most challenging. My father was nonexistent, but my sister’s father gracefully filled the gap. Throughout California Born, I managed to mostly focus on the good times with my sister until we had to abruptly fly across the country returning my mother’s roots in Rappahannock County, Virginia. 

The Broken Child Mended Man e-book is available at several online booksellers:

http://www.adamstarksonline.squarespace.com/order-book/

Why Broken Child Mended Man: Part 1

Throughout the U.S., there are roughly 500,000 foster children who will go to bed in another family’s home tonight. Suicides are too commonplace among teens and adults struggling through the same psychological and emotional situations I endured. Half of those students will not graduate from high school on time, if at all.  Upward mobility in our country is harder than ever meaning that children born into poverty and insecurity are unlikely to escape its clutches.  There are a multitude of reasons for writing a book of this genre. Much on my life hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned to cope with whatever comes my way. Achieving success by having a wonderful family and well-paying job should have been a stopping point in terms of my search for happiness.

However, I've always felt a calling to do more. For the longest time, I thought that calling might be getting involved in politics. Last year, I decided that I didn’t quite have the temperament to join the political fray and doubted I could make a difference even if I managed to make it all the way to Washington, D.C. I haven’t shut the door on an opportunity much further down the road, but I determined my knowledge and skill sets would be better utilized directly helping others achieve their own self-actualization – the realization or fulfillment of one’s talent and potential.

As a former foster youth from a small rural community, my story and name alike are pretty much unknown beyond Rappahannock County, Virginia. However, that hasn’t stopped me from setting out to begin making a name for myself in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Shortly after arriving in Pittsburgh, I began searching for something more meaningful to do with my everyday life. In short, I was in search of a career with a more fulfilling purpose. I came across the idea of a charter school, and it was that idea that finally ignited my soul. The concept was on my mind when I fell asleep and when I’d get out of bed in the morning. After meeting with the director of Pennsylvania’s charter school coalition and several friends, I was repeatedly encouraged to write my story. “It’s compelling.” “It’s inspiring.” Truth be told, I’d didn’t put that much thought into my life events having the ability to influence anyone. I’d had a turbulent existence up to that point, and the thought of reliving any of my past episodes didn’t immediately appeal to me. Over the course of six months, it finally dawned on me that I would have to venture back into my past and make amends with it if I were ever going to realize my newly sought-after future.  

In preparation for this book and to discover my writing style, I read seven books related to foster care or growing up under hard circumstances. I found myself reading through the inspiring progression, yet unable to relate to the authors in the end. While their stories tugged at my heartstrings, I didn’t get a feel for what they endured on an emotional level. They never seemed to make mistakes. They appeared to be naturally resilient to everything without explaining how they became that way. Unlike them, I was fortunate to avoid sexual or physical abuse along the way. I can’t even imagine dealing with horrendous occurrences and becoming a functioning adult afterwards. Foster children are a resilient breed, and my hats off to any of them who make it out of the system to become successful adults.

With Broken Child Mended Man (BCMM), I decided to take a risk and pour out my overwhelming sense of inner chaos that ultimately led to many poor decisions. Back then, I handled each crisis through an enraged lens. Thankfully, I was surrounded by two communities who saw through my social status and embraced a child searching for a way. I can say with absolute certitude that it’s been a long and arduous process to learn the coping mechanisms it takes to effectively deal with everyday life – at least the way many of us live. In my case, it was a process to become mended. As for the title of the book, I happened to be talking to an old friend about picking up the broken pieces of our lives and mending fences. Broken Child Mended Man popped into my head and replaced a title that must never be mentioned again (Hint: It was awful!). I hope you enjoy the read and find it useful in your endeavors.

Peace,

Adam Starks

The Broken Child Mended Man e-book is available at several online booksellers:

http://www.adamstarksonline.squarespace.com/order-book/