Donors open wallets to help bring girl back from Utah

Relates to:
Date: 2005-01-06

Mary Mitchell
The Chicago Sun-Times

'Christmas just ain't Christmas without the one you love." That lyric just about explains why for the first time in my life, I boarded a cruise ship a week before Christmas and didn't return to the United States until after the New Year.

And why one Chicago grandmother won't give up the fight to get her granddaughter back from a Utah adoption agency.

Usually, I'm the one hanging lights from the trees and dragging in the Christmas tree. But when I realized that the only baby in the house -- my 4-year-old grandson -- would be spending his holiday with his grandmother in Toronto, there didn't seem to be much point in putting up a tree.

My adult children are beginning to create their own Christmas traditions. Sure they would have hung around my house long enough to unwrap their presents and to gobble down the turkey and dressing. But their obligations to in-laws and friends would have left me alone washing a sinkful of dirty dishes and watching boring TV.

Still, stopping the lifelong traditional celebration wasn't easy. And Christmas aboard a cruise ship is just plain ol' weird. At one point during that long day, I bumped into another woman on the elevator and we looked at each other and blurted out, "I want to get off this ship and go home."

A grandmother's struggle

Like most people whose work involves the lives of other people, it's difficult for me to take a long holiday without feeling guilty. I worried about all the stories that didn't get told, all the phone calls that couldn't be returned, all the problems that just weren't going to get solved.

And when the news reached us aboard the ship that 139,000 people had died as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean, for many of us, the holiday became something to get through rather than something to enjoy.

That's why I'm astounded that so many of you, despite your own holiday madness and nature's cruel reminder of human frailty, took the time to send $5 to help a grandmother fight for her grandchild, Tamia.

As you may recall, Maria McDonald's 20-year-old daughter took the infant to Utah and gave Tamia up for adoption on Dec. 2, without telling anyone.

Apparently disabled by depression, Carmen McDonald suffered a mental breakdown days later and was found wandering the streets "incoherent" and "hysterical" in New Orleans. Although Maria McDonald made several appeals to well-known civil rights groups, including the local NAACP and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition for assistance, she could not get any help from these groups.

In fact, only Bishop Larry Trotter, senior pastor of Sweet Holy Spirit Church, and recently installed presiding bishop of the United Pentecostal Churches of Christ, put his holiday on hold to support McDonald. And while I was scrambling to get out of the newsroom and a lot of politicians and community leaders were heading for a warmer climate, you, readers, quietly took up the slack by sending $5 to help McDonald hire a decent lawyer.

Letters, money, but little action

According to Sean Howard, a spokesman for Bishop Trotter and the Coalition to Save Baby Tamia, more than $4,000 has been raised for the Baby Tamia legal defense fund.

"We are getting letters and contributions on a daily basis," Trotter said. "I've met Ms. McDonald and she is a fitting grandmother. I thought she was wonderful and has a genuine concern for her grandbaby and her daughter."

McDonald is a member of The Rev. James Meeks' Salem Baptist Church, but Trotter has agreed to spearhead the effort to return Tamia home.

Meeks, who was pivotal in ending the strike at the City Colleges of Chicago and at Northeastern University, is out of town. He left word that he has requested that the Illinois Attorney General contact officials in Utah regarding the complaints against A Cherished Child Adoption Agency, Inc.

"Rev. Meeks, of course, is busy with the Senate and the new building and apparently he hasn't met Ms. McDonald face to face," Trotter said. "At this point, in addition to the legal matters, she needs the community's support."

On Tuesday, McDonald's attorney sent a letter to A Cherished Child Adoption Agency demanding Tamia's return.

"We faxed the letter to them and sent it out by certified mail," said Bob Fioretti. "We are close to having the complaint ready. The problem that we are faced with is we have to file it here. No one thinks we would get a fair shake in the Utah courts."

How you can help

Meanwhile, Maria McDonald is trying to recover from the hardest Christmas ever.

"Carmen's home. She is on medication. We're having some problems getting her mental health counseling, but we are working on that. I don't think she realized how much this was going to affect her life. She is struggling with being here and the baby not being here."

If you still want to support this effort, it is not too late. Send $5 to: Save Tamia Legal Fund, in care of Sweet Holy Spirit Church, 944 W. 103rd, Chicago 60643.


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