Sharon Dewey / by Michael Falco

Who is Sharon Dewey? 

Sharon Dewey is a retired mother of nine. She's been married 48 years and has four biological and five adopted children. As a child, her family moved around the country often as her father was in the Navy. She moved back to Battle Creek in 1955. She gave birth to four boys, but still wanted a girl so turned to adoption with her husband, Bob - a retired tool and die maker. They went on to foster many boys, most of whom were black, and adopted four of these children. 

Excerpt from interview with Sharon Dewey by Whitney Dow, 2017

Q: What did adopting children of another race and raising them in Battle Creek, how is it different, and what did you learn from having biological white children and raising them in Battle Creek? What was different about it?

Dewey: [09:40:55] Oh, a lot was different. Trying to interact with the African American community is difficult on certain levels. Because there was some animosity that I came across. I have never been particularly aware of or concerned about race issues. So when I come up against it, it’s always kind of a little bit of a surprise and a culture shock.

One of the ones that really sticks out in my mind is taking my two little African American sons to get a haircut. And I realized that I would take them into the barbershop—and I had these two preschoolers, you know. And we would sit there sometimes over an hour while other people were called ahead of us. And it took me a while to figure out that it was because I was white, and I had these boys. And sometimes in different community settings I might be approached and asked if I had any idea of how to raise a black boy. And I would say, “Do you have any suggestions? Is there anything I need to know?” And sometimes they would answer and sometimes they would just give me a bad look and move on. I have tried to take some of those suggestions as I’m raising these children. Some of them were hard. Simple things, like how do you care for their hair? I had answers from “always use Vaseline” and “never use Vaseline.” Even the people who were giving me suggestions didn’t seem to have the answers I needed. So I found my own way.

Q: How did it make you feel when people would approach you and say those things to you?

Dewey: [09:44:22] Sometimes when they talked to me like that I would feel defensive. Sometimes afterwards I would be a little worried. You know, what am I missing? I mean, there’s a whole lifetime of experiences I haven’t had. So what am I missing? What book should I read? And I have several now. But the books just don’t answer the questions that I need from day to day.

As they’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that there’re questions that I should have asked them. There’re experiences they have that they just—sometimes they don’t talk to me about it. And I know some of that is teenage boys just don’t talk. And some of it is experiences that they didn’t think I would understand.