Pact’s Adult Adoptee and Foster Care Alum of Color Advisory Board (AAFACAB)
Too often in the adoption field, the adoptee and foster care alum perspective is subordinated to that of the adoptive parent and/or foster parent. We believe that adult adoptees and foster care alumni are the truest experts on their own experience. We welcome their voices and support them as part of our mission. Members of Pact’s Adult Adoptee and Foster Care Alum of Color Advisory Board (AAFACAB) are asked to give feedback and advice to the organization regarding Pact Family Camp as well as other programming and policies the organization participates in. We consider it a privilege and an honor to have the following members currently serving on our AAFACAB. To underscore the organization’s commitment to placing the voice of adoptees central to our mission and programming, Susan Ito also serves as voting board member of Pact, where she is able to represent the collective voices of the adult adoptees represented here.
Susan Ito, firstname.lastname@example.org is a biracial Asian adoptee, teacher, and writer. She has served as the beloved director of Pact Camp from 2004 to 2011 and is now Head of Pact's Adult Adoptee Advisory Board. She is also a board member of Pact, and on the advisory team for the Adoption Museum Project. Her book A Ghost At Heart's Edge is one of the few literary anthologies focused on all members of the adoption triad. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including Growing Up Asian American, CHOICE, Making More Waves, Hip Mama and Literary Mama, where she is creative nonfiction editor and former columnist. Susan's solo performance piece on adoption, The Ice Cream Gene, has been performed nationally. She lives in Oakland with her husband, two daughters and mother.
S. Kripa Cooper-Lewter, Ph.D. is an Indian-American social worker, author and life coach. She has twenty years social work experience in the nonprofit, health, education and philanthropic sector. Throughout her career, she has focused on child welfare issues while strengthening individuals, families and communities. Previously President/CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Columbia, she currently works to support families experiencing poverty, immigration and kinship care. She received her Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina as a Council of Social Work Education Minority Fellow and her MSW from the University of Minnesota as a Title-IV E Child Welfare Scholar. Adopted from India, her dissertation explored the identity journeys of women adopted transnationally as children in their quest for authenticity and connection. Her dissertation received the 2012 Outstanding Dissertation Award by St. John's University Adoption Initiative. She is a Certified Personal Executive Coach and focuses her coaching practice on women grounded in resilience and positive psychology frameworks.
Susan Dusza Guerra Leksander, LMFT, is a licensed psychotherapist who works with all members of the adoption and foster care triad. She is currently Clinical Supervisor of the Family Preservation Team at a California agency whose mission is permanency for youth. She was adopted transracially at birth and with the support of her adoptive parents, reunited with her first families as a teenager. She is also a first mother, having placed her daughter for adoption in 2001 in an “open” adoption, which was subsequently closed by the adoptive parents. Susan routinely speaks about the experiences of adopted people and first parents at workshops for the adoption community. She is the author of the “Ask a First (Birth) Mother” column published in Pact's quarterly newsletter. She facilitates retreats and workshops for first mothers through the On Your Feet Foundation (OYFF) of Northern California, which provides services to women post-placement. She is President of the OYFF Board and Chair of the Public Education Committee. She is also a member of the Adoption Museum Project's advisory team.
Susan Harris O’Connor, MSW is a graduate of the Boston University School of Social Work. Currently, she is the director of Quality Assurance at Children’s Services of Roxbury and a professional coach and social work consultant for the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. Susan is a former foster child and transracial adoptee who writes on her life experience. Since 1996, her autobiographical narratives have been featured around the country and internationally at events and conferences such as the Harvard Medical conference series, the Cambridge Series and the Smith College Summer lecture series. In addition, Susan's racial identity model for transracially and internationally adopted persons was recently published in the esteemed British Journal, Adoption and Fostering. In 2012 Susan became the author of her first published book, The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee. This book is a compilation of her lifeworks consisting of five autobiographical narratives.
Steve Kalb is the Director of Adoptee Services in the Post Adoption Department at Holt International. He manages all youth services, post placement reporting, and birth search counseling. His time with Holt (since 2005) has given him valuable insight into the adoptive family experience through direct work with hundreds of adoptive families from across the United States. Steve holds a master’s degree in community based social work. He also teaches in the Graduate School of Social Work at Portland State University, where he is currently pursuing his Ph.D. His current research focus is on adoptee empowerment interventions with the hopes of bringing a community organizing philosophy into post adoption practice.
Julia Chinyere Oparah (formerly Sudbury), Ph.D., is an activist scholar and Professor and Chair of the Ethnic Studies Department at Mills College. She is co-editor of Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption (South End 2006), a collection of critical essays, personal testimonies and artwork by transracial and international adoptees. She is also editor of Global Lockdown: Race, Gender and the Prison Industrial Complex (Routledge 2005), co-editor of Activist Scholarship: Antiracism, Feminism and Social Change (Paradigm Publishers 2008), and author of Other Kinds of Dreams: Black Women’s Organisations and the Politics of Transformation (Routledge 1998). Julia has been involved in the racial justice, anti-violence, anti-prison and LGBTQ movements in the U.S., U.K., and Canada for two decades. She established Sankofa, a former Bay Area support group for transracial adoptees and is a founding member of Adopted and Fostered Adults of the African Diaspora. She lives with her partner and daughter in East Oakland, CA.
Sammy Sanchez, spent 14 years of his life in the foster care system, living in 8 different homes by the time he aged out when he was 18 years old. Unfortunately he experienced severe abuse at the hands of several of his former foster parents although he was also placed with a few who helped along the way. Describing his journey Sammy says; “The start of my young adult years was not easy. I made some decisions that impacted my life more negatively than I thought they would. I have survived everything placed on my path both by others or myself and I have learned that I can overcome them all if I aim for success. I hope one day to start a non-profit dedicated to helping out former and current foster youth as well as adoptees. In the meantime, Pact is the home of my heart.” Sammy is completing his BA in Social Work, currently has three Associate Degrees in Sociology, Social Science, and Liberal Arts with an emphasis in Social and Behavioral Sciences and eventually plans to get a Masters in Social Work (MSW). Sammy is Mexican American and has served as a counselor at Pact Family Camp since 2012.
Dwight Smith, is a transracial adoptee of color who was placed at birth. He is a graduate of UC Davis, where he first encountered his passion for working with youth. Over the years Dwight has continued to serve youth in a variety of ways as a teacher, tutor, coach and mentor. He currently volunteers his time as a mentor for the East Bay College Fund and serves on the Coro Center for Civic Leadership's Board of Directors. Dwight is also a Senior Associate on the Student and Professional Programs team at Net Impact, a nonprofit working to support a global network of sustainable change makers. He has been supporting Pact Adopt as a Pact Camp counselor and youth advocate for over two years and believes strongly in the importance of Pact's work - especially in supporting transracial adoptees of color. Pact has also served to connect Dwight to a network of other adult adoptees and foster alum regionally and nationally - which has been priceless in his personal journey as an adoptee of color.