Name: John Edmonds
Hometown: New York City, New York
Relationship: Married to Karen
Teenagers Living at Home: Kira, Jaeden and Kalia
Adult Children: Rachel, Dane, and Nor
Job: Supervisor of Family Support Programs, Olmsted County Child & Family Services
EDITOR: Can you explain your involvement with Project Legacy?
JOHN: My involvement with Project Legacy has been to assist with the planning and the articulation of the philosophy and mission of the program. I think my greatest contribution has been in supporting Karen. My personal passion and work has focused on the issues of racism, disproportionality and inequality that impacts African-Americans and other people of color. Much of my work has focused on analyzing and strategizing about systemic racism (on a macro-level), but I’ve also contributed practice (micro) level models. Project Legacy is one of those micro-level models which is highly effective in creating a healthy pathway to the future. By its very nature, it relies heavily on positive, nurturing relationships.
PAM: How did you meet Karen?
JOHN:We met online, back before that was a thing. People were very skeptical of it at the time. Folks thought she was crazy when she came east to visit me in New York. They thought she would come home stuffed in a trunk.
PAM: Can we say that you moved across the country for love?
JOHN: They asked me that in my job interview with Olmsted County. And I told them, “Yes.”
I had a friend from NYC who went to college in Minnesota and eventually settled down here. So I made many trips out here in the 1970s. I’d always wanted to live in Minnesota.
When I was 47, I began to reevaluate where my life was heading, reevaluate my pursuit of money. Then I had a pivotal moment: My boss, a woman whom I really respected and cared about, died of breast cancer, pretty quickly. That deeply affected me and made me think about relationships and what was meaningful.
My priority ceased to be my salary; it became, “Am I doing something that is important to me?” When I arrived in Rochester, I didn’t have a job, but I had confidence. There were many things I could do, and I knew I could survive. I was hired within a week. I became the first African-American social worker for Olmsted County Child & Family Services. I was hired to work specifically with African-American clients, to do child protective services and develop programs for that population, and that was fine with me.
The people who find themselves in child protection often are coming out of poverty and large urban centers. Coming to Rochester is a culture shock for them, and I understood that. I experienced it myself when I first arrived in 1997. It used to be, if I saw another African-American person around, it was startling. Back then, Rochester was nowhere near as diverse as it is today, and it’s still not that diverse.
PAM: You have diversity within your family too.
JOHN: Yes. Kira and Jaeden are our biological children, and Kalia is adopted. We also have a grown daughter, Nor, whom we consider to be our daughter, though it’s not a legal relationship.
Karen had a friendship with a Hmong woman whose family had come to the U.S. at the end of the Vietnam War. Her husband had died in the war. When she emigrated, she brought seven children, including Nor and Yer. When Nor was 6, their mother died of cancer. So Karen took them both in.
I entered the picture when Nor was 9; we raised her together. Yer eventually left to live in St. Paul. Nor became the first member of her entire extended family to go to college (at St. Olaf).
PAM: My kids are bi-racial, and people used to ask me if they were adopted. Have you had any experiences like that?
JOHN: Karen has gotten some weird questions about our kids, like, “Where did you get them?” People do look at us strangely sometimes. And people feel this sort of freedom to come up and say things. It’s a little invasive. How can we help people to be more sensitive?
PAM: How do you feel about raising three teenagers later in life?
JOHN: I’m a late-in-life dad. That has positives and negatives associated with it. The positive is that I wasn’t ready to be a father when I was younger, so it’s good that I waited. Kira was born when I was 50. I was ready to be a dad then. I had my priorities in order. Because of the timing, it was easy for me to say, “This is the most important thing for me now.” I don’t want to miss anything my kids do.
PAM: What about the “con” side to being a late-in-life dad?
JOHN: The down side is that you get to 50, and you don’t have the energy that you used to. Then you get to 60, and it’s even worse. I [probably] won’t live to see certain significant events of my kids’ lives, and I regret that. But I wouldn’t change my timing in terms of becoming a father.
PAM: You could retire now.
JOHN: I have a job that I’m very invested in because it squares with my values. I love what I do. It’s fun and I’m passionate about it, but I can still be very present in my kids’ lives as a father. Why would I even consider retiring?
Pam Whitfield is a teacher, writer, horse show judge and spoken word artist. In 2011, she won the Minnesota professor of the year award from the Carnegie Foundation.