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The path that brought us to Toledo was a winding one. In a way, you could say that we were brought here by the birth of our first child.
Our beautiful baby girl was born on the evening of August 20th, 2016 in Bismarck, North Dakota.
I still remember bursting into tears the first time I saw her.
In that moment our lives changed.
I often state that the birth of our daughter has been my most humanity-expanding experience.
Even when thinking about it years later, playing a part in creating life still feels surreal.
Yet, at the time, we had no idea just how many more surreal moments would follow.
Weeks after her birth, the results of the newborn screening test revealed that she had sickle cell anemia, an often excruciatingly painful blood disease.
It is hard to put into words the feeling of seeing your child for the first time.
Even more challenging, the initial shock of accepting that your child has a lifelong disease.
The pain of this realization did not overcome our joy, but we were mobilized.
We knew that our time in North Dakota had come to an end.
Sickle cell is a disease that is primarily positioned in the African-American community.
Genetically, the disease came to be millennia ago as a gene mutation that helped Africans resist the debilitating effects of malaria, a mosquito-borne disease that still kills today at a global rate of more than half a million people per year.
While the life expectancy of those living with sickle cell has increased, and in recent years there has been a surge of research dollars and interest in curing the disease, historically, sickle cell research has faced a chronic lack of funding.
And, with this dearth in funding, a dearth of medical professionals skilled in caring for people with the disease.
As a rule, people with sickle cell in America will find the best options for care in major cities with sizeable African-American populations.
Needless to say, Bismarck does not fit the bill.
My wife and I had moved to North Dakota four years prior, in the twilight of the Great Recession, to carve out a better life for ourselves.
We loved it. We still love it. We still miss it.
This is something that our family members, close friends, and acquaintances have always found perplexing; I mean, it’s North Dakota. Talk about flyover country.
Raised as Southerners in Atlanta, Georgia, we were reborn as Midwesterners in North Dakota.
In making this move, we did many things that Americans are doing with less frequency nowadays.
We moved for economic opportunity.
We moved to the Midwest, a region of the country where populations and local economies have been shrinking.
We moved from Atlanta, a city often referred to as the Black Mecca, to Bismarck, North Dakota.
To a state containing one of the highest Native American populations in the country.
To a capital city that is one of the whitest in the nation.
To a place that we were not familiar with.
And, in the process, we caught a glimpse of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s American dream.
We lived, loved, and shared with people that looked different from us, yet we discovered our core human connectedness.
To be sure, the experience was not without its low points, but overall it helped me to understand the promise of the American project; a society of diverse people daring to be one.
It is here that I fully absorbed the connecting thread running throughout our country.
North Dakota is where I fully embraced what it means to be American.