by Sue Ann Rybak
Sara Miller Greene, 40, of Mt. Airy, understands what it means to be different. Greene was born in Nazareth, Ethiopia. Her birth mother was homeless and knew she couldn’t afford another mouth to feed. Her son Yonas was slowly dying of starvation.
“My mother left me at the country hospital where I was born,” Greene said.
She said her mother made a heart-wrenching decision to give her a chance at survival and, hopefully, a better life.
“There was an American nurse working at the hospital, and she knew my parents, who were Mennonite missionaries,” Greene said. “My mom will tell you it was love at first sight.”
Three months later, she was adopted by Lois Nafziger and Sam Miller. After living in Ethiopia for three years, Greene’s parents returned to United States roughly eight months later.
“That summer, Emperor Haile Selassie was put under house arrest,” Greene said. “I don’t have any memories of Ethiopia. My parents moved to Germantown when I was four years old. As an African-American child growing up in a white family, I sort of stood out.”
She added that even though she lived in a predominantly African-American neighborhood, “people would still stare and wonder why this white family has this black baby.”
“It was difficult growing up,” said Greene, who attended Fitler Academics Plus Elementary School in Germantown. “My parents have a biological daughter, who is two years older than me. In elementary school, people didn’t believe that Jennifer was my sister. When you grow up with somebody and that’s the only family you ever know as a young child – you’re like, ‘that’s my sister!’”
She said after teacher-parent conferences, and after people understood “why this family had a black baby, then everything was wonderful.”
Greene, who works as a Trust Administrator for a Special Needs Trust and is a court-appointed legal guardian, said it was difficult growing up in the 1970s when there weren’t a lot of interracial or transcultural families.
“When I was growing up there wasn’t a lot of children’s books about adoption – especially ones that sort of spoke to my situation,” she said. “Back then, if a child was adopted, they were usually in the same race and nobody talked about it.”
Despite all her struggles, Greene said she was blessed to have great parents.
“My mom learned how to corn-roll hair when I was very young,” she said. “People would always compliment me on my hair and ask who did it. And I always replied ‘my mom.’ And they would look at me like, ‘this white women did your hair?'”
“I think it’s very important for everybody to have a place where they feel accepted and loved,” Greene said. “I am very grateful that I had such a wonderful family.”
The idea for the book “Love for a Lion” began as a project to do with her nephew Ian. The mother of two added that she always loved reading books to her children every night before bed.
“I wanted to write a book where kids could see themselves in it,” Greene said. “I wanted young children to have a book where they could read and feel like their family was just like every other family.”
“I also think it has a great message about tolerance for kids who live in biological families,” she said. “I think a lot of the pain I had growing up was from other kids and parents who just didn’t understand that there are different ways families are made. Some babies are born into their families, some people have foster children and some people adopt.”
Greene said the book is about a lion who lost his family. One day he makes two new friends who lead him on a journey to find his forever family and the love he has been searching for.
“I think the lesson is you can find love in a family even when everyone is different and doesn’t look the same,” she said.