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Camp helps black kids find roots

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While 4-year-old Petriece Risenmay was making a necklace with her mother Leanna, she talked about what she is going to do when she gets older:

She wants to sing and teach her kids about Jesus.

All Leanna could do was sit and smile at her little girl, as she carefully put each bead of her necklace in place.Petriece and Leanna were just two of nearly 300 people who showed up at the 14th annual African-American Family Culture Camp in Herriman Monday. And though there were people at the culture camp they didn't know, they felt they were at a family reunion.

The culture camp is sponsored by Families for African-American Awareness, a resource group for Utah families who have adopted black children. The group's goals are to answer the questions white parents may have about rearing black children, and to educate the children on the history of black cultures in the United States and Africa.

But Tyler Brown, president of the group, hopes the culture camp will also serve as a place where these minority children can feel as if they are a part of a majority.

"The theme of this year's camp is `Umoja,' which means unity in Swahili," Brown said. "You can't raise these children to be white; you've got to raise them to be black. We are here to offer support to families who have adopted black children. Other than the fact that they love the child, some parents generally don't know a lot of the special needs these children have. We also help the parents and the children know about their heritage."

Brown, who has adopted three black children, said that this year's turnout was the biggest he had ever seen. He said that one week doesn't go by without finding out about a family who has never heard of the Families for African-American Awareness group.

For Leanna and her family, the camp serves as a time to be with her family and to renew old acquaintances.

"We know most of the people who are out here," Leanna said. "It's good for the kids to get to know some other people and to be around people who are just like them.

"Most of our friends have children who are trans-racially adopted . . . so, we have a pretty extensive support system."

Leanna has eight children - two who are her biological children, and six who are adopted - ranging in ages from 1 to 11 years.

This year's culture camp had a little more meaning to the Risenmay family. This time last year is when they got the call telling them they were going to be able to adopt 6-year-old Iesha, Petriece and 3-year-old Shoshana.

Activities for the camp included hayrides, swimming, African arts, family picnics, music and special appearances by a football player from Brigham Young University.

Tyrone Brown, sophomore halfback from Virginia, entertained some of the older children by putting on a mini-football camp. Appearances by BYU players have been a tradition at the camp in the past couple of years.

"This is great to be out here," Tyrone Brown said. "It's good to let these kids know they have friends and that they aren't alone."