When Shelby Patrice Jenkins was a baby, her mother abandoned her at a caregiver’s house. She spent the next year and a half at the Crisis Center in Miami with many other foster children, all waiting for their forever families.
Adopted at 19 months old, she would live with her adoptive parents for 10 years before finding out she was adopted. For the next years of her life, she kept her adoption a secret — afraid of how people would treat her if they knew the truth.
But, today, she’s overcome that fear and is raising awareness about adoption as Miss Texas US International 2016 and the ambassador for Adoption is Beautiful, a national movement aiming to promote a positive conversation about adoption across the United States.
“I wanted a platform that I can relate to and I can speak to kids that are in the foster system or are adopted,” she said. “After 16 years of my life, that’s when I decided to come out and say, ‘I’m adopted.’”
Adoption is Beautiful
Partnering with Adoption Share, the organization behind Adoption is Beautiful, Jenkins is traveling the country to spread awareness about adoption. She has been attending conferences and workshops, making herself available as a resource to parents considering adoption as well as children in the foster care system or who have already been adopted.
However, while she’s spreading a positive message about adoption today, it wasn’t an easy journey toward accepting her own adoption. When she found out about her adoption, Jenkins was hesitant to tell anyone about it because she was afraid people wouldn’t understand or would make fun of her. When she finally came out with the truth, she was petrified.
Instead of jeers, however, she found a huge support system that she’s hoping to share with other adopted children.
“People were actually telling me, ‘Shelby, wow. Your story is so powerful,’” she said, remembering hearing from other adopted people who had never told their story, some even women in their 30s and 40s. One woman had never even told her husband she was adopted.
“I felt like I was the only one in America hiding that,” she said. “And I wasn’t.”
While she’s still coping with the emotions of her adoption — she’s working up the courage to contact her biological parents — she’s using her newfound appreciation of adoption to help the thousands of children in foster care across the country find adoptive parents. She said her adoptive parents, who have been supportive of her throughout her life in whatever passion she had, are thrilled about her choice to educate others about the realities of adoption.
In addition to meeting with potential parents and children available for adoption, Jenkins worked closely with producers of the movie “Storks” to discuss and spread awareness about its adoption themes and has spoken about her platform to several media outlets. She was even on the cover of Adoption Today’s November issue.
She’ll serve as the ambassador for Adoption is Beautiful until August 2017 and, after that, she plans to continue raising awareness about adoption through her personal brand. She and her team are hoping to start a perfume line (with proceeds going to adoption organizations) and bring an “adoption tour” to campuses across the country so she can share her story and, hopefully, increase foster care adoption rates.
“It’s such a positive message to the community — showing how far I’ve gotten,” she said. “I do it because it’s my passion and because I really want these kids to get adopted.
“I’m able to reach out to these kids and say, you know, ‘If I can do it, you can do it, too,’” she said. “The best is yet to come.”