Valuing Diversity and Honoring Ancestry

I grew up in rural North Carolina as a Tadlock. However, that was not my birth name. Born as Martin Chavis, I was raised by my mother’s second husband, a Tadlock, from the age of 18 months. A formal adoption came at the age of 12, and my last name was changed from Chavis to Tadlock.

I never knew my birth father or the history of the Chavis family. It was something that just wasn’t talked about in our home.

When I was 33 years old, my second son had kidney failure and needed a kidney, which I donated. During the hospital recovery stay, my birth father, Lee Chavis, showed up; the first time I had ever met him. He had been keeping track of me since the divorce when I was less than a year old. I never knew.

Amazingly, we were very much alike, not just in appearance, but in mannerisms, attitude, and characteristics you would think can’t be linked to nature, but to nurture. A debate for another time.

From that point forward, I found out all about the Chavis family. I learned about my Chavis ancestry, which is Lumbee/English. I obtained records and found stories about my great grandfather who was one of the original Dawes Act listed Lumbees of North Carolina. He married an English woman, Mary Sykes, and lived on the N.C./S.C. border in the Little Pee Dee River area south of Lumberton. We learned that he was a sharecropper in the cotton fields, raised seven children, and died suddenly at a family Christmas gathering. My wife and I found and visited his and Mary’s grave site at the Little Pee Dee Baptist Church near Clio, S.C., meeting several distant relatives in the process of finding their graves.

His oldest son, Harmon (my grandfather) left the Little Pee Dee and moved to Cordova, N.C. to work in a textile mill, found love and married an Irish woman.

His youngest son, Lee (my father), was born in Cordova and grew up there, marrying my mother, who is German, Scotch/Irish, and Cherokee.

Spending time finding out about my family’s history was life changing. Chavis is the second largest name in Lumbee country. On the S.C. side, the tribe is the Pee Dee Indian Tribe of S.C., and I am a tribal member. The tribe worked hard to gather its people (officially declared “extinct” at one time by the state of South Carolina), and finally officially chartered in 1976. In 2006, the tribe gained state recognition and is still trying to receive federal recognition.

Why am I sharing all of this?

Because it changed my life, my perspective, and my sense of self. Until I found out about my biological roots, my family’s history, my ancestry, I really didn’t have a sense of where I came from and who I was. I never really felt connected to the Tadlock line, although I grew up in that family. I didn’t know anything about the long line of people who had come before me on the Chavis side who later became part of who I am. I had no knowledge of their struggles to raise children, their living through difficult times in trying circumstances, or their reality of enduring policies and practices that were racist and oppressive during the time period that my great grandfather and grandfather lived. The history that fed my biological self (and as mentioned earlier, something more than the biology) wasn’t known.

My appreciation of the struggles experienced by people who aren’t mainstream society, of what it is like to live as an Indian person in a predominately European-American society, of the strength that comes from knowing who you are based upon where you came from, grew tremendously. While I grew up poor as a rural kid named Tadlock and already was sensitive to what this is like, my sensitivity to the power of language, the nuances of meaning in everything that is said when it relates to race, ethnicity, and socio-cultural standing increased tremendously.

My commitment to valuing diversity and honoring the ancestry that informs who I am as a person took a giant leap forward.

We are a university, a collection of people who choose to work and live here for many different reasons. However, those reasons must include an unshakable commitment to equity, inclusion, acceptance of all people regardless of their ancestry, respect for disparate viewpoints, and a commitment to respecting and honoring the diversity that enriches and informs our community.

That commitment can’t just be on paper or in policy; it must be lived every day by every one of us as we interact, disagree, agree, dialogue and debate. We have to be vigilant and educational at the same time, expanding the circle of inclusion to bring inside all of those who are excluded for reasons that have no validity.

Everyone at BSU needs to commit to this, or not work at BSU.

Maybe that is why I am sharing this.