New Voices: Joseph Kerlin-Smith

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(Host) This week we’ve been hearing from new Vermonters who’ve enriched the state’s ethnic and social mix. One source of this new, more diverse picture is Out-of-Country adoption.

Joseph Kerlin-Smith lived in Ethiopia until his parents died.

He was almost twelve when he and his younger sister Anna were adopted by a family in Marlboro. He’s now a senior at Brattleboro Union High School. Today in New Voices, he talks about his old life and his new one.

(Kerlin-Smith) “Well, my father passed away first. When my mom and my sister got the news, I was away doing regular chores, taking care of cows and making sure they didn’t go into other people’s farms and eating corns or whatever they were growing.”

“And usually when people would die there they carry their clothes upside down on their shoulders. And I saw the long pants that my mom had, and I was just crying and then everyone else started crying. My sister didn’t even know what was going on.”

“And then mom passed away. And after that my Grandfather found out about what happened, and he came to take us to where he lives in the capital. And he heard something about adoption or something about coming to America. And I didn’t know anything about America. I didn’t really know what it was.”

“Jayne Gallagher, she was the one that my grandfather met. She did a lot of adoptions for different people.”

“I was in Ethiopia when Jayne got me like my first pair of shoes there. With the shoes I could just do anything I wanted. I just like walked around and played and ran on them, I didn’t want to take them off. And when I got here I got shoes like every month, cause I outgrew them. I grew really fast when I got here. I had more food here than I ever did.”

“I really liked school just cause I never got to go to school there. But I was scared cause I thought me and my sister were the only black people here. But most of the kids were really nice and I got along with them.”

“It took me like three to six months to get all the basics down, like for me to have a short conversation. I remember sitting on the bus and saying, like, all I want to do is just speak English and talk with everyone.”

“Right now I’m doing cross country and I run for Brattleboro Union high school. And last year I was sixteenth in the state and I made New England. When I was still in Ethiopia, I ran to, like, everything I did. I always ran. When people ask me what I do to train or how I like running, like I really don’t know what to say to them cause I’m just running.”

“I guess like everyone says that I’m a leader, and not a follower. But I just get along with everyone, like whether they’re black or white or any kind of color or whatever they are I just talk to them.”

(Ethiopian music begins)

(Kerlin-Smith) “I’ve changed, I mean I’ve grown a lot, I’m like a different person. But to me, family’s the important thing and it still is right now.”

“I guess it’s cause as I was growing up a lot of times I was just on my own, taking care of my sister and stuff like that. … I just wanted to have a family.”

(Host) Joseph Kerlin Smith hopes to pursue a career in law enforcement. He’d also like to visit Ethiopia to find his two older brothers who still live there.

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