Kennon was raised by in the lumber town of Mattawa, Canada, where he was one of the only people of color in the community. Growing up in a predominantly white community, he later had trouble assimilating into the black and Jamaican communities when he moved to Toronto. Struggling to find himself, Kennon journeyed to the land of his roots, Jamaica, discovered Rastafarianism, and ultimately found the love and acceptance he missed his entire life.
She just said, like, I'm so sorry for everything that happened to you. If I knew that just I would have gone to Canada, myself to bring you back to Jamaica, to make sure that you grew up around your people. You know,
Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? This is who am I really a podcast about adoptees that have located and connected with their biological family members. I'm Damon Davis. And today you're going to meet Kennon. He called me from Markham, a suburb of Toronto, Canada. Kennon is a man of mixed race who grew up in a predominantly white community. And the racially charged comments he heard in his youth were alienating for a guy who just wanted to belong. When he moved to Toronto, his upbringing in the small town hindered his ability to fit in with people of color throughout Kennon's life. It seems like he didn't belong anywhere until he found his roots in Jamaica. This is Kennon's journey. Kennon grew up in Matawa Canada, a small French Canadian lumber town. He was a Brown skin child in a community filled with white people. He said it didn't take him very long to feel how different he was from the rest of his community.
I was different than others because I lived in a principally white community and a French Canadian community. And I was Brown you know or black or whatever you want to call it mixed. I'm mixed race. So, you know, I'm not, uh, I'm not the darkest man around, but I'm also not a, nobody would mistake me for a white person either. So the pressure of being different, you know, probably prompted me to inquire with my parents, uh, probably earlier than most adopted kids might as to why I'm being targeted for being different and all those kinds of things. Right. You know, my earliest solid recollection of, of really starting to feel that sort of, uh, awkwardness and, and, and understanding that I wasn't, the child of my parents was probably, I don't know, seven, eight, nine years old before it really started to like sink in, in a way that I could, you know, actively think about in a conscious manner.
That's fascinating. And what did you think about what, when you say you were targeted for being different, what kinds of things were happening to you that really sort of flagged your difference?
Well, I mean, you know, principally, it was name calling, uh, you know, I heard the N word lot when I was a kid child. I was called Oreo cookie a lot, like Kamala the Ugandan giant. Like there were a thousand names that people had me, you know, tar baby, uh, you know, there is even within my family, you know, my, my mother's uncle, I remember used to always rise me saying I was blacker than Toby's arse and things like that. And, you know, I didn't really think much of it maybe at the time, but, you know, and I'm thinking about it in subsequent years, you know, that's a, that's a highly offensive racist kind of a statement.
And, uh, and this was a man who, who was a native American, right? Uh, not a hundred percent, but probably 50 or 60% native American. And so it was a weird dynamic between him and I, I would, I would sometimes fire back, you know, things at him to sort of, you know, degrade his person a little bit with respect to his, you know, but it wasn't, it wasn't healthy. It was definitely something that undermined my confidence, a great deal. When I was young,
Kennon is feeling his differences from others. He's hearing racist, epithets barked at him by his peers. And even his uncle when he asked his parents, liberal teachers respected in the community, why he was being singled out, they tried to remind Kennon that there was nothing wrong with him and challenged the ideals of those who would attack him.
They provided me a fairly consistent message of, you know, it was a combination of, you know, you're special and you're unique. You're not like the others, but that doesn't mean you're bad or that there's something wrong with you. And then that usually followed up with, uh, with some messaging around other people being ignorant and other people, not really being able to, to understand and appreciate who you are because of their own backwardness and things like that. So, you know, they did their best to defend me, but, um, and to sort of give me some tools to sort of help manage, you know, what I was feeling, but, you know, they couldn't, they couldn't really speak to me, you know, as a black person, they couldn't really give me much more beyond, uh, you know, just kind of show yourself up and be prepared because this, this is going to be the last of it. And the people that are going to call you these things may not be your friends. And they may not truly, you know, understand themselves either. And that kind of thing. It was more along those lines.
Kennon said that he was a happy kid growing up, playing hockey, going fishing and riding his bike. But as he got older, things changed, he said, his urge is to search for biological relationships started when he was a teenager. And he was further isolated.
Once I became a teenager and I started to see my other friends start dating, you know, it just seemed like there was no girl that was interested in me and anybody that I asked out, very quickly said no, or, you know, oftentimes I would hear like I couldn't because my parents would absolutely lose some of their minds if they knew I was dating somebody like you, things like that. So that's what really started to sort of make the whole thing, start to percolate that little bit more to say, like, there must be something else. There must be some other place, some other people's or some other place I can move to, to find somebody of like minds of light skin tone, you know, all those kinds of things.
I was, I'm glad you raised the part about dating because as you, as I asked the question, I'm thinking to myself, you know, this guy's growing up in a predominantly Caucasian lumber town. He's, I mean, you had to be one of maybe two, if any other people of color. And I was wondering about that, you know, you grow up, you start trying to date, you know, the dating circle can be very, very close and competitive in under normal circumstances. And then if you stand out, you know, under any kind of circumstances, for any reason, you're automatically eliminated as a possibility, for sure. As soon as Kennon and turned 18, he was out of there. He moved to Toronto to try to start a new, but integrating himself into a new, more diverse group of friends was challenging. He struggled to find inroads into the black community there because he was seen as culturally, very white in their eyes. It's a common phenomenon for someone who's raised outside of their cultural norms. They're visually different than the community in which they were raised as Kennon had been back in Matawa, but they've picked up all of the norms of that community, which unintentionally separates them from the heritage and culture. They're trying to introduce themselves into,
In fact, I received a, as much or more flack from that community for being mixed and for being quote on quote Canadian and being, you know, hockey and, you know, baseball caps and, you know, all of the sort of typical Canadiana type things. Right. But, um, you know, the one thing that I did know at a fairly early age was, you know, from my parents that was, you know, they, they were able to tell me that my father was Jamaican. They were able to tell me that he was a musician and that my mom was studying to be a nurse and that she was Canadian or white, if you want to call it. And, but really the thing that stuck out in my mind, you know, from 12, 13, 14 onwards was the fact that my father was Jamaican, you know, and that he was a musician because I was very involved in music as well. I was always on the band and played the music and all these kinds of things. And so that's the thing a really, really, really, really close to. I'm just having a moment.
it's, it's still a volatile subject for me,
Kennon says he still sometimes feels like an outsider after years of trying to fit in, even though his wife and children are black, he speaks with a unique combination of a Canadian accent with the Queen's English mixed in with a Jamaican accent,
They'd say, Oh, you're the whitest black person I've ever met. That's something that, you know, stings still to this day to be perfectly honest,
But Kennon pressed on trying to assimilate into the cosmopolitan city of Toronto, his older sister, who is biological to his parents and seven years, his senior moved to Toronto before him. So his parents already kind of knew Kennon's moved. There was imminent. He said his parents who had divorced, had differing opinions about the move. His mother was more supportive of his move, but his father tried to convince him to stay in town, get a job at the lumber mill and find a wife, but that didn't appeal to Kennon at all.
You know, I have always moved with, without any impedance where that is concerned. Like I haven't really taken their, their thoughts and feelings into consideration where, you know, my, my wellbeing, my racial well being was concerned. So I just went ahead and moved and, and, you know, started to live my life down here
Throughout college Kennon had white friends, dated white women, and really did move toward his black or Jamaican heritage for three years. But he had a sense in the back of his mind where he was going when he was about 22, he filled out the paperwork to learn who his biological parents were, but his quest led him astray from the friend circles. He had developed those friends were intimidated by the fact that he was looking for an identity outside of their group,
Because, you know, I, I traveled to Jamaica when I was 20 years old and in a college trip, there was 30 of us. And, you know, it was just partying, booze, you know, girls, the whole kind of thing. But you know, a few times during that trip, when I was down to Jamaica, the very first time I kind of went off the beaten track by myself, by myself. And, you know, I remember this, uh, sorry, I remember this one old Rasta man who kind of befriended me. He used to stand outside this one show store, you know, and he didn't have to be nice to me. There was, he didn't own me anything, but there was something about him that just kind of sensed that I was ill at ease, you know, what some in my life. And he, you know, he started asking me a couple of questions about who I was and where I came from.
And, you know, I was able to tell him, you know, all my father's Jamaican and you know, this and that and whatever else. So he really kind of inspired me to, to take on that persona or take on that identity. You know, he says, that's your people, you know, your father is your father. And if you don't, you have to, you know, make sure that you know who you are, if you, unless you know who you are in the past, you can't go forward when you're just walking on quicksand kind of a thing. Right. And, um, you know, it was that, that time that, you know, I was, I was sort of like a sworn, uh, easiest, I guess at that point in my life, I really had no purpose with God. I kinda given up on the whole spirituality thing. But, um, you know, that man kind of inspired me to start looking into spirituality, at least from a historical context. You know,
The Rastafarian man gave Kennon a book called dread. It covered the history of Jamaica, the Rastafarian movement and slavery it's swayed Kennon spiritual path, introducing the country of Ethiopia into his life. He journeyed there to find himself
Ethiopia sprung into my, into my consciousness, like a beacon of light. And it just, you know, I very quickly started to just read and consume anything, uh, about Ethiopia. So I went to Ethiopia when I was 24 years of age to find myself, I guess you could say. And, um, it really, really changed, you know, my outlook in terms of my identity and feeling comfortable within my skin and feeling accepted and feeling, you know, at home around black people and things like that. And it really sort of set the stage for, you know, the man I've become in my later years, you know,
That's really amazing that, that an individual, as you said, who owes you, nothing doesn't know you from anybody else sets you off on this journey, both sort of spiritual wise and, and in terms of just general introspection. And it's fascinating too, I can't help, but think most people when I speak with them, talk about a search for their birth mother, but you have made a strong tie to your father's culture and I can't help, but think that a strong piece of that is because you already grew up in a predominantly white community and as a brown man, you are searching for your connection to other people of color. And so the identity of your father...