by Tenesha Green | WeINSPIRE Reporter
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — 443,000. That was the number of children in the foster care system across the United States in 2017. According to Child Trends Research Center, African American children made up 23 percent of the foster care system compared to their share of 14 percent in the United States’ population (see Figure 1).
50-year-old Billie Joe Sheppard, a Shampoo Assistant at Loc Lov Salon in Washington, D.C., grew up in Bedford Heights, Ohio with a foster mother and father and three other foster kids.
Like most foster children, Sheppard wondered about his biological parents. However, he was taught that it was disrespectful towards his foster parents to even ask about where he came from.
In 1983, when Sheppard was 14 years old, he requested his birth certificate. This was a necessary document in order to start working at Wendy’s through a state program. When he received his birth certificate, to his surprise, there was an address on it.
Since it was instilled in him that he should never inquire after his biological family, Sheppard shrugged it off at first. In 1993, curiosity got the best of him.
One day after church, he decided to go by the address and check it out. The address turned out to be right down the street from the church.
The house looked closed up and the outside of the home gave him an eerie feeling. In the driveway, there was a blue 1987 Lincoln Town car. His foster parents had a grey 1987 Lincoln Town car.
“Okay… that’s interesting,” Sheppard thought.
As he scanned the front yard his gaze landed upon all the flowers. The immaculate array reminded him of his foster mother’s garden where he had learned to care for living things at her side. From an early age, he spent time helping his foster mother plant various flowers in her garden at their home.
“Oh my gosh,” he thought. “This is the same setting I grew up in.”
Amazed by the sight, Sheppard returned home not knowing that he would be back.
Two months later, before he left Cleveland, Ohio and traveled over 700 miles away to Atlanta, Georgia to start a new chapter in his life, he knew he had to close his current one. With the encouragement of a friend, Sheppard went back to the house and this time the front gate was open and a gathering was going on in the yard.
He walked up the driveway, clutching his birth certificate. A fairly seasoned lady greeted him in the driveway.
“My name is Billie Sheppard,” he said. “This address was listed on my birth certificate.”
“I know exactly who you are,” the lady said with tears in her eyes.
They embraced each other and proceeded into the house. The lady then picked up the phone and dialed a number.
“Hello,” the voice said.
“Bill you need to come home,” the lady said. “Someone is here...”
“Who,” he said.
“Bill... your son is here,” she said.
Moments later, a 5’11, fairly stout man walked through the door.
When Sheppard looks back and reflects on this special moment in his life, he recollects they embraced one another.
“It was unbelievable that I was able to meet my real father and get closure before I left Ohio,” he said.
“I plan to volunteer and mentor for a foster care organization,” Sheppard said. “They [children in foster care] have to know it’s not disrespectful to your foster family to be curious. You are entitled to know your biological family. You have to believe in something.”