Last month, a note was left on Tonya and Jayson Keefer's car about their blended family. The Keefers took to social media to raise awareness about adoption and love beyond blood and skin color.
Something was stuck to the windshield.
At first, Jayson and Tonya Keefer didn’t see the torn piece of paper left on their car. They had finished dinner at the Plant City Zaxby’s and were driving home with their children, Leah and Nathaniel.
Tonya Keefer spotted the note flapping in the wind. She reached through the window and unfolded it.
The handwriting was unfamiliar. There was no name. Just an instruction:
Give the black girl back to her mother.
You and your husband are white trash.
It was Sunday, Sept. 25. The Keefers had finished dinner with 20-plus people from Hopewell Baptist Church, where Jayson Keefer serves as the church’s youth pastor.
Prior to opening the note left under the windshield wiper of the family car, Tonya Keefer had assumed it would be a joke or a forgotten reminder from a friend in faith.
Instead, she got this:
Just because the girl is black does not mean you have to treat her any different than your white child. You and your husband walked off and did not look back for the little black girl to make sure she got out of the car safely.
Leah, 9, and Nathaniel, 20 months, were in the backseat of the car. Both are adopted. Both are loved equally and unconditionally.
In the car, Tonya finished reading the note to her husband:
You should be ashamed. Seems like you’re racist.
“You can imagine our shock,” Tonya Keefer said. “You’re mad and you’re angry because who would write such a hurtful thing?”
But the anger quickly subsided into something else: pity.
“It’s sad,” Jayson Keefer said. “They see 10 seconds of your life and try to make a narration of it that doesn’t match the reality at all. How does an individual gain the right to judge your life by 10, 15 seconds? In the end, you kind of feel bad for people like that ... their scope is so narrow that that’s all they see.”
Tonya took to social media to post the stranger’s note and respond to it. She revealed the reality the stranger didn’t know:
Both of her children were born to addicts.
Both of her children were abandoned by their birth mothers.
The couple fought to adopt them and fought to keep them.
Their different races don’t make them less than part of one united family.
Her children are her heroes.
“I’m not really sure where the writer’s mind was,” Tonya Keefer said. “I was hoping it would reach the writer. Just because we have different skin colors, don’t assume the worst. I want people to see our perspective.”
The note from the stranger was a shock to the Keefers, but it wasn’t a first occurrence. When living in Titusville, the Keefers were approached by a police officer while they were eating at a McDonald’s.
Leah was laying in Tonya Keefer's lap.
“The officer walked up and said there was a report of a suspicious couple with a black child,” Tonya Keefer said.
The Keefers showed their adoption judgement — which they carry with them at all times for these very scenarios — to the officer.
This is our daughter.
Much of the couple’s life has been based in sheer faith.
After Tonya Keefer’s brother introduced her to Jayson Keefer, the couple became engaged in a month and married in six months. Soon, they were faced with infertility.
Five years into their marriage, the couple made the decision to become foster parents with the goal of adopting children.
It was April 2007 when they were placed with Leah, then 14 months old.
Leah had been with a different foster parent before, someone who warned the Keefers Leah was a fussy baby who wouldn’t eat.
They were worried — until they got her.
They knew she was the one.
“She was so sweet,” Tonya Keefer said. “She just fit perfectly in our home and fit our family.”
But the family had to be guarded. There was a chance Leah could be placed with a family member, as the goal of fostering is to put a child with a member of its biological family.
Even so, the Keefers couldn’t help but fall in love with Leah — even when she was temporarily taken away.
“We fought a good, solid year,” Tonya Keefer said. “She was removed from our home for about a month. We left Florida for ministry work and were told it was OK to move, but they took her into custody.”
Immediately, the couple obtained their fostering license for the state of Georgia and traveled back to Florida every month to visit Leah.
“We were claws out fighting,” Tonya Keefer said.
After she was returned to their home, the family was told Leah’s distant relatives may want to adopt her. Eventually, a judge ruled in favor of the Keefers.
“It was a rollercoaster,” Tonya Keefer said. “It was very complex and emotional. It takes a toll on you emotionally until the very end. I think that’s what deters people from fostering and adopting. People say, ‘I don’t want to take that risk.’ But if nobody did, then who’s going to care for the kids?”
For the Keefers, the risk was worth it. Tuesday, Oct. 25, will mark the sixth anniversary of Leah’s adoption.
“We’re open with her,” Tonya Keefer said. “We tell her, ‘You were chosen. You were wanted.’ We tell her she’s an answer to our prayers and that she makes our family special. We are different, and we embrace that and the diversity that it brings to our family.”
Recently, the Keefer family has grown once again. They finalized the adoption of Nathaniel in June.
“Nathaniel was a non-relative placement,” Tonya Keefer said. “He was born to a woman who couldn’t care for him. I was present at his birth.”
Nathaniel’s biological mother asked the family to take care of him, something the Keefers thought would be a temporary situation.
“Fairly quickly we realized that it was going to be permanent,” Tonya Keefer said.
Another adoption process. Another few months of dealing with red tape and paperwork.
Only one certainty: unwavering faith.
“We just try to remind ourselves when situations arise that God has a plan,” Tonya Keefer said. “The Bible says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ God’s got this.”
In her response to the note writer, Tonya Keefer turned to love — her love for God and her love for her children.
They are the reason I get up on days I don’t feel like it, she wrote. They are the reason I smile when things aren’t perfect.
When she looks at her children, she sees the struggle: the infertility, the unknown, the process.
But she also sees their smiles.
She sees their joy.
She sees her faith in God.
She doesn’t see skin color.
She sees her daughter.
Contact Emily Topper at [email protected].