By Kim Phagan-Hansel
Its taken Regina Louise a lifetime to get here.
When Louise released her first book, Somebody’s Someone, in 2003, she was on a mission to tell the story of a poor, abused and neglected African-American girl whose only wish was to find love and belonging. The memoir of her early beginnings, and ultimate exit from foster care without permanency — despite a white woman coming forward to adopt her at one point — is heartbreaking. That heartbreak is more profound when learning that Louise’s potential adoptive mother, Jeanne Kerr, was told she couldn’t adopt Louise, a black child, because she was white.
The story of Louise’s childhood, and her profound joy when she was reunited with the woman who had wanted to adopt her, is the perfect plot for a TV movie. Which is exactly what Louise has worked for since writing her first book and what she’ll see come to fruition when her story, I Am Somebody’s Child: The Regina Louise Story premieres on Lifetime April 20 at 8 p.m. EST.
“I pretty much shepherded this project for 16 years,” Louise said. “I want people to recognize Regina because of the hope she wanted from everyone else.”
The film is the newest social awareness campaign for the network that aired the docuseries Surviving R Kelly earlier this year, shining a light on violence against women. With I Am Somebody’s Child the network will provide information about adoption and foster care during the premiere and plans other events to raise awareness about adoption and foster care.
Louise will give a keynote address along with a screening of the new film during a private event with Texas’ Promise House to raise funds for homeless youth. By using her voice and through this film, Louise says she hope people recognize “she became the hope for herself. Her sense of personal agency was ahead of its time.”
That personal agency has brought Louise to where she is today, author of two books, including her follow-up memoir, “Someone has Led This Child to Believe,” which was released last year. She’s helped bring her story to a major television network and spent the last decade attaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees and moving beyond the hurt and pain of her early years.
“For 22 years, I have been on a personal growth journey, Louise said. “The more I reclaim my right to my humanity, the stronger my sense of self-worth becomes.”
Part of that process has been reuniting with Kerr, who finalized the adoption of Louise in 2003 that the two had wanted so many years before. The reunion with Jeanne Kerr was everything the little girl in Louise ever dreamed of — to be loved deeply and unconditionally.
The two even lived together for a time, but as with all mother-daughter relationships, Louise says the relationship between the two has changed, allowing them more space as individuals and the opportunity to normalize their relationship.
“The stronger my sense of self-worth becomes, the less dependent and co-dependent I am on her,” Louise said. “I’m grateful, but now, like in adolescence, I have to launch.”
Whether it’s in relationship with Kerr or others, Louise said there are times her childhood history makes it challenging to accept the nurturing and be close to people.
“To this day, the trauma of not belonging lives in me in a visceral way,” Louise said. “I still run in my own way if people get too close.”
Now that the film — which stars actress Ginnifer Goodwin as Kerr and Angela Fairley as Louise — is complete, Louise is shifting her focus to a new personal development book for others struggling to find themselves. She’ll turn her work into helping others, much like she had to on her own journey.
“Where is the movement where we teach children in foster care to stand in their dignity?” Louise said. “I want people to see my character’s dignity. I can mirror, model and magnify.”
Kim Phagan-Hansel is the editor of Fostering Families Today and managing editor of The Chronicle of Social Change.