Bill on Finding His Birth Parents by Danny Harris

Danny Harris is a DC-based photographer, DJ, and collector of stories. In September, he launched People’s District, a blog that tells a people’s history of DC by sharing the stories and images of its residents. Every day, People’s District presents a different Washingtonian sharing his or her insights on everything from Go Go music to homelessness to fashion to politics. You can read his previous columns here.

“My adopted parents brought me to D.C. when I was two years old from Baltimore. My adopted father was a cement finisher and my adopted mother cleaned houses for a living. We lived a nice life up in NE until I realized that I was adopted when I was about 12. When I learned that, I dropped out of school and ran away from home to find my birth parents. I needed to know who they were and understand why they abandoned me. I took off to Baltimore knowing only my grandfather’s name.

“In Baltimore, I was alone and hungry and stole some food from a store. When the cops caught me and asked me where I lived, I gave them my grandfather’s name. They took me to his house and that was the first time I met him. I didn’t know what I was going to find when I met him. I had all of these grand ideas that my parents were rich and would take me back into their loving family.

“My family was not rich, but my grandfather was very warm towards me and he introduced me to my aunt and eventually to my Mom. Turns out that my Mom had seven kids after me and kept them all. I was so angry that of all of the kids, she decided to give me away. My real mother was happy to see me, but never offered to take me back and never did anything for me, so I was back on my own at 12. I have no hard feelings towards her. She is who she is and I need to accept that. As for my father, I didn’t meet him until I was 47. He found me.

Continues after the jump.

“As I was abandoned by one family and ran away from another, I was pretty much by myself since the age of 12. After running around Baltimore for a bit, I came to D.C. and joined a motorcycle gang and lived in a runaway house. I then ended up leaving D.C. and drifting around for a long time. I spent a good part of that time drinking and drugging and dealing with my own issues. That was the size of it for a long time. The thing is that everywhere I went, I took me with me. I could never escape who I was and the things that I had been through. Eventually, I understood that living like that was not normal and I needed to change. I finished school and went to college to be a social worker. I wanted to help people who were down and out, especially those struggling with addiction. I went into alcohol counseling and worked in the same recovery house that I went through when I had my problem with alcohol.

“While there were dark periods, one of the things that always helped me in my life was music. Ever since I was very small, I knew that I wanted to play music. My foster parents did not allow me to play. When I was nine, I entered into a song writing contest in Nashville and won. When I approached my parents with that, they did not let me accept the prize and told me to stay away from the music business. I ended up giving the song away and it went on to make a lot of money for someone else. That’s why when I was 12 and living alone, I taught myself how to play guitar on 18th and Riggs. I taught myself right handed and then I turned my guitar over and played left handed. After that, I had the same dream every day for about 15 years that I was on the stage playing music. The stages and lighting would change, but I was always performing. I thought that was a sign that music and I were made for each other.

“Since I have been back in D.C., I have been playing music all over. I have played in clubs and on the street and have even had a recording contract. There are ups and down, but I know that I am meant to play music here. I’ll be 60 in November, but I feel like I am getting younger as time moves forward. The music keeps me young.”

12 Comment

  • This series is far and away the best recurring feature on PoP. I love all of these stories, and I was especially touched by this one.

  • I too love this feature. But, I guess I wish there had been a little more information about why a runaway 12 year old was not returned to his legally adopted parents. I assume they were looking for him and were worried about him. And, even now as an adult does not feel anyy remorse about hurting people who loved him and gave him a decent childhood?

    • Clearly some parts of the story (like winning the Nashville song contest for a song that made someone a lot of money) don’t make sense. I worked in music and such songwriting stories… well… I’ve heard them up and down that X person stole my song.

    • You are assuming the adoption was legal as we think of things being legal today.

      It was not uncommon for African American family to do things a little more informally.

  • I couldn’t agree more. This feature is just amazing. So many stories are epics filled with drama, love and loss.
    I look forward to them and really appreciate folks for letting us into their lives.

  • What happened to his poor parents? The ones who adopted him and cared for him til he turned on them? Did he ever reconnect with them?

    • word.
      but really, assuming his story is not embellished, they should have let him play music and be creative.

  • Secrets (especially since “secrets” like formal or informal adoptions) aren’t done in a vacuum. They have a way of popping up and can be dangerous and destructive things.

    I am adopted and have always known- it just wasn’t a big deal. If my biological parents found me OK, if we don’t connect that’s OK as well. I don’t have a burning desire at all. However, if it had been a “secret” that only I didn’t know about and I found out I would have been beyond pissed. I would have also felt terribly, terribly betrayed and begun wonder if these people had lied about something this big and fundamental then what else are they lying about.

    I have a feeling home life was not a happy place for this gentleman and that was some of what was driving him. That it didn’t turn out like he dreamed is sad. It is however, telling that he didn’t go back to the couple that “adopted” him and just stayed away.

  • I’m shocked that people would rather nitpick the details of this story than notice the good things in it. Shaking my head.

    • Ok, well I don’t want to be a jerk here, but I’m old and I’ve been taken in by too many con-men and women since I was 18. So when someone tells me his life story, as these kinds of personalities do, I try to rectify it with reality because I’ve been snookered and hoodwinked before.

  • I’ve seen Bill perform at BloomBars- he is an awesome talent.

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