Sunday, March 29, 2009


This is my friend Sue's adopted son's application to college. As you read the story you will understand why he moved in with Sue and her husband Shawn. Berea is a college in the mountains that offers an excellent education to gifted students free of charge. As you can imagine the competition is fierce.

"The best thing that has ever happened to me may seem to others like the worst thing . Many would not believe that being born to a poor, single mother who is mentally retarded is the best thing that has ever happened to me. Having a mother who couldn't give me a lot meant the one thing she could give more of was love. Love was the one thing not missing from our house. With the sporadic presence of my father she was both parents to me.
My mother was not able to help me with my homework or read to me as a child but she made sure I was in school every day. In fact, I only missed school one day the first six years I attended. I was a Cub Scout and on the basketball team in elementary school. My mother made sure that I was a busy young man. But as I hit adolescence I began to notice that I had the freedom to do as I pleased and my mother could not and would not discipline me. I began to not do my homework and if she asked if I had any I either lied and said no or said that I had already done it. My grades quickly dropped in middle school. I began to become what I lived around. I became a young African American male with no desire to do anything besides hang out all of the time. I was never as bad as the kids I was with. I was the “good” one of the bad crowd. I would only take things so far until it was out of my comfort zone then I was done.
At the apartment complex where we lived was a lady (my friend Sue) who took an interest in my mom and I. She worked with me on things my mom alone could not teach me. She helped me with my homework. She taught me things that a mother should be able to teach you. After a while my mother realized that she couldn't raise me on her own, she needed help. After all, I was teaching her things by this point. I was correcting her speech, reading things to her that came in the mail and coming home after school fixing dinner for both of us which consisted of the only thing I knew how to make, Ramen Noodles. By this time I had surpassed her knowledge and had somewhat become the parent. My mother, who like all mothers has always been good in seeing what's best for me, knew that she could not continue to raise me on my own. She asked the lady and her husband if they could help her parent me. They opened up their hearts and home to my mother and I and began “parenting” us both. That way I didn't have to be my mother's parent any more, and she had someone to help her parent me. I began transitioning into their way of living, a way of living with rules and consequences, a world I had never known. Within these four years they have been helping my mother and I, they have done many things for me. The most important was that they helped me discover something I loved to do, which is dance. They made this an incentive for making good grades. If I kept my grades up I could continue dance, but if I didn't I couldn't go to dance until they were back up to par. Its been a big turn around for me. In only four years I was accepted into Manual High School/ Youth Performing Arts School where I study dance. I have made decent grades at one of the most academically challenging high schools in Kentucky. I am on my way to becoming a high school graduate. I will be attending college next year which never would've happened if it were not for my mother knowing she needed help. I was on the path that many kids in my neighborhood were on, dropping out, gangs, jail before my mother did what had to be the hardest thing to do...let me go. She let other people help her. My mothers mind may be delayed but that's okay because she thinks with something better than the brain, my mother thinks with her heart.
About a year ago she set her mind on learning to spell my name, something I never realized she couldn't do. I have always written my own name on things and then given them to her to sign if needed. She got herself a notebook and had me write my name down once. Then she would repeat writing it. Soon she was attempting to write it without looking at the example. I stumbled across the notebook one day and opened it to find pages upon pages with only three words written on the lines...Chiayim Joshua Burney. She had worked so hard to finally get it right. She pushed herself just to do something that most mothers take for granted. Most mothers can spell their children's name from day one because they name them but my father named me and never taught my mother to spell my name. So at 42 years old my mother learned what I had learned at the age of 3 or 4. But the point is not that she couldn't do it before ,it's that she loves me so much that she would push beyond her normal abilities to learn to spell my name.
My junior year of high school I fell into kind of a hole. I fell behind in some classes and barely passed them. I had done well in the beginning of the year and had started to coast a little, feeling as though I didn't have to push myself to make good grades. Well, once I had gotten behind I had to work extra hard to just barely make it out of that hole. That experience taught me a great lesson. That is to never stop pushing yourself. But the real turning point in my mind was after finding that notebook. Making my eyes look over every single page with my name written on every line, I knew I could not let my mothers hard work be in vain. I have to push myself as she has, to be everything I can and then some. One way to be certain that I repay my mother for even a quarter for everything she has done for me is to further my education, in other words attending college. Berea College is the perfect place to do so.
Berea is everything I want and need in a college. I have only ever lived in an urban area and it would be a an opportunity to experience small town life, which I think I will adjust to easily. It has a work study program so that my mother does not have to worry about paying for my education which would be impossible for her to do anyway. Berea just seems to fit and it has been my number one college choice for two years now. I don't just want to go to college, I need to go to college, and I don't just want to go to Berea, I need to be at Berea. This essay is not to ask to be admitted into the college because I simply want to attend there. It is to inform you that I need to attend this college. There is a woman sitting at home on a couch practicing my name that needs me to attend Berea. Her job is nearly done. She has done all she can to get me this far and now its my turn, my turn to continue to show her that I am proud of everything she's done for me and that I appreciate her hard work. Berea is where I think I'm most suited for, its where I can be me and not worry about being with kids who grew up in rich families and had everything. Berea will have students with stories like mine, students with backgrounds that aren't picture perfect. Berea is where I want to be and it's where I know I belong."
Chiayim just completed his freshman year at Berea College!


  1. I know Chi. In fact, I work with him at Berea. He's an amazing young man. Please give your friend Sue a giant hug.

  2. I printed this blog entry and read it to my daughters - we all LOVED it. Love the mama, love the son, love the friends that parented them, and love the difference this story made in our lives. Thanks for sharing!!

  3. I just stumbled across this post. Thank you for sharing. I live in a large city where people do not interact or even talk with their neighbor. A world where stories like this are often only read about in books or seen in movies. THANK YOU for reminding us that this is reality. I am paging through looking for updates on Chiayim.
    Thank you again.
    Best regards

  4. Dear Daydreamer:
    Chiayim is about to graduate from college!
    He is a fine Christian man now. No telling what God has plannLouisville and live near his mother. Sue (who took him into her home) has taken care of his mother so he had the freedom to go away and get a great education.
    She is the real hero of this story.
    I wrote about her in "Too cool for school" post.
    Happy day and thanks for visiting my blog.