Belonging Beyond Borders: Courtney Hexham’s Journey to Advocacy

Courtney Hexham is a half Zambian and half American transracial adoptee raised in predominantly white communities. She met her birth family in 2017, and the reunion changed her life. After writing the first chapters of a book about her adoption journey, she launched her blog to highlight transracial adoptee voices and advocate for mental health, personal identity, diversity, and inclusion. Before her freshman year at Calvin College (now, Calvin University), Courtney contributed her insights on teen mental health and family to Seventeen magazine, and shortly after, Seventeen and ABC’s Good Morning America featured her in segments inspired by her views. She went on to graduate from Calvin with a bachelor’s degree in media production, design, and journalism. A few years later, she obtained her “green” MBA from Marylhurst University. In addition to her blog, Courtney has also published a children’s book, The Firefly and the Frog, and currently works as a freelance writer, content designer, and legal operations consultant, having managed corporate legal operations for over ten years. With her writing and creative endeavors (as @CourtneyHalfrican), Courtney seeks to empower children and others, as she believes everyone deserves genuine friendship, love, belonging, and self-acceptance. It is her mission—and her calling—to spread this message to all.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Courtney to discuss her journey as an adoptee to entrepreneurship and becoming an author:

Your personal journey as a transracial adoptee and meeting your birth family in 2017 had a profound impact on your life. Can you share with us how that experience changed you and led to your advocacy work?

I’ve heard handfuls of adoptee stories, but I can count on only a couple of fingers the number of positive adoptee-birth family reunion stories. It’s sad, but it’s true. Among the “7 Core Issues with Adoption and Permanency,” a sense of belonging is a struggle for a lot of adoptees, especially those raised in a family of a different race (“transracial adoptees”). I definitely struggled with belonging growing up. While I knew my family loved me and that my birth mom chose adoption in my best interest, I still wanted to look like or resemble someone to feel like I “belonged.” I even made up an imaginary twin, similar to how kids make up imaginary friends. I always felt “different” and that I had to “earn” my place and love. That turned me into the recovering people-pleaser and perfectionist I am today.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I learned that my insecurities and fears of abandonment are normal for adoptees, and it wasn’t until I started seeing my transracial adoptee therapist that I understood those and other complexities adoptees face, including questions around identity. When my parents and I met my birth mom in 2017, my life was forever changed. Not only does my half sister look like me (we even call each other twins), but when we called my half brother (who was living in Germany), he couldn’t distinguish between my birth mom’s and my voice. It was so surreal! These and my other life experiences (as well as the encouragement of a friend who shared that she herself put a child up for adoption) inspired me to put my stories into writing. After gaining more knowledge and tools through research and therapy, I was drawn to start a blog about adoptee experiences, diversity, and mental health. I hope my writing will inspire other adoptees—whether they’ve experienced a similarly positive reunion story or not—to share their stories as well. I want to advocate for adoptees, enhance the understanding of everyone in the adoption triad (adoptees, adoptive families, and birth families), and provide encouragement to anyone who feels “different.” No one should feel like they don’t belong. No one should feel that they’re alone.

For more on all of the above, you can check out my blog and look out for my (potential) book.

You mentioned writing a book about your adoption journey. Could you tell us more about the book and what inspired you to share your story with the world?

I was inspired by a friend and also Brené Brown, who once said, “one day, you will tell your story… and it will be someone else’s survival guide.” I’ve always loved writing and journaling and learning more about others and myself. I’ve also had to deal with a lot of anxiety over my lifetime. Thankfully, my parents were social workers and really helped me with those struggles. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have really great therapists.

When I told a friend (who shared with me that she had put a child up for adoption) that I was meeting my birth mom for the first time, she immediately said, “you should write a book about it!” That got me thinking. Shortly after that, I started my first chapters. I opened up my old journals, and the words just poured out of me and onto my pages! In a way, it was therapeutic and reflective, but it was also emotional and challenging. I don’t have the happiest of memories of elementary school, for example. I was bullied and misunderstood, and because I didn’t want to “bother” my family with my playground “drama,” I tried to “fix” things on my own. I didn’t share what I was going through with anyone. As I mentioned before, I just wanted to belong, and I thought I needed to “earn” my place in my family by “keeping the peace” and not “rocking the boat.” I don’t think any adoptee (or other child, for that matter) should have to make their feelings and themselves “smaller,” because they think that will gain them acceptance and love. That’s why I wanted to start my book, and with all of the negative attention adoption has received, I wanted to approach my written recollections from a positive and even humorous standpoint. That’s just my personality. If my writing can help at least one adoptee, child, or anyone else, that would the greatest accomplishment of my life!

Your blog focuses on highlighting transracial adoptee voices and advocating for mental health, personal identity, diversity, and inclusion. How do you believe your blog can contribute to these important conversations, and what are some of the key messages you hope women takeaway?

Well, I’m not an expert or a licensed therapist, but I am “an expert of my own experience,” as my therapist says. I hope that, by sharing stories about my current and past experiences, as well as tools, resources, and humor, I can make others—especially adoptees—feel empowered to share their stories as well. I also hope that my blog will help adoptive and birth families better understand their adoptees. The more we understand each other the more we can empathize, grow, and deepen connection. I also hope that the humor I weave into my writing can add lightness to some heavy topics. They say that “laughter is the best medicine,” and “Doctor Courtney” is in the house to give you your dose!

You contributed insights on teen mental health and family to Seventeen magazine during your time at Calvin College. How did these experiences shape your perspective on these topics, and what was it like to be featured on platforms like Seventeen and ABC’s Good Morning America?

If you search for teen movies or TV shows, you’ll likely find stories about high school parties, keggers, and coming-of-age angst. My teenage years didn’t reflect that. During high school, I leaned on my family a lot while discovering myself. I also loved visiting Seventeen magazine’s website. One day, I came across a survey about teen experiences. I responded to it by saying that I think teens turn to drinking when they don’t have a support system at home. I don’t know if I was right, but that’s how I felt at the time. From there, the magazine reached out to me for more information, and I shared more of my views. Seventeen then decided to create a series of articles about the pressures teens face. Then, Good Morning America reached out to me to do a similar segment, called “Generation Perfect.” I was so surprised that my short online survey response caught such national attention! I was so surprised but so honored as well!

Since then, my curiosity on topics of mental health has grown exponentially! I’ve learned so much more about the sources of perfectionism and managing anxiety, and I want to share what I’ve learned with others. Therapy (and time) isn’t cheap! I don’t want to “gatekeep” anything that could help improve the lives of others.

You hold a bachelor’s degree in media production, design, and journalism, and later obtained a “green” MBA from Marylhurst University. How have your academic background and professional experiences influenced your career trajectory and your current roles?

Have you heard of the Shakespeare quote, “Jack of all trades, master of none…?” That’s this girl right here! I love learning, filling in gaps in my knowledge, and advocating for others.

While I spent most of my life planning to go into screenwriting or film production, that changed when I attended the Jubilee Conference during college. At the conference, I was inspired by a presentation by the International Justice Mission, which is an organization of lawyers. After learning more about law, I was intrigued by the analytical field. I then started to get legal experience during the summer, graduated from college, and then started my job search (during a recession). From there, I realized that I wanted to learn more about business, to round out my real world knowledge. That’s what led me to pursue an accelerated, online MBA. I chose a “green” MBA, because I believe that all aspects of business should be socially and environmentally responsible. That gave me a “leg up” in establishing the legal operations function (a.k.a. the business of law) at my previous employer. After a round of layoffs, I leaned into my love of writing and creating, which led me to further my blog and take on freelance writing, media production, and graphic design work.

You’ve published a children’s book, “The Firefly and the Frog.” What motivated you to write this book, and what message do you hope young readers take away from this project?

To be honest, I didn’t intend to publish that book. I wrote the book for a friend who loves frogs and was expecting her first child. After receiving her build-a-library themed baby shower invite and having seen a video of a frog who had swallowed a firefly (which glowed in the frog’s belly), I sat down and wrote and designed the entire book in a day and a half. Like writing the first chapters of my adoption story, this project just poured out of me!

After sharing the book, I received so much interest in it that I decided to publish it to make it available for everyone. The theme of the book is all about self-acceptance, belonging, and friendship. I believe every kid should have a genuine sense of belonging, friendship, and love, regardless of who they are, what they look like, or how different they feel. I think we should instill that in kids early on, and the earlier the better.

In addition to your creative endeavors, you work as a freelance writer, content designer, and legal operations consultant. Could you tell us more about your work in these fields and how it aligns with your mission of spreading messages of friendship, love, belonging, and self-acceptance?

In everything I do, I want everyone to feel a sense of belonging and feel appreciated. I also want to contribute to others’ successes in any way I can. My number one StrengthsFinder strength is Maximizer: I seek to make everything better for all. When I was unfortunately part of layoffs this year, one of the best farewell messages I received was that I made someone feel so welcomed. After my departure, I explored other career paths of interest. I even hired a career clarity coach, to help me understand how to apply my many interests and transferable skills to other occupations.

In anything I do though, I want to make sure that my work benefits the environment, community, and the lives of others. I continue to blog and work on my book and explore other creative inspirations in my free time, including creating and selling a series of sticky notes with my favorite affirmations for self-acceptance. I’m also working on a coloring book of affirmations, particularly geared toward adoptees. In addition to those things, I am also transitioning back to my natural hair after relaxing it for over 20 years and want to share that journey as well, in hopes that others who are doing the same can benefit.

Your social media presence reflects your commitment to empowering children and others. How do you use your online platform to connect with your audience and promote your message of inclusion and self-acceptance?

First of all, thank you for acknowledging my commitment to empowering others! My online presence is a reflection of me and my “why”: to positively impact and make others feel seen, heard, and validated. Life can get hard and complicated! No one should feel alone or different in that. I also want to infuse humor and fun into whatever I do. Life is too short to not have a good laugh, some fun, and express yourself! I recently learned that expression is the opposite of depression. I hope others feel that they can express themselves, especially after living through and experiencing the devastating loss that we all did during the pandemic. I hope that my work—professionally or otherwise—can provide hope to others. No one should feel that they’re alone. I want everyone to know that there are tools and even daily habits that they can practice to live happier lives and to grow their love for themselves and others. The whole world could use more of that, you know?

What’s next for you in your journey of empowerment and advocacy? Are there any upcoming projects or initiatives you’d like to share with our audience?

Apart from my book, expect nothing less than my showing up and being me, trusting myself more, spreading love and kindness, and rooting everyone on, especially women and those who also live with anxiety. I also want to help destigmatize therapy. Mental health is so important, and I think everyone could benefit from a good therapist.

I also plan to start performing more, vocally and on my bass. I’m just going to continue to do my best, write my next kids’ books, empower others, and learn and grow. I’m also going to continue to believe in my current mantra from a dancing bears, Jeremiah 29:11-13 cross-stitched piece that my birth mom made for me: HE HAS PLANS!

What is your definition of a Pretty Woman Who Hustles?

To me, a pretty woman who hustles doesn’t mean a woman who’s driven to becoming a millionaire, burning herself out to please others, being the “perfect” parent, or even having the cleanest house on the block. To me, it means showing up and being her (your) best self. It means raising your voice kindly and empathetically, doing what you can to build others up, constantly learning, and maintaining poise and grace in everything. It means you can get knocked down and still keep going! It means genuinely and authentically showing up for people: you, your family, your friends, and your community. It means growing—even by just 1%— every day and sharing your knowledge with others to improve others’ lives. It takes bravery and vulnerability, and as Brené Brown says, “vulnerability is…the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.” And everyone could use more of all of that!

Buy the Book (Paperback Version)

Buy the Audio/Video Version

Connect with Courtney Hexham, MBA

Published Author | Writer | Blogger | Consultant | Content Creator

@courtneyhalfrican (FacebookInstagram, and TikTok)

Jakia Cheatham - Myles

CEO/Founder of Pretty Women Hustle Magazine

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