It’s Simply Black and White – Leah and Monyay
“Mom, you’ve got to see this video that has gone viral of my former co-worker. But I’m warning you to prepare yourself because you will cry”. My daughter who is pop culture savvy recommends all sorts of videos and keeps me up-to-date on what’s happening in the world of “Who Cares”. This time I cared because the story of Leah and her newly adopted daughter Monyay was literally all over the news – both local and national!
What makes this story so incredible is that Leah Paskalides is a thirty-something adoption specialist assistant manager at a child protection agency in Bradenton and happens to be white. Monyay is a 19-year-old who is considered an adult and happens to be black. This story has very little if anything to do with race. In fact, that has never been an issue for either of them. What is unique is the fact that adult adoptions are quite rare.
I needed to know more about these lovely young women, so I asked if I could reach out and set up an interview. It was no surprise that Leah is every bit the sweetheart my daughter said she was and eager to share her story with me.
Having had enough of the brutal winters and notorious snowstorms of upstate New York, Leah Googled the best beaches in Florida. This twenty-something, armed with more determination than possessions, packed up her car with everything that could fit and along with her beloved dog, left her childhood home in Saratoga for Sarasota. With no job or place to live, she found a couple of roommates on Craigslist – something she admits that thirty-something Leah would never do. Working with kids was something Leah was very interested in. One of her roommates recommended she pursue a job at the Safe Children’s Coalition. Leah met Monyay shortly after her arrival.
Monyay had been in the foster care system since she was 13. Leah was assigned to be her case worker at the time. This didn’t sit well with Monyay who pretty much hated Leah and was anything but cooperative. The last thing she wanted was to be placed with a family. But Leah’s patience and perseverance paid off and three months later, the two developed quite a bond. Eventually, Leah became not just a case worker, but a mentor offering the young girl guidance and advice. Their friendship grew and the two became very close and often describe their relationship as “old soul best friends”.
I will tell you that I know for a fact that this is a very complicated career choice, and it takes a very special individual to not only pursue, but endure in this oftentimes incredibly stressful environment. It is not for everyone. Although Leah tells me there have been moments when she struggled with her own career decisions, she knew deep down that she had a responsibility not only to Monyay, but to so many other kids at the agency. But it was clearly the prospect of leaving Monyay behind that weighed heavy on her and kept her going through the most trying of times.
During the next years, the two formed such a special bond. Monyay started joking with Leah and started calling her “Mom”. As the day when Monyay would be an adult and no longer eligible for foster care was fast approaching, Leah found out about adult adoptions. She knew how important it was for Monyay to have a stable family and to have someone who would be there for her no matter what.
Leah who is single except for two French Bulldogs Chewy (named appropriately) and Chunk (not named appropriately), approached her own family who literally asked her if she was having some sort of break down and losing her mind. She assured them she was not and proceeded ahead with the formal adoption. Leah’s big Greek family, including Leah’s 90-year-old grandma, welcomed their newest family member with open arms.
Around Mother’s Day, the press was invited to the actual adoption proceedings. Much to Leah and Monyay’s surprise, the story went viral. Before they knew it, journalist Kate Snow had come to interview the pair for a segment on her news show.
Then the producers of Ellen reached out.
A whirlwind ensued and the newly anointed mom and daughter were flown out to L.A. where they were interviewed by Ellen Degeneres who lived up to her name and presented Monyay with a new car! I’m told that everyone connected with that show couldn’t be nicer. Leah admits she was nervous, but Monyay who has experience speaking in public as an advocate for the Florida Youth Shine organization, handled herself on camera like a true pro. The only issue they have had during this whole experience thus far, is with the video of them ugly crying.
The epitome of humble and grace, Leah makes it clear that she may have given Monyay the family and security she’s always longed for, but it is Monyay who is indeed the blessing in Leah’s life. I joked and said this is the stuff movies are made of, to which Leah confided that they have already been approached. Perhaps I should write a theme song?
For the record, the video did indeed make me and the gazillion other people who watched it, ugly cry. For new mom Leah and her daughter, now Monyay Paskalides, they just don’t get why everyone is making such a big deal about something that is so matter of fact to them…it’s simply black and white.
Photos are courtesy of Leah Paskalides.