This never would have happened if Destiny Harris adoptive parents had listened to the experts.
Twenty-three years ago, Destiny was born to a crack-addicted mother in Orange County, Calif.
At birth, tests came up positive for crack, PCP and heroin.
At 8 months, she was taken in by foster parents Barbara and Smitty Harris, who ultimately adopted her and three younger siblings birthed by the same drug-addict mother.
When Destiny was a year old, a social worker and psychologist told the Harrises that tests concluded their daughter would be slow with learning disabilities.
Yet the Harrises refused to pin that label on her, raising her and her siblings like they did their six birth sons.
Saturday, at the second of UNC Charlottes two fall commencements, Destiny Harris will graduate with honors and a degree in education. In her education courses, she made all As except for one B.
As for the experts: I proved them wrong, she said. They werent even close, which is fortunate. I grew up with the same high expectations, the same rules as my six older brothers.
Those expectations: You do your best. You do well.
An immediate bond
After six sons, Barbara Harris wanted a daughter.
She and Smitty lived in southern California and had signed up to be foster parents, when a social worker called about an 8-month-old baby girl whod been born to a drug addict with four older children.
They took in Destiny.
I wasnt planning on adopting kids, Barbara said. I just thought we could take in little foster girls. Take care of them, dress them up, fix their hair and give them back when their mothers were healthy.
But the bond was immediate. To give back Destiny would have been devastating. Thank goodness the mother didnt want her back.
Barbara has long felt that Destiny tested slow at age 1 because shed spent her first eight months with a family who didnt pay her much attention.
I dont believe they played with her or did anything to stimulate her, she said. When I came to get Destiny from the foster mother, she never reached for the lady. We said goodbye, and Destiny was fine with it.
A few months later, the social worker called again: The mother had delivered a son. Did the Harrises want him?
They took Isiah, too. He came as a baby in drug withdrawal.
He was just a miserable baby, Barbara said. He screamed for two months. He wouldnt sleep.
I started getting really mad at the mother.
A year later, the social worker called with the same message: same mother, another drug-withdrawing baby daughter. Taylor, too, was added to the growing family.
Then came son Brandon, Destinys youngest sibling.
The social worker told the Harrises that the childrens grandfather and his girlfriend wanted Brandon and would fight for his custody.
Barbara went to the hospital to check on the baby.
I told myself not to get attached, that a judge would give the baby to grandparents because theyre family, she said.
When the custody fight did go to court, the social worker told the judge she felt Brandon would be better off with the Harrises.
The judge agreed.
The Harrises adopted them all.
We thought it was important they had our last name and knew they were part of our family forever, Barbara said.
Mad at the mother, system
For several years, she sent their birth mother photos and a letter catching her up on the children.
From the grandfather, the Harrises learned the children had the same father and the birth mother had at one time cleaned up from drugs.
Each time she wrote, shed include a self-addressed, stamped envelope in case she wanted to write her children. She never acknowledged their existence.
That made her angrier at the mother, and a system that allows these mothers to go into hospitals and then drop off their damaged babies without any repercussions.
Fourteen years ago, she started a nonprofit that pays drug addicts $300 to seek long-term birth control, including sterilization.
Everyone was complaining about these drug-addicted mothers having so many babies, but nobody was doing anything to keep it from happening, she said.
The nonprofit has its supporters and its critics. They charge that the effort spreads the worst stereotypes about inner-city women and promotes selective human reproduction.
When the Harrises moved across country to Cabarrus County in 2003 to be close to Smittys family in High Point, Barbara brought her nonprofit that she still runs.
To date, the group has paid 4,000 people across the country, 74 of them men, she said.
They also brought a family of 10 children. Destiny was in the seventh grade.
Her mother said she started off a little behind, but by fifth grade shed caught up.
By then, there was no stopping her.
All the children were urged to play sports. Destiny played basketball through high school and her first year at Salem College in Winston-Salem.
The next year, with Isiah at UNC Greensboro, Destiny transferred there, too, and tried out for the team. She decided not to play, and since Isiah wanted to leave UNC-G at the time, they decided to go home.
After a semester at a community college, Destiny enrolled at UNCC. Isiah returned to UNC-G.
The first semester, she made the deans list. Every semester since then, shes made the Chancellors List, which requires at least a 3.8 grade point average, said the schools registrars office.
Last week, she finished her student teaching under the guidance of second-grade teacher Genny Fast at Weddington Hills Elementary, a Title 1 school with a high percentage of poor children.
She was a natural.
Destiny turned 23 earlier this month. Her students threw her a party.
Shes amazing, Fast said. I dont think there are many 23-year-olds out there who have been through what shes been through in her life and relate so well to these students.
It was like shed been teaching for years.
An elementary school, Fast said, is where teachers like Destiny need to be.
She showed these kids that no matter where youve come from or what happens to you in life that you have the power to change your life, she said.
An incredible opportunity
Destiny has started applying for teaching jobs. Initially, she wanted to be an art teacher to help kids unlock their creative potential.
Her message, she quickly realized, goes beyond creativity. She hates it when kids dont try. Opportunity, she said, strikes when you do your best.
I had an awesome childhood. Not all kids have that, said Destiny, who helped raise 2-year-old daughter Kaleyah while she finished college.
If school can be one place that they can go and see that someone cares and someone expects the best out of them, then to be that someone is awesome.
She never looked at her start in life negatively it only pushed her harder.
So many kids have people in their lives who dont expect much of them and thats not OK, she said.
No matter how your life starts out, it doesnt mean it has to turn out that way its not the end of the story. Researcher Maria David contributed.