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Thomas Rhett Opens Up About Raising A Black Daughter: ‘I Have Struggled With What To Say’

by Karen Belz
Karen Belz has written for sites such as Bustle, HelloGiggles, Romper, and So Yummy. She's the mom of a sassy toddler and drinks an alarming amount of Sugar-Free Red Bull in order to keep up with her.

Country star Thomas Rhett and his wife, Lauren Akins, expanded their family in one of the best ways back in 2016.

Before having biological children, the two fell in love with a baby from Uganda. Lauren was there on a trip at the time.

“I was in Uganda in 2016, and I had a picture of one of the babies there, and I had shared it on social media,” Lauren explained to Kelly Clarkson. “And when I finally got to FaceTime that night, I was telling him her story, ‘Babe, we know so many people who are trying to adopt right now, and this little girl needs a forever home.'”

At that point, she didn’t realize she’d be the lucky person who’d end up welcoming the baby into her family.

“The second I touched her, it was electric,” she continued. “I was like, ‘Oh, this little girl has just taken my heart.'” During the call to Thomas Rhett, Lauren’s love continued to flow. “I was like, ‘Honey, we’ve got to find her forever home. Like, I know that’s why I’m here — to get this girl to her home.'”

As Lauren talked to Thomas on the phone, he said something that surprised even him. “I was like, ‘Well, bring her home.’ And I don’t fully remember even saying it,” he admitted.

The adoption was finalized a year later. They named their baby girl Willa Gray.

The couple went on to have two more children — Ada James and Lennon Love. But Willa holds a very special place in the couple’s heart. This was a situation where they both just knew they had to add her to their family. It was an intuition based on love. The couple had thought about adoption before, but they never knew it would happen so fast.

“I’d always talked about adopting my whole life,” Lauren said. “My mom is actually adopted. I just thought it was really cool. And we had talked about it off and on, but it wasn’t something that we’d sat down and had a full-on adoption conversation.” Even though the placement was an incredible one, the couple still have obstacles to face in the future.

The biggest one is race. While Thomas and Lauren don’t treat their daughter any differently due to her skin color, they know she’ll face obstacles and prejudice that their other two children won’t. Right now, the United States is facing a huge issue involving race, and it’s opened up many people’s eyes as to how different the black experience truly is.

Even though people may say that they “don’t see color,” others in authority do. And black people need to try to survive each day with an unfair target on their backs. White privilege is all about the ability to go out and do normal activities without much fear. Many black people simply don’t feel safe.

Many deeply upsetting incidents have been caught on video in recent years. And right now, so many communities in the nation are fighting back — as they should. But it’s important to realize that no matter what, these prejudices won’t disappear overnight. Still, it’s more important than ever that people speak out.

Willa Gray has the same parents as her siblings, but she’ll experience a different childhood. And it’s important for Thomas Rhett and his wife to prepare her for the world the best way they can. Willa is currently 4 years old. In response to recent events, Lauren has tried her best to sensitively put her feelings out there.

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I have been nervous to post anything in the past and even now because of how some people believe that I as a white mother am undeserving or incapable of raising a black daughter. I believe that shaming comes from people who choose to see only my white skin and her brown skin and refuse to see our hearts and love for each other. That shaming has created such anxiety in me that I am afraid to share my heart on social media. But as her mother, I want her to be VERY sure that I am HER mother who stands up not only for her, but for every single person who shares her beautiful brown skin. I want to be her mother who raises her to know what it means to have brown skin and to be proud of it. I want to be her mother who doesn’t listen to the shaming of skin colors but instead listens to the Spirit of God who knitted every skin color together in their mother’s womb for His glory. Because the truth is: I AM HER mother who FIGHTS for her. I am her mother who celebrates not only WHO she and her two sisters are, but WHOSE they are and exactly who God created them to be. It’s hard for me to sort out what it is I want to say to her, and what it is I want to say to the rest of the world. I do think there are parts of my heart that can be shared with the world publicly, but then there are parts of my heart that should be kept here at home just for her and all of my children. However, I do believe I’m being disobedient to God if I don’t speak up against injustice and fight for change. I believe if I stay silent I am betraying my brothers and sisters. I believe if I stay silent I am betraying my daughter. I believe if I stay silent I am betraying the heart of God. Don’t stay silent. Fight. Use the most powerful weapon of all: love. Look to the One who created that weapon and follow His lead. Together, let’s be an army for love. That means speaking up loudly for injustices whether or not we share the same skin color, language, beliefs...the list goes on. I want my children to cling to the good. Love, peace, kindness, joy. I want them to BE the good. Injustice is evil. It breaks the heart of God. I pray He breaks every one of our hearts over this injustice until He returns.

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“I have been nervous to post anything in the past and even now because of how some people believe that I, as a white mother, am undeserving or incapable of raising a black daughter,” she wrote. “I believe that shaming comes from people who choose to see only my white skin and her brown skin and refuse to see our hearts and love for each other. That shaming has created such anxiety in me that I am afraid to share my heart on social media.” 

However, as the mom of a black daughter, she felt it was right to speak up. “I want her to be VERY sure that I am HER mother who stands up not only for her, but for every single person who shares her beautiful brown skin,” she wrote. “I want to be her mother who raises her to know what it means to have brown skin and to be proud of it.”

“I want to be her mother who doesn’t listen to the shaming of skin colors but instead listens to the Spirit of God who knitted every skin color together in their mother’s womb for His glory,” she added. “Because the truth is: I AM HER mother who FIGHTS for her. I am her mother who celebrates not only WHO she and her two sisters are, but WHOSE they are and exactly who God created them to be.”

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As the father of a black daughter and also two white daughters- I have struggled with what to say today. We have navigated forms of racism directly and while there is mostly overwhelming support and love for our family, sometimes there is just the opposite. Because of that fear, it can be a lot easier to choose silence, but today I’m choosing to speak. I have no clue what it feels like to be profiled by authorities, treated negatively or have my life threatened because of the color of my skin. When I witnessed the horrific murder of George and think about the mistreatment of other black men and women in America, I am heartbroken and angry. I get scared when I think about my daughters and what kind of world they will be growing up in and how my JOB as a father is to show them how to lead with love in the face of hate. To know their worth and value as not only women but human beings. I have witnessed my black band and crew members on the road struggle at times with feeling safe because of the color of their skin. This is unacceptable. I don’t believe in hate. I believe in love. What happened to George was pure hate. We are all created by the same God. I pray for a change in heart of those hearts who have been overcome by hatred and hardened. I pray for a deeper understanding for myself and awareness of the experience of mistreatment that those of another skin color go through. I pray for the families of those who have lost their lives to violence or experienced trauma at the hand of racial oppression and injustice. What can we do? I ask myself this question everyday. We each have to be part of the solution and we have to continue to educate ourselves, continue to support both financially and with service those organizations doing good work in our communities to overcome injustice and hatred in our country. And if you’re like me, continue to pray. So if there is any question on where I stand let me be clear- I stand with you, I stand with George and his family and all those who have faced racism. I stand with my wife and my daughters. We will be fighting this fight for the rest of our lives. Rest In Peace, George. We are not letting this go.

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Thomas Rhett also had some powerful words about his daughter and the fight for change. “As the father of a black daughter and also two white daughters, I have struggled with what to say today,” he wrote. “We have navigated forms of racism directly and while there is mostly overwhelming support and love for our family, sometimes there is just the opposite. Because of that fear, it can be a lot easier to choose silence, but today I’m choosing to speak.”

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Growing up too fast

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He acknowledged the fact that he, himself, will never directly know the struggle that people of color face on a daily basis. But he said that he’ll always be there to protect his daughter, and he has even struggled to find the words to say and stand for the black members of his band and crew. “I have witnessed my black band and crew members on the road struggle at times with feeling safe because of the color of their skin,” he wrote.

“I pray for a change in heart of those hearts who have been overcome by hatred and hardened,” he continued. “I pray for a deeper understanding for myself and awareness of the experience of mistreatment that those of another skin color go through. I pray for the families of those who have lost their lives to violence or experienced trauma at the hand of racial oppression and injustice.”

He wanted to make it clear with both his fans and his community that he won’t stand for this. “If there is any question on where I stand let me be clear,” he wrote. “I stand with you, I stand with George and his family and all those who have faced racism. I stand with my wife and my daughters. We will be fighting this fight for the rest of our lives.”

While those who are white can definitely be wonderful allies and activists, we need to accept the fact that we’ll never fully understand how it feels to constantly feel discrimination. And that makes us privileged. With these protests happening, people are just fighting for the right to live life the way they should. Hopefully one day soon, Willa Gray and the other beautiful black children out there will live in a world that’ll treat them with nothing but love and respect.