Family comes in all colors
and ages in the Fried family, and love unites
written by Michelle CadeauFamily Facts
Name: The Fried Family
Country of origin: the United States and Ethiopia
Language: English and Amharic
Family: Justin and Randi Fried Desalegne, 17, 10th ; Rebka, 11, fourth grade; Chloe, 9, third grade; Hana, 6, first grade; and Kyle, 6, kindergarten
Outside of one
There are people in this world who make a difference. Justin and Randi Fried are two of those. Their choices, a tad of faith and a big heap of love have created a family that is totally out of the box. In order to present the family, we have to start from the very beginning.
Randi grew up in the Heights area of West Orange and went off to college and met a man who is originally from
“We moved to town to be near family and friends. We opted to raise our family here because of the diversity and sense of community,” Randi said as we are sitting at the big kitchen island in their big house. While Randi and Justin tell me their story, the three younger children, Kyle, Chloe and Hana, play around in the living room, 11year-old Rebka, is listening to us and 17- year-old Desalegne (Des) is somewhere else in the big house.
All the children but Kyle were adopted. Chloe was the first child to grace the family. Chloe, today, is 9 years old and has
Four years later, Kyle, 6, was born into the family. After Kyle, arrived, Randi and Justin began to think about the distant future. Believing there is safety and joy in numbers, they decided the family would be great if the children had an older sister. After considering the best fit, they decided to adopt from
In November of 2005, they received a call about two sisters, Rebka, 6 and Hana, 2. The sisters became orphans in
Randi and Justin wrote letters and sent pictures of their family to Rebka and Hana introducing themselves. In March of 2006, the Frieds made a very important trip — not only was it the first trip outside of the United States for both of them, but also a trip to bring home the rest of their family, a trip of a lifetime in so many ways and on so many levels.
How do you feel going to pick up a child in a different country, a child that doesn’t speak your language, a child you have never met? Many times during our interview, Randi gets up and chooses specific pictures from the wall. To answer this question, she brings me a picture of her on the steps to the orphanage with the two young girls. It is an emotional picture which speaks more than that thousand words. The picture shows three people, total strangers that already legally are a family. It shows the differences between the three, not only the obvious as the color of their skin but the difference in their clothes, their everyday life, their lifestyle … almost in everything. The picture shows three people’s first groping attempt to understand what this moment would mean to all of them.
Rebka, 6 years old at the time, takes the role of the protector and tries to help her sister through her fear.
“Hana would see white people come and visit with her friends (in the orphanage) and then the friend would be gone. She didn’t understand where her friends went. She was scared to have to leave her home again,” Rebka explained.
It is time for Justin and Randi to take the girls home to their new home in the
Justin tells me about the surprise: “We had known that there was an older brother but we thought he was a grown person. When we met him, it turned out he was 13 years old.” It was a very emotional meeting. The Frieds were told it had been decided it was best for Desalegne to stay with the neighbor in
The Fried’s travelled back home to West Orange to start their new life with their new children. They can’t stop thinking about Desalegne and Rebka and Hana would talk often about him, too. Randi and Justin just couldn’t leave Des without any help. Through West Orange Ethiopian- American friends and their adoption agency, they set it up so that Des could attend school in
The process took some time but, two years after his sisters were here, Des joined the family in
“He walked in and saw his sisters. They no longer speak Amharic fluently and Des didn’t speak English.” The obstacle of geography was overcome, but the road to really re-uniting and healing is long.
Des, who got here in January 2008, got assimilated with the help of an adult ESL program and the life saver — soccer! By August, he earned a spot on the high school junior varsity team.
“ Desalegne blossomed in school. He was placed in a selfcontained ESL program and bonded with the students there, but the soccer team was a bridge Justin remembers.
The “other sport” chosen ended up being wrestling, a sport that Des had no knowledge of. He put his all into it and, even though he had to learn the sport from scratch and his English still was limited, at the end of his freshman year, he earned his varsity letter.
“He was told to grab the other guy’s ankle and he didn’t even know the English word for ankle yet. He really had to work hard, but he wouldn’t give up. What kept him going was that he really bonded with the coaches and his teammates. He refers to them as his brothers.”
In order to get the children to adapt to
Des, today, is a young man with a showcase full of trophies, everyone well-earned and a testimony to his great success in his new country. He is no longer in an all-day ESL program but takes some ESL classes and some regular ones at the high school. He is quiet and gives a shy impression but the pictures his mom shows me bear witness about him being different when he feels comfortable.
Hana and Rebka are two wonderful girls, seemingly as American as can be, but very proud of their heritage. They show me all the Ethiopian artifacts in the house and explain what they are for. Chloe is a happy, talkative 9-year-old who loves everyone. If you are close to Chloe, you are bound to get a hug or two. Kyle is a warm and giving brother to the whole bunch. If it was not for the obvious, such as the color of their skin, you would not have guessed that this is a selfassembled family. Justin and Randi are extremely involved in anything their children do. Their determination to go to any length to make their family work and be happy is apparent all over the house. Rebka shows me a traditional hand-woven basket table called a Mesob in the living room; on my way to my car, we go through the basement and there is a wrestling/ tumbling room for the kids. The minivans in the parking lot are used not only to shuttle the children to their activities, but also to make sure all the kids, not just the Fried children, will be picked up and taken to wrestling practice or tournaments or wherever they need to go.
On my way from the Fried house, I realized that, if more people were like Randi and Justin, this world would be a much better place. I am sure that four adopted children, the WOHS wrestling team, all the people that know them and all the teachers and educators that have come in contact with this family will second that. Thank you Fried's, all seven of you, for showing us what is important in life and for choosing our community as part of your life.