Dorothy Dunning rallies national advocates to protest adoption law

Dunning, at center, flanked by supporters on Monday.
On Monday afternoon, about 25 of Dorothy Dunning's supporters gathered in the atrium of the Hennepin County Government Center. At one point, the crowd launched into a modified version of the spiritual, "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around."

"I'm not going to let foster care turn me around," they sang. "I'm not going to let child protection turn me around... Keep marching up to freedom land."

On March 27, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that two young girls should be adopted by the foster parents they have lived with all their life, and not by Dunning, their biological grandmother. But despite the verdict against her -- and her dwindling options -- Dunning continues to fight for full custody of the girls, now ages two-and-a-half and three-and-a-half.

See Also:
- Cover: Split the baby: The fight over two baby girls could change how Minnesota considers relatives and race in adoption cases
- MN Supreme Court issues close decision in Dunning-Grosser adoption case

Monday's rally kicked off what one speaker referred to as a "national protest" with the two-pronged mission of raising awareness for Dunning and lobbying for a new law that would create a clear relative preference. As Minnesota's law stands now, in contested adoption cases, judges should consider the relatives first, but beyond that, give them no preference.

Lennox Abrigo, the president of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Action Network -- the civil rights organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton -- learned of the law when he read the court's decision on Dunning's case, and decided to start working to change it.
"What we would like to do is to talk to the legislators in Minnesota about addressing that law," Abrigo explains. "We think that custody should be awarded still by best interest, but with priority to the family."

Abrigo flew to Minneapolis for the rally, and in May, Dunning will return the favor, joining him in D.C. to meet with legislators. "The state of this now is that we need a political approach," Abrigo says.

When he addressed the crowd, he outlined four steps to that approach. First, he said, Dunning plans to file a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case. Second will be continuing public advocacy -- i.e., rallies and protests -- and third and fourth, lobbying legislators to change the law. In addition to looking at the best interest of the child, Abrigo says, "the law should say that the best interests of the biological relatives trump the best interests of the foster parents."
Lennox Abrigo, president of the D.C. chapter of the National Action Network, speaks, with Dunning at left.
"Here in Minnesota, we are taking a stand to begin a national protest against this redistribution of our children," Abrigo told the supporters. "During slavery, one of the primary methods of destruction was separating children from their families. We are very, very disturbed to see that this principle of dividing the black family continues."

Even as Dunning plans more protests -- the next one will happen on Thursday at the State Capitol -- she is close to exhausting her legal options. Though she will file for another appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court grants just 1 percent of petitions.

Still, she remains determined to adopt her granddaughters. "We're going to get a national investigation happening here," Dunning says. "Ain't nothing signed in stone."

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