Civil Rights Act Turns 50

KC couple is in love with their racially blended family

Tom and Mary Grimaldi have fostered and sometimes adopted children who they met through Mary’s job as a nurse at Children’s Mercy Hospital.
Tom and Mary Grimaldi have fostered and sometimes adopted children who they met through Mary’s job as a nurse at Children’s Mercy Hospital.

In the spacious kitchen of her Brookside home, Mary Grimaldi flips through a family photo album and finds one that shows all eight children.

Shades of brown and white faces peer out; their smiles are remarkably similar, broad and genuine.

Grimaldi flashes a mother’s adoring grin. The Grimaldi family portrait looks a bit like a United Colors of Benetton advertisement.

Two of the girls, one black, the other biracial, are teenagers. The rest of the kids — four white, two black — are grown and living on their own, including a son who has some learning disabilities.

“I never thought about it this way before, but if it hadn’t been for civil rights, maybe I might not have the beautiful family I have,” Grimaldi says.

Grimaldi and her husband, Tom, are white. The couple adopted five children — three black, one biracial and one white — between 1994 and 2001 and raised them along with their three biological children.

Grimaldi met her five adopted children at Children’s Mercy Hospital, where she worked as a nurse until 1998. Some of the sick children came from families where food and shelter were scarce or from homes where parents struggled with drug or alcohol addiction.

To help the children recover, Grimaldi often volunteered to foster a child in her home.

Five times the Grimaldis adopted a child she’d brought into their home. When possible, Grimaldi maintained ties with the adopted child’s family so they would always know where they came from, their history, their roots.

Maybe, Grimaldi says, if the hospital wards had still been segregated as they once were, she might never have met her African-American children.

Today, Grimaldi, 58, works part time for Score 1 for Health. Tom, 59, is an attorney with CenturyLink.

As any mom does, Grimaldi worries: about one child’s poor driving record, about what another will do now that she has finished high school and how a third will do on the dating front. And whether a fourth’s new nuptials will mean everlasting love and joy.

On most Sundays, the Grimaldi clan comes home to catch up around their parents’ dining room table. The cooking, the sibling squabbles, laughter and dinner prayer paint a portrait of a modern American family.

“Civil rights … hmmm. Our lives have been made richer, because our family is so rich,” Grimaldi says.

When her husband ponders the topic, he thinks of his Italian grandfather arriving in the U.S. in the early 1900s.

“He never could have anticipated that his grandson would adopt children of a different race. In fact, he would probably be shocked, or maybe appalled, at that thought,” Tom says.

But, he adds, the Civil Rights Act ensures that “children born in the 21st century will see multiracial families like ours as more normal than abnormal.”