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On Belonging, Family, and Brave Spaces: A Closer Look at the 2021 KAAN Conference Theme

by Rachel Hye Youn Rupright

Last month, my son started preschool. It’s a lovely place that -- thank goodness is still operating, taking precautions, and enduring many challenges to stay open during this pandemic. Yet, I couldn’t help but experience a tiny bit of dread when I saw that the next two weeks of curriculum are all about families: a family tree activity, and sending in photos of our families.

As a Korean adoptee (transracially adopted) who is married to a white spouse with a son who is adopted, I know full well that families “look” different and are formed in many ways. Even at his young age, we are teaching our son that families can be however we define ourselves and we are proud of who we are. Both he and I have multiple mothers and families (birth, foster, and adopted) who love us. And while I want to stay open about the upcoming preschool activities, describing family through a tree is -- to some extent -- not applicable and a bit more nuanced for people like us.

In some ways, I consider the KAAN Community and the people who I’ve gotten to know by attending KAAN Conferences as my family. Or, at the very least, a community of people where I feel belonging: the people who I choose to engage with and find comfort in, be challenged by, and grow with. I suppose the obvious reason is shared experience, but because the common adoption narrative is often limited, the KAAN Conference is a place where our personal stories and experiences which challenge the traditional adoption narrative or highlight deeper concepts that people outside the adoption community may not fully realize are welcomed. Even though the center of KAAN is always the adoptee; adoptees are not islands -- birth parents, adoptive parents, siblings, spouses, partners, and children all have their own experiences which may challenge the common adoption narrative when it comes to loving and being loved by the adoptee in their lives. We all have a story to share among this group of people who validate us that we belong and we matter. And there is no better way to articulate these stories than through sessions at a KAAN Conference.

KAAN announced the Call for Proposals for the #KAAN2021 Conference, “From Dialogue to Action: Identity and Intersections in Our Community”. This year we are focusing even more on belonging; how we identify and define ourselves, and our community. How do we understand ourselves and how do we navigate the world today? How do we express these identities? How do our identities impact our adoptee community? What actions are we taking beyond the dialogue? The theme also seems highly appropriate considering the divisive state of our society, our economy, the election cycle, and global pandemic. Because of COVID-19 and the particularly devastating year many of us have had, KAAN’s ongoing commitment to foster community is even greater.

I once heard Steve Kalb, a Korean adoptee, say that even though we often talk about the importance of creating a “safe space” to address complicated topics (with our children), what we really need is to do is create a “brave space” in order to promote open dialogue and open hearts. In some ways, I think this applies to our conference and theme. We need sessions and speakers who can create a brave space for adoptees, adoptive families, and members of our community to discuss our experiences, vulnerabilities, and joys; as well as a place to build up our own tools and ability to talk about complicated subjects with our children, loved ones, parents, and peers. We also want and need a range of submissions and voices to help us ensure it’s an enriching conference for everyone in our KAAN community. We need sessions which build a sense of belonging and inclusiveness in our attendees.

If you’re considering submitting a proposal, I can’t emphasize enough to read the full instructions on how to submit your proposal. Feel free to visit our website to view previous conference programs, sessions, and speakers. You’ll see that our speaker pool ranges greatly. You’ll also see that we welcome members of the entire transracial adoption community, not just Korean adoptees. We also have draft guidelines for what being a speaker entails. There is some financial assistance available for speakers. Past attendees overwhelmingly state they prefer sessions which have hands-on activities, experiential learning, movement, audience participation/interaction, usage of multimedia, and/or have strong facilitation of discussion -- so attendee engagement and format is important.

And lastly, as of now, #KAAN2021 is anticipated to be held in Denver, CO (the same location where the 2020 Conference would have been). However, due to COVID-19, there is the possibility that #KAAN2021 could be a virtual conference. This decision will be announced by KAAN at the time of proposal acceptance and decline. Therefore, if you are interested in submitting a session proposal, please keep in mind what a virtual format could look like for your session.

Please join us in continuing to create community and belonging. The deadline to submit a session proposal is November 1. To learn more about the CFP and submission process, please visit: www.wearekaan.or/conference.


Rachel Hye Youn Rupright is the Assistant Director of KAAN. For the past several years, she served as KAAN’s Speaker Coordinator. When she’s not volunteering with KAAN, Rachel works for her state health department reminding everyone to wear a mask and keep six feet apart when out and about.

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