Dieunane Claud was born May 11, 1998, in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti and at that moment, there was no way that anyone in the world could have known just where her life would take her…or if she would even have a life. Remember, I said she was born in Haiti, one of the worst places on the face of the earth for a little girl to grow up.
Dieunane was one of the “lucky” ones, however, because her mother had the sense to take her to an orphanage. Although her memories are few, Dieunane does have a spotty recollection of those years.
“I remember being at the orphanage, and there were swings by the gate where we played. There was a deck kind of thing on the second floor, and that is where we sat to do our hair. I remember dogs that I think were guard dogs; at least, they were very mean dogs. I was scared of dogs for years because of them.
“I also remember that James [a boy (Blaze Piere) in the orphanage who would become her brother] became really sick and had to go to the hospital while we were there, but I don’t remember what was wrong with him.
“In Haiti, moms can come to see their children at the orphanage until they are adopted. I can remember seeing my mom there a lot. I even have photos of the two of us.”
And then, Brandi and Dement Allen decided to adopt in Haiti. Little Dieunane was four years old. It wasn’t long until she was wearing the name Peyton Allen. Blaze Piere, who is younger than Peyton, was also adopted by the Allens; today, we all know him as Jameson Allen.
“I don’t really remember when my adoptive mom and dad came to the orphanage, but I do remember them being there and going to the hotel with them. I remember bits and pieces of an airport. Some of it is a blur, and some of it seems like it just happened.
“My mom and my birth mom actually wrote letters back and forth for some years…and then the earthquake came, and we never heard from my birth mom again after that.”
Peyton freely admits that her birth mother may have been killed in the earthquake that took so many lives in Haiti, but she also admits that her birth mother had Aids and may have died from the disease.
“Someday I would like to go back, not to try to find anyone, just to see what it is like,” she told me.
Peyton also shared that she knows that she might not even be alive today had she not left Haiti. Of course, that is not to say that life in the states has always been the proverbial bed of roses, you understand.
“Growing up in Comanche was very different. My parents were awesome, but James and I were the only black children here for the longest, and that was hard at times. It was also very emotional for me at times. As a kid, I think you take things differently because you just don’t have that mature mind. I do think, however, that growing up in Dallas would have felt different than growing up in Comanche, simply because we would not have stood out so much.
“I think I was fine when I was very young, and then ‘it’ began when I started school.”
And yet, Peyton Allen obviously had a lot of friends. She was a high school cheerleader and from the outside looking in, seemed to “have it all.” Of course, things seldom look the same from the outside, do they?
“In smaller towns, it is still very hard for people to accept the races. The teen years are probably the worst, and it was difficult to always be known as the only black girl. The first time I can remember seeing another black person was the first time my mom had my hair braided. We went to Abilene, and it was a black woman who did it. Up until then, the only black person I had seen was James.
“When we went to junior high was when things began to change. I bounced around a lot between groups. I refused to answer adoption questions back then because I was embarrassed to be adopted. I think if I could have talked about it, things would have been much better. I don’t feel that way now, but there is something that is embarrassing about not having your real parents with you. When we would have things like Open House, I could see that the other kids looked like their parents, but I didn’t. I was obviously black, and my parents were not.”
And yet, when I asked if she does not believe in interracial adoptions, she was very adamant that there is nothing wrong with adopting a child of a different race!
“I could still be in Haiti and probably dead today or I can be right here where life is wonderful. I am very thankful that my parents adopted me.”
High school was easier for Peyton than junior high had been because high school students tend to spread out a bit as each one gets involved in his own thing.
“Of course, I had my sister in high school with me that first year, and that made my life easier. Plus, I knew her friends, and they were used to having me around so that was good. My mom still taught there when I was a freshman so she and the other teachers watched out for me.”
And then, Peyton pointed out something that I had not realized up to this point.
“I became a cheerleader my freshman year, and that put me in the limelight. Some days that made things worse because when you are put in the spotlight, more people begin to notice you. Suddenly I was more of a target because I was out in front of the crowd instead of just being a part of the crowd.
“I don’t think I got it worse than the others, but I was the only black girl, and I felt like the bigger target because I stood out more. I grew up a lot during that time, and I became very, very careful with my words. Sometimes I would not even answer back when people sent slurs my way.
“I began to meet more kids of different races when I was in high school, and I learned to be more careful with what I said. I think so many people never think about the words they use, and don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t always the nicest person either, but I did try to be sure that I used words that were not offensive to other races of people.
“This past year was probably my turn around year, and I finally learned how to handle the black jokes that people throw around. I am black, and I am finally comfortable in my own skin. It feels good not to care that I am different. It was a very real moment when I reached this point.
“My cheerleader sponsor is a very nonjudgmental person, and she really helped me get a handle on adoption. The way I was looking at myself is how I thought everyone else was looking at me. It wasn’t that high school was bad, but I wanted to graduate early and go on to college and start that life.”
Peyton had hoped to go to college at LSU and maybe even try to make the cheer squad; however, even though she was able to graduate from a high school a year early, Peyton Allen’s dreams of LSU will not become her reality because during her junior year of high school, she learned that she is expecting a baby.
So, instead of LSU, Peyton plans to enroll in the Comanche branch of Ranger Jr. College for the spring semester. She had planned to study nursing anyway, and Ranger offers a nursing program. She seems to have made peace with that.
Although we are not ready to tell the story of a single mom trying to make her way through college, Peyton and I do plan to write that in the fairly near future. For now, she tells me that it is enough that she has found her way out of high school and to a place where she can look back and sort it all out and put it into perspective.
“I’ve always loved the Winston Churchill quote, ‘If you’re going through hell, just keep going.’ I struggled with the bad parts of junior high and high school; I struggled with the bad parts of being adopted, and I struggled with the bad parts of being black. Today, I’ve made it through those struggles.”
And, of course, here at United, we wish Peyton nothing but the very best. She’s bright; she’s articulate, and if she keeps her head on straight, she is going to be a success in life, no doubt about it. As for the rest of you, we will bring you more of her story when she “writes it.” It’s not going to be easy, but Peyton believes she can do it.