North Dakota father and son take on racism by sharing adoption story
JAMESTOWN, N.D. — Life is about as good as it’s ever been for Jerod Bloemendaal, the adopted son of Jerry Bloemendaal.
He has a few good friends, a steady job he enjoys at an ice rink here and a boss who thinks the world of his work.
Junior Kautz, the manager at Wilson Arena, said Jerod is likely the hardest worker in his employ.
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“If I had 12 more, my life would be a lot easier,” Kautz said.
The elder Bloemendaal said his son is proud to finally have “a career.”
He only wishes more people viewed him that way.
Jerod Bloemendaal, 31, was born with fetal alcohol effects after his birth mother drank alcohol while pregnant.
He’s dealt with lifelong learning disabilities and behavioral issues as a result.
Jerry Bloemendaal and his then-wife, both white, decided to adopt after they struggled with infertility.
“I remember asking God after my ex-wife miscarried, I said, ‘Lord send me any child,’” the elder Bloemendaal said.
That child turned out to be Jerod, more than one quarter Native American. Years later, they adopted another Native child — daughter Kelsey, who’s 26 and working as a sous chef at a popular Sioux Falls, S.D., restaurant.
Though both kids are at the most successful, self-sufficient points in their lives, getting there has meant overcoming a long list of challenges, including bullying, drug use, racism and discrimination, their father said.
Growing up in Sioux Falls, Jerod Bloemendaal remembers being picked on in school because he attended special education classes.
In addition to having neurodevelopmental disabilities from early exposure to alcohol, he was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
“(I) had a hard time going to sleep. I'd be up all night. Focusing was not there,” Jerod Bloemendaal said.
Living in Sioux Falls as a teenager, he was subjected to profiling, he said.
In vehicles, he and friends would be pulled over frequently. They’d be at a park during the afternoon on a weekend and told to “go home.”
He said he felt like he was walking on eggshells all the time, even if he was simply playing basketball or going for a walk.
A police officer would see him and ask,“You staying out of trouble or are you getting into it?” he said.
Police would also inquire about his many tattoos and any possible gang affiliation.
“Like, I ain’t down for none of that,” he said.
Occasionally, he’ll be challenged at a store or a gas station about the authenticity of his ID, he said, because he doesn’t look like everyone else.
He had some trouble with the law, but his father said some of that happened when friends began realizing the extent of his disabilities.
“They start taking advantage of him, which is why he winds up in more trouble than he should be,” Jerry Bloemendaal said.
This father is telling the story of his children, he said, in hopes that people will stop judging them and others.
Kautz said Jerod Bloemendaal doesn’t fit some people’s stereotype of those who may work at or use ice rinks.
“He's not that mold, so it's great for people to get a reality check to what life's all about,” Kautz said.
In addition to working at the arena, Jerod said he has taken some certified nursing assistant classes. He dreams of operating trains for a living someday.
His dad is grateful for the people who’ve given his kids a chance, and upset with those who continue to fixate on skin color and appearance.
“I know racism and I know discrimination when I see it. Don't do it,” the father said.