Profiles In

Countless moments shape our lives, but a few define us.

birth parents, but couldn’t release any contact information until she checked with them. So she urged Shellman to write them a letter, which he did. She sent it out just before leaving for vacation.

“She was about to leave, so I really had to put the letter together quickly,” Shellman says. “I wrote that I was looking to complete myself, that I’d had a good life and didn’t need anything from them except closure. I said, ‘I love you and thanks for having me,’ and I put in a picture of myself, then sealed it up. I was so busy focusing on the letter itself that I didn’t even realize I printed it out on my letterhead, with my address and phone number at work.”

A few days later, with Shellman’s CI still away on vacation, his assistant answered a call. When she asked who was calling, she was told, “It’s his father.”

“I was in a meeting, but the rule in my office is that if anyone in my family calls, put them straight through. So, she buzzes me and says, ‘It’s your dad.’ I pick up, thinking it’s my adoptive father of course, saying, ‘Hey man, what’s up,’ and I hear these people saying, ‘Anthony?’ I say, ‘Who’s that?’ Then I heard this woman’s voice and by instinct I just knew it was my birth mother. I said, ‘Cora?’ She said ‘Yes,’ and that was it. I dropped the phone and walked out of my office in tears. I could barely breathe.”

Shellman’s assistant, fearing the worst, picked up the phone and found out what was going on. Once Shellman got himself together, he got back on the phone and they talked, in a series of calls among family members, for the next seven hours.

In those conversations, he learned that his parents, Cora and Charles Brown, were young, married with a daughter, and struggling both emotionally and financially when Tony was born. They were into the Black Panther movement, partying, and hanging out when they were pressured by Shellman’s disapproving maternal grandmother into giving up their second child so that he might have a better life than they could offer. It was his grandmother who delivered him to Catholic Charities-his distraught birth mother wouldn’t do it. The Browns went on to have two more children and, at one point, lived five miles from the Shellman family, before leaving Seattle for Portland, Oregon.

“They never looked for me,” Shellman says. “They didn’t
have the resources and they felt real guilty. They felt I would be mad at them. And I was, for a minute.”

Indeed, the revelation of the events that led to his adoption was hard for Shellman to take. A part of him was angry that his parents didn’t resist his grandmother more and then didn’t look for him. When he talked to his birth father about it, Shellman never got any answers that truly satisfied him. “He said that they just couldn’t afford to keep me,” Shellman says, recalling one conversation. “He

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