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Finding my Bermuda family

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Dennis Blackwell and his sister, Jodi Corbett. The New Yorker searched for decades before finding his birth family here (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

It took 58 years, but Dennis Blackwell has found his way home. Put up for adoption at birth by a Bermudian woman in New York, the son of the late singer Hubert Smith Jr was eager to know where he came from.He hit brick wall after brick wall during a 20-year search until a nephew gave him the name of his sister, and told him to look for her on Facebook.“As a kid, when you’re adopted, you always wonder why,” he said.“Was I not worth it? Whatever the reason was behind it, you just don’t feel whole. “So for all my life I had that feeling. That’s kind of what pushed me to do this. I had to know. I hit quite a few brick walls and I just never stopped. I would pause, take a little bit of time off to regroup, but then something would just be like no, keep looking.”His Bermuda family welcomed him with open arms last week. At LF Wade International Airport on September 27, he exchanged long hugs with Jodi Corbett and also Gabriela, Monique and Damian, his siblings on his father’s side.“When I got off the plane and came outside, I immediately saw her,” he said of Ms Corbett, with whom he has been in constant contact since he poured out his heart in a Facebook message and hoped that she would respond.“And then I approached her. She asked me if we could hug. It was a 58-year-old hug that was long overdue.”Members of the Smith family reached out to Mr Blackwell after he shared his story with The Royal Gazette in June, when his intended trip here to meet Ms Corbett was delayed by Covid-19. “I had to cancel,” he said. “It’s been depressing since June until now, but I now have three other sisters and one brother. Juliette lives in New York, so I haven’t met her, but the others, they came to the airport — which was amazing. “They all showed up with signs. It was an awesome feeling. Throughout my life, I’ve always searched and wondered. I hit brick walls, but it’s all led me to this.”His private message to Ms Corbett sat there for months before she discovered it. Unsurprisingly she was “shocked”, having grown up thinking she was an only child. Also confusing was that she and Mr Blackwell shared a brother who they have so far been unable to find.“If you get a private message from someone and they’re not your [Facebook] friend it sits in a cloud until you actually open it,” she explained. “I had so many messages [that I hadn’t seen] and I started to delete them all and just came across Dennis’s which said: ‘I hope you’re sitting down when you open this ... ’.”She would likely have dismissed it as spam if some of her cousins had not been on Mr Blackwell’s list of friends. “I just called one of them and said: ‘This person’s saying that he’s my brother ...’ And right away he says: ‘Right, we need to meet for a drink.’ And that was it.“I guess I was shocked. I’d been an only child for 50 years, so to find out I had two brothers was pretty — I’m not sure what the word is for that, how people would feel — but I think I was pretty shocked, and happy to know that I actually had two siblings.”It was also fantastic that the Smith family welcomed her into their circle along with Mr Blackwell, she said.“It’s pretty amazing. They have reached out to me and even said they would like me to be part of their family. It’s just very overwhelming. The whole thing. But definitely in a good way.”That his late father lived in the United States “for many years” without him knowing was disappointing, Mr Blackwell said. “Had I known that, I’m sure I could have connected with him while he was there.”He has resigned himself to the fact that he will never meet his mother although he talked with her briefly over the telephone many years ago.“I had reached out to other family members. I got in touch with another relative and they told me basically not to reach out [to her]. And then years ago I got a Bermuda phone book and just started calling all the names and eventually I got to our grandmother [who] gave me my mother’s phone number [not knowing who I was]. I called it and my mother answered. “She said a couple of things. I identified who I was and then she started to talk, but right away said: ‘I can’t do this’ and just hung up.” Lawyers made it clear that he should not try to contact her again. “It is what it is,” he said. “To be honest, when I came here that wasn’t my goal. I had already given that up. If I happened to run into her or she said that she wanted to meet that’s a whole ’nother chapter but right now, that wasn’t my goal. [Meeting Jodi] was my goal. And meeting my other sisters and my brother. That was my goal.”With his parents who raised him in New York now deceased, his adoptive sister was initially “very much against” his search for his birth family. Along with his wife and three children, she has since given her full support to Mr Blackwell, who travelled on his own for this trip.“She felt that I was just going to forget her,” he said. “And once I reassured her that wasn’t going to happen, she jumped on board and she’s been really supporting me all the way through this. As far as my kids and my wife, they’re like, now we’ve got some place to go. We’ve got other family and we actually can find out who you are. Now there’s a name, there’s a face, there’s something to tell them.”Once on the plane, his mind started to race. “The plane had actually left the ground and I remember thinking: no turning back now. How is this going to be when I land? How is this going to be when I see her? What am I supposed to do? That’s all I could think about. Fortunately, it all worked out. I can still picture myself walking into the airport and going: ‘This is it’.” With a huge immediate and extended family, the plan is to see each other regularly, Ms Corbett said. “This is just the start. If it’s not him coming here, it’s us going there. It’s just started the ball rolling really for everything so it’s pretty neat.”

Joyful meeting: Dennis Blackwell and his sister, Jodi Corbett (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Dennis Blackwell and his sister, Jodi Corbett. The New Yorker searched for decades before finding his birth family here (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)
Dennis Blackwell and Jodi Corbett meet in person for the first time, at LF Wade International Airport (Photograph supplied)
Adopted at birth, Dennis Blackwell, (seated, third row in the aqua shirt) discovered he was the son of the late singer, Hubert Smith Jr. He is pictured here with his father’s family on his recent trip to Bermuda to meet them (Photograph supplied)