Debra Johnson, fourth from left in the above picture, was my cousin. The photo is about 50 years old. It was taken, almost certainly, at Trinity A.M.E. Zion Church in Binghamton, NY, my church growing up. The young women appear to be in the choir loft.
Debbie was adopted by my great uncle – my paternal grandmother’s brother – Earl and his wife, Jessie. The adoption was no secret. They had already largely raised their biological family, so they were “older” parents to her. But from everything I knew, good ones.
I knew Debbie primarily from church, specifically from singing in church choirs. One group was the MAZET singers, directed by my father, which also featured my sister Leslie (left), Nita (2nd left), and Lauren H. (right). Lauren B. (in the middle) came to church slightly later.
Leslie was closer to Debbie than I was. I mean, guys of a certain age didn’t hang out with “girls,” even girl cousins. But neither of us kept in touch after I left town. I hadn’t seen her since the mid-1980s, possibly earlier. We were Facebook friends, that “the least you can do” relationship tentacle.
One of many things I didn’t know about Debra Johnson is that she continued to be in touch with one or both birth parents, surname Miller, plus her over a dozen siblings. More strange for me is that some of them live in Albany, which is where I live!
She died recently in the Binghamton area, I found out from her sister, my cousin Ruth, who also provided the photo. The first iteration of the narrative was that Debra fell down some steps.
There’s a lot of love showing on her Facebook page from some brokenhearted folks. It’s very touching, even if it’s from people most of whom I do not know.