Judge Larry Thorne, center, dressed as the mayor of Munchkinland, shares a laugh with Bennie Berry and her new son Anthony, Nov. 17, at the Jefferson County Courthouse, following the Adoption Day event which had a “Yellow Brick Road” theme.

Judge Larry Thorne, center, dressed as the mayor of Munchkinland, shares a laugh with Bennie Berry and her new son Anthony, Nov. 17, at the Jefferson County Courthouse, following the Adoption Day event which had a “Yellow Brick Road” theme.

If one followed the “Yellow Brick Road” to 317th district court judge Larry Thorne’s courtroom on Nov. 17, one would have found it packed to capacity with anxious families, eager to adopt their new son or daughter.

Nov. 17 was Jefferson County Adoption Day and Thorne dressed as the mayor of Munchkinland to fit the day’s theme and add a sense of fun to the occasion. One by one, families stood before the judge and awaited the fateful words — “I grant this adoption.”

Hidden in the crowd, but with the biggest smile on his face, was Anthony Benzell Berry.

“To be honest, I really couldn’t sleep last night,” he said. “I told mom, ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to sleep,’ and she was like, ‘I don’t think I am either.”

Berry, a 16-year-old Beaumont native, was adopted after being in foster care since 2010.

Berry is the oldest of the 18 children adopted during the ceremony. Adoption was something that he had all but given up on due to his age and the hardships he faced during his time in foster care, he said.

“I was going through a lot, but then I met my mom and it just kind of happened,” he said.

Anthony met his eventual mother, Bennie Berry, at the Pathways Learning Center high school where she teaches English.

“I wasn’t looking for anyone to adopt me, but then I met her, and I started talking to her, and we just kind of clicked,” he said. “And when she first said yes, she was interested in adoption, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, she’s just saying that.’ But come to find out later, when I left Pathways, I got a phone call and ever since then we’ve been here.”

Bennie Berry initially thought Anthony was joking, but quickly realized that he was serious when he wanted to show her the adoption website.

“Well, at first I thought he was just making jokes, until he actually explained the situation,” she said. “Then we struck a deal — finish the assignment and then you can show me the website. Then he showed me his picture on the website and I said, ‘Oh, OK, let me see what they’ll say.’ So, I filled it out and got a response back. Then later I found it was really an option to adopt him, so we pushed forward.”

Bennie said adoption is an incredible task to take on, but believes she is ready for the job.

“It means a lifelong commitment, I guess that’s why it’s kind of surreal,” she said. “It’s not a day I ever sat down and planned. It’s very special though, because now have someone that I can love like my parents loved me — unconditionally. And he took my dad’s name (Benzell, as his middle name), so that’s really special.”

Anthony’s story has led him to appear on Good Morning America and NBC Nightly News, and networks Fox News and CNN. He considers himself an advocate for adopting older children.

“If you never thought about adoption, or didn’t want to be adopted, actually try it, because you never know,” he said. “Take in to consideration that for someone that does not love you, there is always someone that will love you — so just give it a chance.”

Bennie Berry said she was looking forward to Adoption Day, but more that she and Anthony could start their new life together.

“My anxiety is not what it was, I just feel blessed, I feel blessed,” she said. “And to my son, ‘I love you Anthony.’”

Anthony smiled and replied, “I love you too, Momma.”

Even though he has received a lot of attention, Anthony is humble.

“It is just not necessarily for me — like, I feel great about today, but it is for everyone that actually got the chance to get a new start, a fresh start, a new identity, to leave their past in the past,” he said.

“I’m pretty sure I can say for everyone, ‘It is a great day.’”

For more information, call 718-7220, email Shari.pulliam@dfps.state.tx.us, or visit adoptingchildren.org.

Story by Hunter Abate, UP contributor

Learn more about Lamar University at lamar.edu

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