April 25th, 2009
12:44 PM ET

What adopting a white girl taught a black family about race in the Obama era

Tony Dokoupil

Several pairs of eyes follow the girl as she pedals around the playground in an affluent suburb of Baltimore. But it isn't the redheaded fourth grader who seems to have moms and dads of the jungle gym nervous on this recent Saturday morning. It's the African-American man—six feet tall, bearded and wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt—watching the girl's every move. Approaching from behind, he grabs the back of her bicycle seat as she wobbles to a stop. "Nice riding," he says, as the fair-skinned girl turns to him, beaming. "Thanks, Daddy," she replies. The onlookers are clearly flummoxed.

As a black father and adopted white daughter, Mark Riding and Katie O'Dea-Smith are a sight at best surprising, and at worst so perplexing that people feel compelled to respond. Like the time at a Pocono Mountains flea market when Riding scolded Katie, attracting so many sharp glares that he and his wife, Terri, 37, and also African-American, thought "we might be lynched." And the time when well-intentioned shoppers followed Mark and Katie out of the mall to make sure she wasn't being kidnapped. Or when would-be heroes come up to Katie in the cereal aisle and ask, "Are you OK?"—even though Terri is standing right there.


April 25th, 2009
08:00 AM ET

Dear President Obama #96: Afghanistan, Pakistan and The Taliban...Oh My!

Reporter's Note: On Pennsylvania Avenue, President Obama has asked Americans to help him run the country by sending him ideas. Frankly I’m close enough to bicycle over, but I continue posting a letter a day to the White House.

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/24/petraeus/art.kabul.cnn.jpg caption="Troops from the United States fly over Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. "]

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

I grew up in a military family, the son of an enlisted man. My late father spent more than twenty years in the Air Force and retired as a Senior Master Sergeant. In other words, he was one of the guys who actually got things done while the officers played golf. (Ha! My father-in-law, a former Navy officer, will let me hear about that crack.) To put it simply, it is in my DNA to mistrust Generals.

That said, I have spent so many hours studying military and political matters in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I must say I am convinced General David Petraeus is spot on when he says those two countries represent a greater challenge than Iraq.