Being Jessie

Article By Stesha Kaprice Mays
Photos By Christopher Breedlove

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In the morning, five-year-old Cho Ling would love to watch her Mama get dressed for work. Bright blue eye shadow over her almond shaped eyes with heavy, liquid liner to cover up the glue from the fake lashes, some red lipstick and her highest heels. Her Mama was so glamorous in her beautiful dresses and perfectly pinned hair. While her mother was at work, Cho Ling’s job was to sell gum to the American G.I’s in the South Korean camp town where they lived. For the most part, the G.I soldiers were kind to her whereas Korean children and their parents would poke her with sticks, throw rocks or call her “gum-dinghy” which means black dog, every time they saw her.

The thousands of mixed-raced children born to U.S soldiers and Korean women during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s were the social casualties or Korea’s homogenous, racist society who rejected anyone who was different. South Korea’s patrilineal society also placed emphasis on families being blood related and without a father, a child was not even considered a Korean citizen. The international adoption of South Korean orphans has since been labeled as “baby-exporting” or the selling of unwanted, Korean children to American families. Discrimination made it difficult for the single mother’s to have jobs outside of servicing G.I’s in camp towns and once a child aged out of an orphanage, their opportunities for education or a career were minimal.

Rejected by society however, did not mean that all of these children were rejected by their families. At age 8, Cho Ling took a trip with her Mama to the mountains to visit her grandmother for the first time. Her mother left to go to store and it would be three years before Cho Ling saw her mother again. Adoption recruiters would go through villages looking for mixed-race children, persuading their families that they would have a better life in America. Cho Ling’s loving grandmother and fierce protector taught her how to be tough, hide her tears, fight back and to know that she was smart and beautiful despite what others said. However, her grandmother finally gave in to the idea that her granddaughter would have a better life in America and sent Cho Ling off to a Korean orphanage sponsored by a Catholic church.

Valuable and vulnerable children are usually passed through a salacious path of predators as they make their way from one hell to the next and Cho Ling was not spared from this existence, from the moment she arrived at the orphanage. Children have a way of peppering their experiences with joy and Cho Ling was always able to make friends amid tragedy and change. When she was sold to a Midwestern American family, Cho Ling had the opportunity to see her grandmother and mother for the first time in years before she boarded the plane. Overcome with emotion, apologies and regret, it was too late for this South Korean family to change their minds as Cho Ling was ripped from her crying mother’s arms and shipped around the world to Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

Upon her arrival, Cho Ling was greeted by her new mother and family who were unglamorous, and unenthusiastic to meet her. Cho Ling was 12 and didn’t speak English. Her new mother was only 17 years older than Cho Ling and immediately told her, “Your new name is Jessie.”

Leaving O’Hare airport for Grand Rapids, MI, Jessie had two younger brothers and a father who loved her privately but publicly allowed her to be the victim of a bi-polar and abusive mother who constantly told her that her birth mother was a whore and they rescued Jessie from being a burden to society. Despite the abuse and the poverty, Jessie excelled in school and sent herself to Art school after graduation.

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In her upcoming memoir, Jessie talks about her childhood and her 19-year marriage to a man who gave her the love, wealth and family she had always dreamed of. She tells how her love story was affected by her husband’s mental illness and the harrowing journey she and her four children endured.

Today, Jessie is a successful entrepreneur and a breast cancer survivor, who is happily remarried to retired global design chief from GM, Ed Welburn. The two collaborate on a number of significant projects they’re passionate about, Bolt micro mobility with Olympian Usaine Bolt, a movie about black race car legend Charlie Wiggins as well as working with Shinji Takei, the gentleman driver/car collector from Tokyo Japan. The proud Mom of one daughter, two non-binary children and a son. Jessie is an adoption advocate, who speaks about her experience of being adopted and having adopted her son. Her advocacy has allowed her to meet other American Asian (Amerasian) adults, who have similar adoption stories both triumphant and tragic. She’s also involved in a variety the children’s charities along with the Ruth Ellis-LGBTQ organization in Detroit that serve over 1200 young people annually with medical care & basic needs along with counseling for their families to understand their children in the rainbow spectrum.( to honor her children). She also donates her time and resources’ to Pontiac meals on wheels and other social services for seniors in the area( to honor her grandmother)

Thanks to Ancestry.com. Jessie was contacted by a woman who claimed to be her cousin. Jessie, who had never met her father, was skeptical but met the woman in New Jersey and was eventually connected to her birth father who remembered Jessie’s pregnant mother well. Unlike other U.S soldiers, he was excited about Jessie and had loved her mother. His illegal attempts to make money in South Korea got him arrested and deported to a military prison in the U.S in the middle of the night and he never saw Jessie’s mother again.

After her divorce, Jessie started the Beld & Associates Marketing Consulting company and had clients in the automotive, entertainment and fashion industries. She later created JesMia Creative, a marketing and branding agency that is headquartered in Pontiac with additional offices on the East Coast. With a renewed sense of self and survival Jessie is learning to tap into things that matter the most to her which are her love for children & family, her love for dogs and the importance of having personal freedom and empowerment.

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With the rise of the recreational cannabis industry, Jessie has three CBD brands that will launch this spring including Luna Blue, a calming CBD line for kids and nursing mothers, Ellie Bear a product line for dogs with treats, calming spray and paw salve and then Bad BunniLife which is an apparel and CBD company for adults geared towards sexual expression and positive sexual identity. One of her most recent partnerships is a social club called CannaGirl, that she co-founded with Shannon S. Williams, the first Jamaican-American woman awarded a Medical Marijuana Recreational Retail license in Michigan. This reservation-only events club features a variety of cannabis-infused dinners and once in a lifetime, party experiences.

Jessie’s upcoming memoir can be expected in 2022.