NEW BEDFORD — After Tito Jackson lost the Boston mayor’s race in 2017, he began to take stock of his life and heritage.
He’d long been open about his adoption, but all he knew, based on some basic information he’d received years ago from the adoption agency, was that his birth mother was just 13 years old when she had him, and that she had been sexually assaulted by two men.
In 2018, Jackson decided to deepen his search. As a public servant he had gone to numerous events for adopted families and other community happenings. Often, he said, he would scan the faces of the older Black women, searching to see if anyone looked like him.
Within months he found her, thanks to the help of a social worker. And now, after spending some time getting acquainted, Jackson and his birth mother, Rachel E. Twymon, are ready to publicly share their extraordinary reunion, offering new details in a chapter in the life of the former city councilor and mayoral candidate.
Their story also intersects with the history of Boston school desegregation as captured in J. Anthony Lukas’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families.” The book chronicles the story of the Twymon family, including the experience of matriarch Rachel L. Twymon.
Rachel E. Twymon, then a pregnant middle-schooler bused to Charlestown in 1975, was also mentioned in the book.
“Tito Jackson is my son,” Twymon, now 59, told the Globe.
“When I first met her, I said, ‘Thank you’ [for having me],‘‘ Jackson recalled. “I couldn’t believe I finally met my biological mom.”
Jackson, 46, first publicly revealed that his birth mother was 13 years old and a sexual assault victim in 2014 in City Council chambers on “White Ribbon Day,’' a human rights effort that invites men and boys to be part of the solution in ending violence against women.
Jackson’s curiosity about his roots began in his sophomore year at the University of New Hampshire. A doctor on campus stumped him with a question about his family’s medical history. Being adopted, he just did not know.
He knew that had been born at the former Boston City Hospital on April 11, 1975, and that he stayed there for two months before being adopted. He knew the nurses at the hospital named him Billy.
Marilyn Anderson Chase, a social worker at Boston Children’s Services, helped lead a campaign to get more Black families to not only foster Black children, but also adopt them. She was able to place the baby with Rosa and Herb Kwakuzulu Jackson, who lived in Grove Hall. He was a community activist; she operated a home day care.
“They had been foster parents for so long and were among the first to come forward,” Anderson Chase recalled. “It was also a time when there were loads of Black families who were foster parents, but the agencies would not allow them to adopt children who had been in their care.”
The Jacksons, who had more than 50 foster children, ended up adopting three children, Tito Jackson being the youngest. In a grainy photograph, Anderson Chase held Rachel E. Twymon’s chunky baby boy, who was dressed in a white onesie and sucking on a pacifier.
“When Herb and I first saw him, we looked at each other and said, ‘That’s him, that’s our son,’” Rosa Jackson recalled. “He’s been a joy to us ever since.” She said she is glad he has found his biological mother, adding that Twymon now “has the joy and relief of finally finding her son.”
In 2018, Jackson, determined to find out more about his past, sent a formal application to the Home for Little Wanderers, which by then had merged with Boston Children’s Services. The social worker assigned to the case, Karin Gemeinhardt, found his birth mother’s last name, Twymon, in the adopted parents’ file, she said.
She then checked records and found Rachel’s full name and date of birth. The mother was not hard to find on the Internet. “She was pretty active in her community,” Gemeinhardt recalled. “I called and I said, ‘Did you place a child in 1975?’ And she said, ‘I did.’ It was very emotional.”
Gemeinhardt also called Jackson and shared his birth mother’s contact information. Jackson said he couldn’t believe it, and called her as soon as he got her number.
A few days later, they met at an Olive Garden in Dartmouth, Mass. As soon as Jackson walked in, Twymon folded herself in his arms, wailed, and collapsed as he held onto her tightly.
Watching the video of the reunion with a Globe reporter this week Twymon again wept.
“I stayed as strong as I could for as long as I could‚’’ she said, sobbing as Jackson, also crying, comforted her. “Nobody wanted to help me.”
Twymon said giving birth was traumatic. She said a nurse had let her hold him for a short while. After that he was gone.
“He was a beautiful baby,” she recalled. “He had beautiful curly hair.”
Twymon said she spent the rest of her teen years and early adulthood not thinking about her baby: Too painful. She had been a pregnant middle-schooler going from the South End to Charlestown, where the kids on the bus made fun of her and the white residents outside threw bricks at them. After giving birth, she rebelled and struggled, including with addiction, years later.
Parts of her story were featured in newspaper articles about desegregation and in Lukas’s book, which became the basis for the 1990 CBS miniseries “Common Ground.”
“Little Rachel was already six months pregnant, too late for an abortion, so Big Rachel called the Boston’s Children’s Services Association to arrange for adoption,” Lukas wrote, noting the uproar the decision caused in the family. “You’re giving away flesh and blood,” he quotes Twymon’s aunt Alva as saying.
Twymon said that Lukas, who died by suicide, never interviewed her in the 10 years he researched and wrote the book, and that he got a lot of things wrong about her. She did not nurse her baby for three days, as the book said, or give up the baby for adoption with “her reluctant permission,” she told the Globe.
Her baby was taken from her unceremoniously and forgotten.
“I had that baby. It was over. Nobody said another word about him until I was grown,’' recalled Twymon.
She served on panels and talked to reporters about her family’s story in the struggle for integrated schools. In 2010, one of her sons, Arthur C. Burton III, was killed at age 19. But no one ever asked her about her own story, she said, until around 2012.
That’s when an Emerson College student working on a class play about the Twymon family called her and asked her questions no one had asked her before. What happened to you? How did you get pregnant at age 12?
After that, she began to look for the baby she had been forced to give up. But she did not know where to turn. Family members told her that her boy had joined a gang or was dead. A friend later assured her that he was alive somewhere.
“How do you find a baby when you don’t know where to look?’' she asked. “I knew I had a baby. I knew he was a boy.”
Now she is sharing her side of the story, and will be a on a virtual panel Thursday co-hosted by the Massachusetts Historical Society titled “Confronting Racial Injustice: Boston School Desegregation through the Rearview Mirror.”
Jackson and his mom have discovered that their paths almost crossed many times through the years.
Both attended Union United Methodist Church in the South End. Jackson and his brother Michael Newsome were in the same Sunday school class. Twymon and Jackson’s former chief of staff lived in the same building. She visited City Hall when Jackson was a councilor.
As Jackson was campaigning for mayor, he might have handed campaign literature to his biological family as they sat at Wyoming and Warren Streets, where they watched the annual Caribbean festival for decades.
Twymon had never heard about Tito Jackson, though her son Michael had joked about him one day.
“He said, ‘There is a Black man running for mayor whose name is Tito Jackson. I hope he can dance,’ ” she recalled.
Jackson said he has been moved by the “immense amount of courage it took to be that girl’' so long ago, noting that she faced enormous “failures and breakdowns on multiple levels” and at every turn. The church, the schools, her own family did not help her, he said.
At her home in New Bedford this week, he flipped the pages of a worn photo album, scanning the pictures of family members he had never seen before. Twymon peered over his shoulders, filling him in.
“That’s your grandmother right there,’' she said, pointing at an old picture (her mother died in 1990). His brothers, Stevin Burton, 29, and Michael Newsome, 40, waited patiently in the living area. The resemblance is there — the eyes, the nose, the shape of the head — though Jackson, at 6 feet 2, towers over all over them.
“This is a piece of my life that had been missing,’' Jackson said, recalling when he met his biological mother and his brothers for the first time. “There was a great deal of . . . trauma that I did not go through. There is a whole story of me that happened [long before now].”