When he was 12, Keith DuPree was adopted. His 13-year-old sister, Gina Pearson, called their encounter at his adoption party “awkward.” As the years passed, DuPree and Pearson lost touch.
Fast forward seven years to 2011.
Pearson, who was attending Rutgers University-Camden, was traveling with the Youth Advisory Board to Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus, where DuPree, now a senior, had begun his undergraduate career in Environmental and Business Economics. Pearson, interested in reconnecting with her brother, ran a Facebook search and reached out to him, hoping to reunite with “a little piece” of herself.
When Pearson and DuPree saw each other from a distance, they could see how much time had passed. Dupree, 19, was tall and had facial hair. Pearson, 20, was now a grown woman. He had been raised by an adopted African-American family, and she grew up in her adopted White family. But when they ran to hug each other, it was like they were teenagers again, like nothing had changed.
“It felt like we were 13 again. It was an amazing feeling and we never skipped a beat,” Pearson, now 24, says.
In 2012, Pearson transferred from Rutgers-Camden to Rutgers-New Brunswick, which strengthened her bond with her brother. The following year, the two decided to live together as a part of the Rutgers Summer Housing Internship Program, which provides internship opportunities and stable housing to 40 recipients of the New Jersey Foster Care (NJFC) scholarship. In the beginning, the results were not quite what they expected.
“When we lived together, we thought it was going to be the best thing in the world,” DuPree, 23, says. “But we had so many fights.”
Pearson does not like DuPree’s “go with the flow” attitude, and DuPree isn’t too fond of her perfectionist nature.
“I don’t like is that she is a social work major and kinda gets into your head,” he says.
“But at the end of the day, it was the best thing in the world and set the tone for our relationship,” said Pearson, now a graduate student at the university.
While anyone who sees DuPree and Pearson could immediately notice the uncanny facial resemblance, strangers would never know the duo had been apart for seven years of their lives. Like any other siblings, they fight and they make up. They laugh and cry together. But they spend most of their time learning about each other, playing basketball, pushing each other to be the best they can be and making up for the moments they have missed.
“As a female, I missed out on having that overprotective brother. When I had my first relationship, I didn’t have that traditional brother to protect me,” Pearson says.
“I missed out on just having a really, really close sister, who would be able to guide me as a teenager. I missed out on those bonding moments that are drawn out in your teenage years,” DuPree says.
In 2013, there were 402,378 children in foster care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of those, 53% will reunite with their parents, but for Pearson and DuPree, their relationship with each other is the only fragment of their biological family that they want to hold on to.
Their mother was a drug addict who died in 2008, and they do not know the whereabouts of their father, who, Pearson says, never accepted them as his own. DuPree and Pearson have also lost touch with their two older siblings, who they believe are envious of their abilities to get a college education.
“It’s easier if my brother and I stay away from the past,” Pearson said.
DuPree has nicknamed her “G,” she calls him by his middle name Terron; they value what they have found after years of being apart.
“Our relationship is inspiring, and it’s definitely humbling,” DuPree said. “I think that something like this is underappreciated, and people underestimate the impact siblings can have on you.”
Pearson said her brother was the best thing that came out of her experience at Rutgers, and that she is “never letting him go.”
“Our relationship is lasting, exciting, genuine and sincere, and he is going to be the one walking me down my aisle,” she said.