A Range of Harsh Lessons

Schoolyard slurs, an incest charge and county social services shatter a black family's Kiowa dream.

Apparently, He wasn't anywhere near ready.

Carmen came along a year after Diane and Earl wed. The couple had a child almost every year after that until 1994, when Amria, the youngest, was born.

The Veaseys never lacked for ambition. Even as Earl struggled to raise his kids on a school security guard's salary, he worked to educate himself. He found challenge and comfort in theology, in particular, and after years of study, he earned a degree from Arkansas Baptist College.

 
 
Happier days: Before their recent troubles, Diane Veasey posed with her three youngest daughters.
Happier days: Before their recent troubles, Diane Veasey posed with her three youngest daughters.

But Earl's faith -- and Diane's -- would be sorely tested after the birth of their tenth child, a son they named Brandon.

In the summer of 1979, when Brandon was fifteen months old, Diane took him in for a round of routine childhood immunizations. But the baby's reaction was far from routine: Brandon lapsed into a coma just days later. At first, says Diane, the doctors thought Brandon would die. When it became clear he would survive, doctors told the Veaseys their son would be a vegetable.

The physicians were wrong again, though Brandon's injuries proved devastating -- he was left a paraplegic and legally blind. He was later diagnosed as developmentally disabled.

"Earl worked with [Brandon] every day when he came home," Diane says. "He would exercise him and everything, like they showed us at the hospital. Everything Brandon learned, Earl taught him."

Brandon's illness was a test, but through it all, "we never gave up on God," Diane says. "It really made us stronger. It showed us how God works."

The Veaseys filed suit against the State of Arkansas on Brandon's behalf, requesting compensation for his care and injuries, but relief would be years in coming. The suit was filed, Diane said, because the state required the shots.

Not long after Brandon was struck down, the Veaseys decided to leave Arkansas. They needed a change, says Diane.

They set their sights on Flint, Michigan, an industrial city whose life's breath was the General Motors Corporation. Diane had family there, and they both figured it was a good place to start anew.

They moved there in 1980.

It was in Michigan that Earl heeded the call to the ministry. He was ordained in 1982 and accepted a position as an associate minister at the Cross Missionary Baptist Church in Flint. It was an emotional decision, not a financial one: Associate ministers at the church receive "love offerings," not a salary, says Diane.

Eventually, Earl moved on to a paid post across town at the Hickory Grove Missionary Baptist Church, where he pastored for six years.

Still, it wasn't easy trying to make ends meet on a minister's salary; Earl often worked two jobs to keep a roof over his growing family. But within a few years, with the help of a loan from the Veterans' Administration (Earl had served in the Marines), Earl and Diane were able to buy a modest home.

While they were in Flint, the Veaseys had a brush with fame: They were featured in a 1990 Jet magazine article about their large family. The article captured the attention and imagination of actor/comedian Eddie Murphy.

Murphy said he wanted to do something because he thought the Veaseys needed a break, Diane says. He gave Earl and Diane a pair of first-class tickets to the Bahamas. Entertainer Merv Griffin threw in a free one-week stay at a hotel he owns there.

At the time, Diane and Earl had just nineteen children, and Murphy jokingly asked that the Veaseys name their next son after him. A year after their trip to the Bahamas, the Veaseys welcomed their twentieth child, Eddie Murphy Veasey, into their home.

The Veaseys' financial situation changed substantially in 1992: After dragging through the courts for twelve years, Brandon's suit was finally settled. The family received a six-figure settlement (Diane claims not to know the exact amount) in the form of a trust. Earl was appointed conservator.

Though the windfall was designed to make life easier for Brandon and his parents, it didn't bring peace of mind.

According to Diane, in 1994 her oldest son, Ronald -- by then grown and on his own -- approached his stepfather about obtaining a hefty loan. He wanted $30,000 to pay off some bills.

Earl wasn't stingy with his money. He helped the kids when they needed it. He'd bought Ronald a car and helped him purchase his first house. The large amount was a different matter. "He'd give them all money, but not that much," Diane says. "They never, ever asked us for that much."

Earl turned down Ronald's request.

And then Ronald turned on the family, Diane says. He allegedly called the Michigan Department of Children's Protective Services and told caseworkers that his younger siblings were being abused. (Ronald, who lives with his wife and children in Indiana, did not return numerous calls for comment on this article. His wife, Sheila, also declined to be interviewed. When asked if the latest charges were a reaction to the rejected loan, she laughed and replied, "No.")

The Veaseys' daughter Krystal, then fourteen, recalls that social workers came to school to interview her and her siblings.

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