What began as a Jesuit High School oratory competition five years ago has evolved into a documentary, showcased by Hollywood, that will be premiered Tuesday at the Louisiana Governor’s Mansion.
“I Lived on Parker Avenue” documents 19-year-old David Scotton’s journey from Metairie to Indiana to meet the woman who gave birth to him and put him up for adoption after, literally, coming seconds from aborting him in 1993.
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The film, which cost $67,000 to make, was showcased at the NewFilmakers Los Angeles Annual DocuSlate festival in December.
Scotton has spent the better part of the last seven months visiting Catholic high schools across the country, appearing on national television, showing the film to members of Congress and telling just about all who would listen about the adoption alternative.
“It has been a life-changing experience,” Scotton, now a 24-year-old second-year law student at LSU, said last week. “This is my opportunity to give back to a cause that gave me life.”
The producers of the film approached Gov. John Bel Edwards, knowing that he and his wife refused a doctor’s recommendation that they abort their daughter who had a birth defect. They were hoping the governor would give a sentence of support for their marketing effort.
Instead, Mark Cooper, Edwards’ chief of staff, suggested a premiere and reception at the Governor’s Mansion.
Edwards expected to be hip deep in the legislative special session to deal with state fiscal problems, but he said the documentary is so important that he had planned to slip out of the State Capitol for the reception and showing.
“This movie will be instructive,” Edwards said.
The special session ended early and suddenly Monday afternoon.
Scotton said his family was proud he was adopted — they even celebrate National Adoption Day — after coming so close to being aborted. Of course, he wondered about his birth parents.
But even closest friends didn’t know the whole story. “It wasn’t something I talked about,” he said.
Scotton said he was extremely nervous in 2011 about publicly telling his story for the Louisiana Pro-Life Oratory Contest at Jesuit High School in New Orleans. But people thanked him for sharing and said they were inspired. He won the local competition.
Benjamin Clapper, the executive director of Louisiana Right to Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group, heard about the speech and reached out to Scotton. His organization pushes adoption as an option for young mothers who can’t care for their child.
Coincidentally, soon after the speech, Scotton’s birth mother contacted the Indianapolis law firm that handled his adoption to ask if he was willing to meet. It took more than a year of communication over Facebook before Scotton said he was ready for a personal meeting.
Clapper asked if Scotton would be interested in filming the reunion. He was thinking a short video post on the Louisiana Right to Life website.
“There are a lot of adoption reunion stories out there,” said director Philip Braun III, of New Orleans. “But this is a very compelling story of a son going to meet his birth parents who very nearly chose abortion. Would they feel guilty? Would he feel any resentment?
“But he was very intent on thanking them. He wanted to pierce any shame.”
Braun then spoke to the birth mother, Melissa Coles, of Columbus, Indiana.
“I noticed right away that Melissa was very good at expressing herself. Her heart is very close to the surface of her chest,” Braun recalled. “I could tell immediately how dramatically she was affected by this experience.”
Braun called Clapper and said this was more than a short webcast.
Clapper created a company to make the documentary and pointedly kept Louisiana Right to Life out the film’s production. Clapper said he didn’t want to bias viewers.
“We felt that message would limit the effort,” Clapper said. “I saw this as a chance to make the beauty of adoption real for people. We wanted the film to be something that people across the nation could access.”
Coles was 18 and pregnant. Both she and the boy’s father, Brian Nicholas, were immature, not working, living hand to mouth and sometimes missing meals. “We didn’t want the child to pay for it,” she said in the film.
Coles went to an abortion clinic on Parker Avenue in Indianapolis. She recalled anti-abortion protesters shouting at her. One lady told Coles, “that baby has 10 fingers and 10 toes and you’re going to kill it.”
Coles had taken the medication, her feet were in the stirrups, the doctor’s gloves were on and he was going for the appliances. She told the doctor, “I can’t do this.”
Scotton said Coles returned home wondering what to do, and someone came up with a law firm that handled adoptions. He was born on Dec. 22, 1993, and adopted by the Scottons the next day.
Long a train aficionado, Braun had the young man take Amtrak’s City of New Orleans train to meet his birth mother in December 2012.
His parents and grandparents drove to Indiana from Metairie.
“They wanted a chance to thank her for choosing adoption over abortion and giving them their only son,” Scotton said, adding that he wouldn’t have gone if his parents were uncomfortable with the reunion.
Since meeting his birth parents in person, Scotton said they have come to New Orleans to visit. They’ve made appearances together on television and keep in touch.
“I do say my ‘biological mother,’ and I will say Melissa. Now, she feels like extended family to me. I do not call her my mom because she is not my mom; she is my biological mother,” Scotton said. “My mom is Susan Scotton in Metairie, Louisiana. I don’t want to infringe on those boundaries.”