Best-selling author of “Tuesdays with Morrie,” Mitch Albom ’79, said that his life was transformed by the child that he raised, Chika Jeune, in a book talk for his new book, “Finding Chika,” on Thursday in Spingold Theater.
Jeune, who was born three days before the 2010 Haiti earthquake and faced many familial hardships, was taken into the Have Faith Haiti Orphanage, operated by Mitch and Janine Albom. At age five, Jeune developed a diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG), a tumor located in the pons within the brain, and Albom and his wife, Janine, brought Jeune back to the United States to be tested. After her tumor was diagnosed, Jeune stayed in the United States with the Alboms and became who Albom called, “their child.” They spent two years with her, traveling the world and looking for a cure. Jeune died at seven years old, and Albom recounted all of the lessons that he learned from her.
“Chika found wonders and she found laughs in the simplest of things,” said Albom. “Chika Jeune lived just seven years, but they were seven beautiful, impactful years. She changed us and she changed pretty much everyone she met. It is my hope through nights like this and the proceeds of this book, 100 percent of which will go to the orphanage, that she can change the world for others like her: poor kids, sick kids, forgotten kids. There are many ways to make a family: conventional, late in life, lent, adopted, fostered, or a five year old who makes you parents in grandparents’ bodies. There are many ways to make a family, but there is no wrong way to make a family. No matter how a family may come together and no matter how it may come apart, this I have learned to be true: you cannot lose a child. And we did not lose a child. We were given one, and she was glorious.”
Albom, who has seven #1 New York Times best-sellers, has sold over 40 million copies in 47 different languages worldwide, according to the Brandeis Alumni page. His book, “Tuesdays with Morrie,” a memoir of his visits with former Brandeis sociology professor Morrie Schwartz, is the best-selling memoir ever published.
Albom said when he first joined Schwartz’s sociology class, he was about to drop the class on his first day, until Schwartz called his name when checking attendance. He said that he appreciated that Schwartz asked what name he wanted to be called.
“The first thing Morrie ever said to me was ‘Is it Mitch or Mitchell, which do you prefer?’” said Albom. “I said ‘My friends call me Mitch.’ And he said ‘Okay, Mitch it is. And Mitch? I hope one day you’ll call me one of your friends.’”
Albom said he ended up majoring in sociology, not because he was interested in the subject, but because he took every class Schwartz offered. He said that he basically “majored in Morrie.” Schwartz’s wife, Charlotte, and his two kids, Jon and Rob, were present at the book talk on Thursday.
Albom is currently on a three month tour promoting “Finding Chika.” Many of the book talks are ticketed and include a signed hardcover copy of the book, and some raise funds for DIPG research, according to Albom’s website. According to Albom, all proceeds from the book will go to fund the Have Faith Haiti orphanage.