Chances are you’ve heard Delilah on the radio late at night. Her soft, soothing voice brings both joy and comfort to over 8 million fans nightly. But the woman behind the beautiful voice is even more remarkable — a mom of 12 children, (most of whom were adopted), a relentless pioneer for human rights, and the founder
of Point Hope, a charity in Ghana which has saved countless lives. Celebrity Parents sat down with Delilah to talk about her good works, her kids, and why it takes a village to raise a family.
Delilah, I thought that you were just on in NYC where I’m from until my niece told me that she listened to you in Utah. I didn’t realize that your show is on across the United States.
I’m in a little over 200 markets across the U.S. Especially in Florida—you can’t get away from me there!
How does the process work?
I record in the morning the elements that are not live, like area mentions or a concert going on, or a Yankees game. Then I go live my life, pick up my kids from school, come home and cook dinner. Then I go downstairs to my studio and we take the calls live at night. I have producers in the studio who take the call, edit them down, and then they go on the air within 15 minutes of the call.
How does it all blend in?
Really nicely! We have a designated line for New York and Dallas, and nine other request lines. I have two women who help me answer calls, Donna and Didi. Didi is a lifelong friend; I have known her since we were nine. Her son is my godson, who is now my engineer. My executive producer has been with me for 22 years.
So work life and family life are all joined. It seems like it’s all family.
Yes, there is no division, especially since now I have a studio in my house.
That must be amazing. No commuting!
It’s heaven! I go down in the evening, take the calls, run upstairs and harp at the kids to do their homework, run downstairs, take more calls, run upstairs to get them to brush their teeth, yell, “Get to bed! Get to bed!” and then I go back down and say, “You’re listening to Delilah.” [laughs]
[laughs] I think that’s a great setup. You have the work-life balance you want, getting to see the kids and enjoying moments with them, but
still have the career you want.
I’m very blessed in that I have the career that I love. There was a time when I was being wooed by TV producers, who really wanted me to do a television show. I thought about it, and I hired an agent and lawyers. I took meetings, went to L.A. and came to NY. And when it was all said and done, and I was angsting trying to make a decision, twisted in knots deciding what to do, I realized that God had called me first to be a mom. And I could not be a good mom and do what I needed to do to be successful in television. I’m fiercely competitive, and I know that I could never settle with being number two. If I’m not number one, then I’m not going to do it. I knew the commitment I would need and I was not willing to pay that price. The next morning, I woke up at perfect peace. I called my agent and my lawyer and they asked which deal I was going to choose and I said, “None of them.” I wanted to stay in radio working at nights so I could have my days free, so I could go to soccer games and basketball games and swim meets. So now I have the perfect situation.
What do you love about being on the radio?
Radio has always been a passion of mine. I love listening to creative radio, and I lovelovelove hearing people do fun bits and silly things. We listen to Radio Disney all the time, because it’s creative!
The nice thing about my studio is that it’s also my sanctuary. When the kids are driving me nuts, I give myself a time out and I go to work. The phones are ringing 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whether I’m there or not. So when I need to fill my spirit, I go down and take 5-10 calls and I’m rejuvenated.
There’s something to be said for radio as opposed to other mediums. You have to focus and truly listen to what’s being said. It inspires
your mind to be creative.
I completely agree. I’m one of the few, if not the only, DJ who gets to program my own music. I choose what I’m going to talk about, and when I’m going to talk about it. I don’t have a program director telling me what to say or not say.
There’s freedom in that.
Huge freedom. Huge.
To that point, you often talk about God during your show. Has that ever been a sticking point in the past?
Of course. But I’ve been on the air long enough now that people know no one is going to be shocked or surprised. I am not going to change who I am. I had one program director say that I could not mention God, and I said, “Then I cannot be on your station.” Because as surely as there’s breath in my lungs, if someone calls and they are hurting, I am going to pray for them. It doesn’t even matter what they believe; I’m not forcing my faith on anybody. But this is who I am and my faith is part and parcel of that.
So how do you draw that line of sharing of yourself but still maintaining your privacy?
Not well! [laughs] I’m not good at that at all. That line pretty much doesn’t exist; there’s no filter! I think that is one of the reasons that my show is successful, because my listeners know that I’m honest. I speak about struggles and my family and the fact that we’re an interracial, intergenerational family. I’m divorced, more than once, and my listeners know that I’ve made a whole lot of mistakes and a lot of bad choices. So when I share from the heart, it’s been there done that; it’s not from a book.
Let’s talk about your charity, Point Hope.
Eight years ago, I got an email from a mother of three who said she was living in a refugee camp in Ghana, Africa. She wrote, “I understand that you adopt black children. Would you adopt my three children?” I went to hit delete and then I stopped. I wrote her back. I corresponded back and forth 5-6 times with her, then I contacted World Vision, it’s a huge non-profit, and I asked the director for help. I met with them and I agreed to give a grant to help this one family. I got up to leave and they said, “Great, you’ve helped 4 people. What about the other 87,000 in the camp?” Shortly thereafter Point Hope was born. My friend Donna and I had started feeding homeless people and helping homeless moms find services for their kids over 20 years ago. That was the start of Point Hope, and then it was reborn.
I had never traveled before; I didn’t even have a passport. I went six weeks later and today, I’ve made over 20 trips to Ghana. Since the beginning, I have adopted four children, and we now feed 380 orphans every day and we provide schooling for 500 children every day. We are the only NGO working in the refugee camp now. We have land we want to build on, we have garden projects, sewing schools and batiking schools and poultry and a fish farm.
And all that started from one email. How do you wrap your mind around that?
It’s pretty phenomenal. In the camp, there was no water. They had to walk three miles every day for water. Or they had to buy dirty water off a truck for 25 cents a bucket. And consider that the average person has $25 a month. So they would go across the street to the sewer and dig out dirty water and that’s what they would use. The mortality rate was 1 out of 4 kids was dying before the age of 5, and the average age was 32 in the camp. My first goal was to get water into the camp. We met with a half a dozen different organizations. We were told that we couldn’t do it, and I said, “To hell we can’t. There’s water in the world, these people need water, and we’re going to get it to them.” We paid to lay lines to get water into the camp. It took us two years and quite a bit of money, but we installed two huge water towers in the camp, and then within 60 days, the mortality rate went down 75%. The first time we went there, there were 23 babies in the nursery, all of them dying, most from water-borne diseases. We rebuilt the clinic and it’s now a licensed hospital. We bought medical equipment and surgery equipment; we bought a blood bank and shipped it over. The last time I went, there were 3 babies, and they all left by the time I left.
For all the good work you do, the title of your new book, Arms Full of Love, is very fitting.
It’s so far my favorite book I’ve written. It’s a compilation of stories about my kids, about my family and my relationships and how I grew up. I’ve included some of the most amazing stories my listeners have sent me. And we tied in a song/dedication to each story. There are so many powerful stories that I hear, and they are only aired for three minutes and they’re gone. Sometimes I think, “That should be a movie; that should be a TV script!” This way, these amazing stories can be shared and live on long after the show is over.
I shared a lot of my own personal anecdotes that I haven’t shared before. As time has gone on, my perspective on my parents has changed so much. When I was growing up, I thought one way, but when God called them home, I thought, “Gosh, they had a lot of wisdom.” We were poor, but I never knew it. I never had a pair of store-bought jeans in my life, but my mom was so creative that she could make everything. I was one of the best-dressed girls in school because my mom was such an amazing seamstress. My perspective on their parenting has changed immensely.
How would you describe your own parenting style?
I don’t sweat the small stuff ever. If you walked into my house you’d see dog footprints and shoes and books stacked up. We definitely live in our house! I raise my kids in a village. There are a lot of things that I love about Africa. What I love the most is that everyone has a role and everyone helps. They are very communal and that’s how I raise my family. There are four of us moms and we live and work close and we help each other. It’s an amazing support system. We keep an eye on each other’s kids all the time. I don’t think you can give a kid too much love. So the more eyes you have on them and the more arms you have wrapped around them, the better.
What are the holidays like in your home?
It’s big and loud and fun. Last year we had 52 people, between kids and grandkids, in-laws and outlaws! [laughs] I’ve been divorced from my kids’ father for 11 years, but I kept his parents! So my in-laws live in the village. It’s just a lot of family, food and love.
Being the mom of 12, what is it like when you’re alone?
It’s heaven! I breathe in the silence. When I’m on my horse, that’s like my church. Or I will go on the quads, since I have a lot of land and ride. I decompress, pray, and am alone with God.
If you would like to, I would love to talk about your son, Sammy.
The day I met him, he was sitting out in the sun, and he was drawing pictures. The kids were gathered around him, he was tucked into himself, and he was in so much pain he was rocking but he was laughing. I watched him and he was really talented. I took the pencil and I drew a sketch of him and he drew something and he signed it. Then we held hands and our eyes met and I was like, “Noooo! I can’t do it.” But it was already done. I wanted to sponsor him, and when I came home, I called the orphanage. They said, “Oh, you’re going to adopt him?” and I said, “NO! I’m going to sponsor him.” And then two weeks later I called the adoption agency.
Sammy was one of the biggest blessings God brought into our life. And even though our time with him was short, he impacted our lives and everyone who met him. He was laughing and joy-filled. He had sickle cell anemia, which is a painful, painful disease. He was raised in an orphanage, with no family, no bed, and suffered horrific mental and physical abuse. But he was happy all the time. His smile was infectious. He would walk into a room, and he was a skinny, skinny kid but he would fill the room with love. He would dance; it was like he had music in his head. Then one of the other kids would dance and suddenly they are doing African beats. Every morning I would hear him say, “Mommy!” and he would wrap those gangly arms around me. He was an amazing bundle of love and I’m honored that he was a part of our lives.