MIDWEST CITY — The remarkable thing about Evelyn Young-Cummings and husband William Cummings isn't the size of their family. It's the size of their hearts.
In 1995, the couple decided to leave their native California and come to Oklahoma. They had good reason. Her parents were living here, and her father was ill. Moreover, they had two children — Brandi, now 25, and William II, now 20 — and wanted their kids to grow up in a safer environment than they'd known.
Evelyn, 49, whose father was a pastor, had come of age in South Central Los Angeles, an area renowned for gang violence. William, 50, grew up in the projects on the city's east side.
“There were shootings; there were stabbings; there were muggings,” he said. “It was getting into fights all the time. It was rough, but all of my family lived in those projects. My aunts and uncles all lived pretty much right next to us, so we didn't get much trouble.
“If you hit one of us, you had to hit all of us. We took care of our neighborhood. If someone was hungry, we fed them. If you needed food, you'd just go to someone's apartment and eat. We didn't lock doors.”
That sort of “family first” attitude was ingrained in William and his wife. He had six siblings. She had five.
“My Dad always taught us: We take care of our family no matter what; we just figure it out,” Evelyn said. “And that's what we did.”
No matter how big their family got.
Exercise in addition
Almost from the moment they announced their plans to leave California, the family's numbers began to grow.
Evelyn's brother asked her to take his two children with her. She said yes, so Ly'Nisha Young, now 25, and Harold Young, now 27, joined them.
Then Evelyn's brother's wife, from whom he was separated, asked if she could send her son along, too. Martin Fields, now 29, joined the party.
That was just the beginning.
At some point, Evelyn's sister, who was in the military, asked the couple to take in her two children. Carlisha May, now 23, and Terri Evans, now 19, moved into the Cummings' Midwest City home.
One of Evelyn's cousins got wrapped up in drugs. Evelyn's aunt asked her to take in the cousin's four children. Michael Wilson, now 21; Tony Wilson-Young, now 20; Deon Wilson, now 18; and Leon Wilson-Young, now 17, joined the family.
Evelyn + William + Brandi + William II + Ly'Nisha + Harold + Martin + Carlisha + Terri + Michael + Tony + Deon + Leon = 13.
They weren't done yet.
A hospital asked the Cummings to care for another child. They have legal custody of Tatyana Martin, now 12.
Another of Evelyn's sisters, who lives nearby, needed help raising her daughter. The Cummings added Ariel Benny, now 21, to the list.
Tatyana + Ariel + 13 = 15.
Fifteen people, all under one roof.
It wasn't exactly how William had expected to live.