Two More Fatherless Children
Gianna Floyd, a six-year-old Houston-area girl, now only has her mother Roxie Washington to raise her alone since her father died in a much-publicized case that has drawn attention to a thorny subject that many Christians would prefer not to confront: race-related violence in 21st-century America.
Mainstream and social media platforms have featured a barrage of stories surrounding the victim, a Minneapolis man named George Floyd who died in late May while under police custody. Our mobile devices display an array of pictures of protesters and police clashing in the streets over this event, scenes reminiscent of way too many times in our nation’s checkered history regarding discrimination. Floyd was clearly the victim in this tragic incident, especially as the arresting officer has now been taken into custody for excessive use of force, as well as a litany of alleged past abuses surrounding Black detainees.
But George Floyd was not the only victim in this senseless act of apparent police brutality. His elementary-aged daughter Gianna now is rendered a victim of fatherlessness, a condition that can predict–without adequate familial support–future problems, such as mental health issues, substance abuse, and even criminality (Minnesota Psychological Association, 2019).
Sadly, she is not the only victim. Tanjanica George, Floyd’s adult daughter, is the mother of three-year-old Journi, the granddaughter he will never meet. ABC-affiliate KTRK in Houston reporter Miya Shay captured these words by a grieving Rose Hudson, Tanjanica’s mother, who dated Floyd 20 years ago: “[The police officers] hurt these girls really, really bad. My daughter had to see her daddy get killed on live TV.”
“I’m numb to the point where I can’t do anything. Watching my daughter hurt, knowing what she’s going through,” said Hudson. “It’s just not fair, not fair to anybody.”
Many catastrophic life events are unfair, ripping families apart, and exposing any underlying vulnerabilities. For example, the spate of recent hurricanes and tornadoes that have destroyed cities and towns in a wide swath across the South seemed to snuff out life haphazardly. Tragedies–manmade or natural, intentional or random, produce secondary victims like Gianna and Tanjanica, individuals who become single orphans in a very real sense. A single orphan is an individual with one parent who has passed away or abandoned them. Being left without parental involvement, especially as a youngster, often produces a feeling of deep abandonment that never resolves for the one left behind, unless someone intervenes directly and intentionally.
Thinking of the ripple effects within family structures, particularly the devastation inflicted upon young lives at the cusp of their development, we in the Church of Jesus Christ must ask ourselves: What more can I do? As we click to like a post or to retweet a poignant quote related to the divisive moment, we should realize that there is much we are capable of doing to help.
First, remember that the deceased are more than hashtags; they are souls for whom Christ died. Real people whose lives matter to God, they should matter to us, too.
For instance, in the days following his death, friends of George Floyd’s described that he hauled a pool out to a neighborhood in Houston’s Third Ward to conduct baptisms for new believers at the Cuney Homes housing project where he helped to minister. Called “Big Floyd” by his loved ones, George was labeled a “person of peace sent from the Lord that helped the gospel go forward” by Patrick PT Ngwolo, pastor of Resurrection Houston, the church he attended before moving to Minnesota (Christianity Today, May 28, 2020). Ngwolo paints a different picture of a man whose final, videotaped minutes have made his name a household word–at least for now.
Our frustration must move beyond angrily tapping a screen in response to the latest race-related incident. Christian historian Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise: The Truth about American Church’s Complicity in Racism (2019) offers a sobering rebuke: “The refusal to act in the midst of injustice is itself an act of injustice. Indifference to oppression perpetuates oppression.” We MUST act to end violence against people of color, as well as rooting out any place that unrepentant prejudice lurks in our own hearts. As we prayerfully search our hearts for discriminatory or judgmental attitudes, let’s remember to pray for the Giannas and Tanjanicas in our own backyards, unlikely orphans that this broken, sin-soaked world has produced. God help us to do this important work, personally and corporately.
The American foster care crisis presents us with a similar challenge. The issues that endanger children’s lives are messy—factors fraught with a long history related to marginalized, minority populations who have suffered extensively under institutionalized pressures: addiction, poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, immigration status, and increased incarceration rates. These societal problems involve a higher percentage of Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) citizens and their vulnerable children, the very people presently involved in the foster care system in large numbers. Even within a painful, unfair setting, glimmers of hope are shining.
Still, we must resist concluding that America is a post-racial nation, a place where being Brown or Black doesn’t increase one’s chances of struggling to raise a child in a healthy environment; simple statistics prove otherwise. For every smiling post of a family celebrating a child’s adoption into a loving home (a feat truly worthy of applauding), dozens of images go unseen by the complacent Church who would prefer to believe the foster care problem has solved itself. The Father, however, sees everything done in secret—including what’s left undone.
Backyard Orphans helps to tell untold stories of children needing forever families, yet we realize that our shared Christian values both help and possibly undermine our cause. Of course, the Apostle James’s command to “look after widows and orphans” (James 1:27) remains our mandate. It’s the way some believers choose to interpret “in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Gal. 3:28) through a “colorblind” lens that becomes problematic (e.g. “Oh, I don’t even see color”). Our diverse cultures, ethnicities, skin colors, and languages make all of us—including kids waiting to be fostered or adopted—worthy of respect as image-bearers of God, evidencing the Imago Dei in all of its glorious forms.
The orphaned children of George Floyd will need their family and a church to support them through their present grief and during the turbulent years ahead. From every televised interview, it appears that the Floyd family will wrap their loving arms around their hurting loved ones. Not every child in need is as fortunate. Nonetheless, each hurting orphan deserves family support. We are ONE family.
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