Becoming a Father to the Fatherless:
Behind the Scenes of UNCONDITIONAL
By Evy Baehr, Associate Editor
UNCONDITIONAL is a drama following the works of Papa Joe Bradford, a man who has helped at-risk children. Papa Joe has started a ministry called Elijah’s Heart that helps underprivileged children and their families. Movieguide® had an opportunity to speak with Papa Joe:
MG: How much of the movie was based on your life?
A: Ninety something percent of what you see concerning Papa Joe is actually pretty true to form. It was pretty close to what happened. Pretty true. The creative license was taken with my wife Denise. We were actually married when we moved to the projects.
MG: Did they approach you about the movie?
A: The executive producer movie approached me. He and his wife were helping out at our ministry. We have a choir of about 70 children, and we do a program called “Walk of Love.” They were just helping out and said, “Look, I believe the Lord to me we are supposed to do a movie inspired by your story.” He didn’t know my background. And, I told him once you hear about my past, you probably won’t want to do a movie.
MG: When you were in prison, did you have an epiphany?
A: I pretty much had an epiphany when I was in solitary confinement. I had no one else to talk to but God. No books, no television. After the big fight, I actually thought I had killed the guy. I was just sitting there alone, and the Lord did come to me. He was the only one I had to talk to at that point. It was just God and myself.
MG: How did you think of doing work with the children in the projects?
A: I got a rare kidney disease. On my 35th birthday, I was placed in the hospital for two weeks. I got a kidney biopsy. They projected that I would lose my kidney in three years, but I pretty much lost it in three or four months. And, I was placed on a machine for nine hours a day. We got the transplant, and we had been working with kids even before I got the kidney disease. After all of that, we lost our apartment and moved into the projects.
The first day there, this deaf girl came over to our door. She just knocked on the door and just stood there. And, my wife went and got a piece of candy and gave it to her.
Well, there were 50 children on our street. Now what happens when you give one child a candy whether she’s deaf or not? All the children want to come get candy. They started coming to our house, and we started giving them treats. And, we started finding out about their lives. Parents started dropping of children at our house, and we didn’t even know the parents. They would drop ’em off, and we made a little choir out of them. And, we started finding out situations that would happen with their life, and there were some tragic things that happened.
We were working with the choir children and were preparing for the national day of prayer concert we were invited to. And, one day while practicing, this little girl came to the rehearsal. She had been beaten; her face was swollen. We went to see what happened. We found out her mother had beat her, and we had to take care of the situation as best we could. We came back to the rehearsal, and I decided to sit by myself for awhile. The children were eating a snack and the girl’s little sister came over to me and said, “Will you be my daddy?” I thought she was just playing with me. Well, another child heard her and said, “Will you be my daddy?” And, more and more were coming up, and before I knew it, I had a little crowd surrounding me. I had 30 little project kids coming around me saying “Will you be my daddy?” And, I went home and prayed and felt like the Lord was basically changing my name to Papa Joe that day.
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