by Edwin L. Carpenter, Editor of Film Reviews
The film, Unconditional, which received our Dove “Family-Approved” Seal, is based in part on the life of Papa Joe Bradford. He spoke with us recently and his enthusiasm sparkled. The DVD was released on March 5.
Dove: Can you tell us a bit about your background?
Papa Joe: “Well, I grew up fatherless. My father left my mother while I was in the womb. I grew up in a predominantly white school where actually there were only a handful of blacks attending. I was blessed to be able to do well academically in high school especially in music so I got a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee. I had a knack for computers and was one of the lead people (with computer knowledge) and studied three languages by day but unfortunately by night I was becoming one of the original computer hackers. I hacked into a bank to get ATM codes. What I did had never been done before at the time and let’s just say they didn’t like it too much. So I got incarcerated. I got into some physical battles, tried to protect people. I grew up studying Martial Arts. At the point of graduating is when I got incarcerated so it was devastating. Inside of jail, after the fights, at one point I was put in solitary confinement for forty days and that’s following the fight scene that’s depicted in the movie. I got out of jail and I met my ‘Rose’, Denise. The first day on a temporary job she walked around the corner and let’s just say the Lord used her. She kind of redeemed me. I got a glimpse of God in solitary (confinement) because I was alone with Him but when I met her it just changed everything. Unfortunately I lost both my kidneys after I had been married just a little while. And I ended up on a dialysis machine eight to nine hours a day for over fifteen months, and (had) about ten surgeries.”
Papa Joe added that he and his wife had been doing music together, even leading worship services before they were married. They worked with children too. At one point he related they lost some income and moved to the “Projects.” “That’s when things really started taking shape as far as loving these children,” he said. “There was a deaf girl that came to our door and Denise gave her a piece of candy. We found out there were fifty children on the street. What happens when you give one child a piece of candy? The kids started coming by. The mothers started dropping the children off at our door. We didn’t even know the mothers! We just turned the kids into a choir! And we would help them get food. We grew and helped them with practical things like food and clothes and so forth. And we started a program called ‘The Walk of Love’. My wife had this crazy idea of handing out flyers throughout a three hundred-plus community, asking who was hungry. And of course people said, “Yes!” We went out trying to find some food for the people, to get help, and so it expanded to where we were taking flyers throughout the city. Now we take food, clothes, you name it to whole communities.”
Dove: How accurate is the movie to your life? Is it close?
Papa Joe: “The parts that you see about Papa Joe–about 97% of it is pretty close. I won’t go into specific scenes but even the crazy stuff you see is true. A bunch of the music scenes in the movie happened almost just like you see them.”
He said the Sam character is part reality and part fictional. She is a composite character that represents a few friends he had.
Dove: What do you like best about the movie?
Papa Joe: “I like that the movie’s entertaining. I like that we were blessed and it has high quality. The thing I like most of all is that it’s a great call to action. I don’t think you could watch that movie and come out being complacent. You come out with, ‘How can I help?’”
Dove: The acting is really good in the film.
Papa Joe: “They did get a guy that’s kind of good looking to play my part. There’s a lot of irony in that one!” (Michael Ealy plays the role in the movie). “I’m an African American but I don’t have blue eyes!” he laughed.
Dove: What kind of comments are you getting about the movie?
Papa Joe: “We are really blessed that people actually like the movie. They really love the movie and they want to know how they can help us. I’ve been traveling from coast to coast the last four or five months. We’ve been developing and expanding the national ‘Walk of Love’ program so that we can have some type of model that a family, a church, or a group can put into play to help different categories of at-risk children; for example children of incarcerated parents is a big thing.”
Papa Joe said he is doing a lot of interviews now, via radio and magazines, to coincide with the DVD release and he is pleased that the release should bring more awareness to the Walk of Love program. He is also receiving calls from women’s ministries and youth ministries with questions about how they can connect with his ministry and program. He is pleased to train groups in the ‘Walk of Love’ program after they show the movie. Some organizations will be showing the film during movie nights.
Papa Joe concluded by saying, “Pretty much our mission is to spread the ‘Walk of Love’ program throughout the country.” He added he can’t multiply himself yet but if people want to reach him they can go to www.papajoe.org. In some cases he does travel. Papa Joe loves kids and it shows in the fact that he and Denise have seven of their own, let alone the great number of children they help. Watching the movie Unconditional is a great way to learn more about Papa Joe.