Regardless of your background, you can still do a lot to help others.
Usually a movie ends when the credits roll.
But Papa Joe Bradford hopes when people watch “Unconditional” - the story of his life – that the end of the movie will be just the beginning.
“Hopefully this movie creates action,” Bradford said.
He said he hopes the movie will create a movement of practical love across the country.
“It shows that regardless of your background, you can still do a lot to help others,” Bradford said.
There is a great deal of irony in this movie. How can a man whose birth father left when he was still in the womb gain the nickname Papa Joe? How can a man who has spent time as a homeless person be so important to a movement that rescues people from poverty?
Bradford was born in Nashville, Tenn. He never had a father but he excelled in school, sports and music throughout school.
His skillset made him a good college student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As graduation loomed, Bradford was heading toward a job at IBM as a computer programmer. But he never made it there. The first detour in his life was just around the corner.
Bradford learned programs for Automatic Teller Machines. He learned the strengths and weaknesses of the code used to run the cash machines. Before the age of firewalls, Bradford became on of the original computer hackers.
“It wasn’t difficult,” Bradford said.
But catching him was almost as easy as committing the crime. When Bradford was being arrested, he fled from the police officer and ended up having to admit he had a background in the martial arts.
Because of that training, Bradford went away to a jail most computer hackers would never see. While there, life took a major turn for the worse. Bradford was involved in several violent altercations trying to protect friends. Things seemed like they were turning up when he got out of jail.
He met a woman who would become his wife. She had an incredibly positive influence on him. But as soon as things seemed to be turning around in his personal life, the bottom fell out.
He was diagnosed with kidney disease that led to him facing 15 months of dialysis and 10 surgeries.
“I thought prison was a dead end and then I got out,” Bradford said. “But then the kidney disease came on and when you have a disease like that and you have to check the box that you are a felon on job interviews, career choices are limited.”
So the one-time computer programmer had fallen on tough times – some of the toughest.
But before he could start feeling sorry for himself, a deaf girl came to Bradford’s door. His wife, Denise, gave the little girl candy. Soon, dozens of kids were coming to the door.
The small act of kindness led to a neighborhood choir being formed where Bradford’s wife would try to supplement the food for the kids in the neighborhood while also teaching the children music.
It was nothing for the couple – who have seven kids of the own – to entertain dozens of kids from the neighborhood. What was more difficult was finding food to help the kids out.
The couple began receiving donations and soon the Elijah’s Heart project was born.
“God was writing this movie during my entire life,” Bradford said looking back. “During the bad times and the good times. You have to remember, even when it is cloudy, the sun is still up there. Even when my life was hard, God was still there.”
And now the movie is finished and getting ready to be released for the world to see. Bradford hopes people see God working in his life through this movie and see Him working in their own lives as well.
“I hope this movie brings about the kind of response where people learn to share love – practical love – with people around them,” Bradford said.
See Jeremy Costello’s review of the movie “Unconditional.”