Joe Bradford grew up without a father, lived in poverty and was one of a few black students at a nearly all-white school. As a result of a computer-hacking crime, he went from standout college student to prison inmate where he had to fight to stay alive.
After serving a sentence at a maximum-security prison, Joe was diagnosed with severe kidney disease, which rendered him permanently disabled. Unable to make a living, he moved into public housing, where the fatherless and oppressed neighborhood children won his heart. Today, "Papa Joe" leads a diverse team of volunteers, offering aid and the message of hope to inner-city children and families in seven at-risk communities in the Nashville area through Elijah's Heart.
"I heard the story of Joe's life and thought to myself, 'This is a story that needs to be told. It would make a great movie,' " said Darren Moorman, co-producer of the movie "Unconditional."
"We have all either been in a place of intense pain, are in a place of intense pain, or we know someone who is in that place. No matter how dark your circumstances are, when you have the opportunity to help others, it makes you feel better even if your circumstances don't immediately change."
"Unconditional," starring Michael Ealy ("2 Fast, 2 Furious" and "Think Like a Man") and Lynn Collins ("50 First Dates" and "John Carter"), hit the big screen this weekend.
The movie chronicles the life of a young woman, Sam, a celebrated children's author and illustrator, who is happily married and lives on a ranch where she keeps her beloved horse. Sam's storybook life comes to a devastating end when her husband is killed in a senseless act of violence.
She loses her faith and her will to live. Grief-stricken, Sam plans to take her own life, but a death-defying encounter with two children thwarts her plan and leads to a reunion with Joe Bradford, "Papa Joe," her oldest friend.
This reunion places Sam on a journey of reconciliation, second chances, forgiveness, sacrifice and the true meaning of unconditional love. Over time, she finds her will to live returning as she witnesses Papa Joe's selfless dedication to Nashville's forgotten children.
Just when you think you know what's coming next, this movie takes an unexpected turn that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat. Oh, and don't forget the Kleenex.
"The film's intent is not merely to entertain but to inspire viewers to unite and serve in their own communities," said Moorman. "Our hope is that as a result of seeing this movie, people will realize that we all can do something to help others, especially the at-risk, fatherless children.
"Unconditional" is partnering with organizations and nonprofits across the country that are meeting people's needs. Moviegoers can visit www.unconditionalthemovie.com and click on the Act page to find opportunities to connect with organizations who need volunteers.
This film shows how one person's life can have a profound effect on the world around him and spark hope in the lives of others. One person can make a difference for good. So can you.
Email Julie Baumgardner, president and CEO of First Things First, at firstname.lastname@example.org.