The power of forgiveness among African-Americans in the midst of devastating tragedy is a remarkable testament to faith.
I was struck by the way Robert Godwin’s children seemed so at ease as they spoke softly about forgiving Steve Stephens for senselessly killing their father last week on a Cleveland sidewalk and then callously uploading the video on Facebook.
Godwin, 74, was out collecting bottles as he often did, after enjoying an Easter meal.
“I honestly can say right now that I hold no animosity in my heart against this man because I know that he’s a sick individual,”
Debbie Godwin, one of Godwin’s daughters, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
“I feel sadness in my heart for him,” she said of Stephens.
Stephens, 37, shot and killed himself Tuesday when police trailed him to Erie County, Pennsylvania after a massive manhunt.
“We have so many questions,” Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams said during a news conference Tuesday.
It remains unclear why Stephens targeted Godwin randomly, but Godwin’s family isn’t dwelling on the rationale – they are focusing more on healing.
Tonya Godwin-Baines, Godwin’s daughter, says her family believes in the need for forgiveness.
“The thing that I would take away the most from my father is he taught us about God … how to fear God, how to love God, and how to forgive. Each one of us forgives the killer.”
Godwin-Baines’ faith keeps her strong in times of tragedy and while mourning the loss of a father.
What a phenomenal family. But we’ve seen this type of behavior before from Black families who are grieving and announce they forgive the person responsible to taking the life of a loved one.
The Godwin family is not alone. African-American families have a long and storied history with faith. The National Museum of African American History and Culture tells many stories of African-Americans and spirituality.
Nearly 10 percent of the 2,586 artifacts in its opening exhibitions are related to faith and religious history.
“There is no way you can discuss, talk about or understand the African-American journey without understanding the very real role faith played in its history,” Rex Ellis, associate director for curatorial affairs and an ordained Baptist minister, told the Religious News Service.
Joshua DuBois, a Pentecostal minister who served as former President Obama’s spiritual advisor, offered a rare glimpse of how Obama’s faith shapes his life and his vision for leading the nation as America’s first black Commander-in-Chief.
“President Obama is committed to Christianity and his faith is a very important part of his life,” DuBois told me a few years ago.
“He spends time in prayer and his faith has sustained him in tough times and given him joy in good times.”
Faith – and forgiveness – is a profound part of the African-American experience whether you live in a small house or the White House.
“I promise you, I could not do that if I did not know God, if I didn’t know him as my God and my savior, I could not forgive that man,” Debbie Godwin told CNN.
Said Godwin-Baines: “It’s just what our parents taught us. They didn’t talk it, they lived it. Neighbors would do things to us, and we would say, ‘Dad, are we going to forgive them really?’ And he would say, ‘Yes, we have to.’ ”
Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised by the Godwin’s ability to forgive after such a heartbreaking loss: After all, the family’s last name starts with GOD.
What do you think?
PHOTO: Godwin family