CLEARING LIFE’S HURDLES: Lolo Jones on Aug. 6, 2012, during an Olympic preliminary race for the 100-meter hurdles. She hopes to prove wrong the critics who are asking whether she’s more flash than substance. (Photo: Splash News/Newscom)
On Twitter, Lolo Jones sports a playful sense of humor, making jokes about her love life and Olympic adventures, and sometimes sparking controversy.
As she competed in the women’s 100-meter hurdles this week, Jones found herself in the spotlight again, and media outlets haven’t forgotten the buzz surrounding her virginity. The New York Times wrote about it this past weekend in a controversial article, provocatively titled “For Lolo Jones, Everything Is Image,” which suggested Jones was playing up her virginity, beauty, and poor upbringing for undeserved media attention. That piece has sincecomeunderfire.
But despite doubts that her athletic ability warranted attention, the 30-year-old track star came just shy of a medal on Tuesday, August 7, placing fourth in the 100-meter hurdles. Of course that fourth-place finish held little consolation for Jones, who had come so close to a gold medal four years earlier in Beijing before clipping the second-to-last hurdle and falling out of medal contention. Many viewed London as her chance for redemption — or at least that was the narrative that the media played up. Time magazine, for instance, recently featured her as one of three Olympians on the cover of their Olympics special issue and wrote about her trip-up in “Lolo’s No Choke.”
Unfortunately, Tuesday’s outcome fell short of a storybook ending. “I’ll definitely be reading my Bible and try to grasp the positives and see what God has to teach me from all this,” Jones said after the finals. “That’s the only way I feel I can get rebalanced right now, because I am so broken-hearted.”
Without fail, crude jokes about Jones’s virginity lit up Twitter and other social media following her loss.
Faith in the Public Eye
The New York Times wasn’t the first to criticize Jones for talking about her virginity or using sex appeal. TMZ made fun of her virginity. Others also questioned if her ESPN body issue photo compromised her values. On May 25, Jones tweeted in response:
“go to a museum & look at naked pictures/statues of ppl & its considered art but what I did is not? u see no parts exposed” and later, “Ryan hall is another christian. He’s done missions in africa & posed in latest issue. Shall u judge him as well? John 8:7”
Some suggested she date fellow Christian virgin Tim Tebow, to which Jones had a witty tweet: “Ask Tebow if he wants a glass of milk. If he says yes, ask him if he prefers chocolate. if he says no, then no more Tebow date suggestions.”
Jones is African American, Native American, French and Norwegian.
COLORFUL PERSONALITY: In interviews and on Twitter, Jones has been known to be outspoken and irreverent in her comments, which has sometimes landed her in hot water. (Photo: Walter Bieri/Newscom)
Even before this current New York Times controversy, Jones had been stirring things up in the media while awaiting her race in London. Her recent tweet about the Olympic skeet shooting competition drew criticism in light of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting: “USA Men’s Archery lost the gold medal to Italy but that’s ok, we are Americans… When’s da Gun shooting competition?” Jones later tweeted that she had been referring to Americans’ experience with hunting.
Sometimes Jones tweets about her faith, such as on July 26: “As I arrive in London for the Olympics, I’m overwhelmed with emotions. Thank you Lord for another chance and for holding me as i waited.” She thanked people for praying for her on July 22, but after criticism, clarified that her prayer was “to be an inspiration & to honor God,” not to win a gold medal.
“I never have prayed to win a gold medal at Olympics and never will,” Jones tweeted. “The Lord is my Shepard and I shall not want. May His will be done.”
Bonding Through Struggle
In her Real Sports interview, Jones said saving sex for marriage has been “the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, harder than training for the Olympics.”
But outside the spotlight, Jones tells how her Christian faith has sustained her through her struggles, and how her sister Angie Jefferson has encouraged her along the way.
Jones wrote about her older sister in an essay for the O.C. Tanner Inspiration Award, which recognizes a person who has inspired an Olympian to succeed. In it, Jones quoted Romans 9:12, “The older will serve the younger,” and wrote, “Angie is my reminder from God to stop at never.”
Growing up poor, Jones learned how to shoplift TV dinners and make a quick escape if she needed to, according to Time. Her family moved around frequently, and was at one point rendered homeless, living in a Salvation Army church basement.
Money was tight, but Jones has told stories about how her mother and sister helped her succeed. In a Procter & Gamble video series, “Raising an Olympian,” Jones said, “My mom would always try to do by any means necessary to make sure that we had what we needed. I definitely do not think I’d be going for this dream had I not seen her pick herself up so many times and keep fighting for us.”
STOPPING AT NEVER: Jones credits her sister for helping her develop a persevering spirit.
Meanwhile, her sister Angie Jefferson, then a teenager, recognized her talent and bought Jones her first running gear — which Jones said in her essay saved her the embarrassment of wearing old clothes.
When Jones moved across the country to go to Louisiana State University, Jefferson was again there for her sister through visits and tearful phone calls.
“Life was hard because the ghosts of my childhood were still there,” Jones wrote in her essay. “But thankfully, so was [Angie] — constantly reminding me there wasn’t anything I couldn’t overcome and survive with God’s help.”
Now, Jefferson serves as Jones’s manager. She encouraged her when Jones faced spine surgery a year ago. “It’s going to be okay,” Jefferson said, according to Jones’s essay. “I have a peace about Dr. Bray and his ability to help you. We are going to pray for God’s favor and trust God to take care of you.”
Jones wrote that she remembers seeing her sister with her prayer journal before a January 2012 race. It gave her a sense of peace. After Jones’s victory, the sisters hugged and cried together.
“It was a moment that words can’t express, a bond that together, can overcome anything,” Jones wrote.
On Monday, before her qualifying race in London, Jones was seen mouthing Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Even after Tuesday’s disappointing result, one suspects she’ll continue to hold onto that truth.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated to address the results of Jones’s finals race on Tuesday, August 7.
LIVING PROOF: Radiance Foundation co-founder and pro-life activist Ryan Bomberger.
Ryan Scott Bomberger is co-founder of The Radiance Foundation, an organization whose mission is to illuminate, educate, and motivate others about the intrinsic value of human life. He is also the creative force behind a controversial billboard campaign that described black babies as an “endangered species.” What didn’t make the headlines is the fact that Bomberger was conceived during a rape. He is both an adoptee and an adoptive parent. UrbanFaith talked to him about his work and what motivates it. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
UrbanFaith: What does the Radiance Foundation do?
Ryan Bomberger:The Radiance Foundation is comprised of three main components: media campaigns, one-on-one community outreach where we live and in other areas, working in conjunction with other organizations, and our educational component. We create all the content, whether video, print, web, or otherwise to illuminate the truth that we are all born with this beautiful intrinsic value. We want people to understand it and embrace it and to effect positive change in their own life and in the lives of those around them.
How did you become passionate about the pro-life cause?
I’m passionate about the pro-life cause mainly because I had two parents who defied the myth of the unwanted child and believed that they could simply love a child and help unleash that child’s purpose in life. They had three biological children and then adopted ten. That’s what inspired me throughout my life to reach out to the broken, to reach out to those in need.
My wife Bethany and I started the Radiance Foundation in 2009. For our first public campaign, we decided to tackle the subject of abortion. Like a breast cancer awareness campaign, we wanted to address where abortion’s impact is the greatest so we addressed the black community’s crisis of abortion. That is what led us to launch TooManyAborted.com and the billboard campaign that has been in numerous states across the country.
What inspired media frenzy around those billboards?
It was the billboard that stated “Black children are an endangered species.” We were the first organization to ever do a public ad campaign about abortion’s disproportionate impact on the black community. That campaign exploded in the media. Each subsequent campaign that continued to highlight the disproportionate impact while promoting adoption as a life affirming alternative has continued and it’s raised the ire of Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion groups. They’ve tried desperately to remove our billboards. Three hundred billboards later, they’ve never removed a single one. I think part of that is our diligence in doing the research. When these billboard companies look on our website and they see the message we’re conveying and they see how documented all of the information is, they feel satisfied and comfortable that the billboards that they’re placing up there, although they may be controversial, they are rooted in fact.
SHOCK TREATMENT: This billboard set off a storm of controversy when it was posted at dozens of locations last year in Atlanta.
What about the billboard that was removed in New York City?
Those are from a different company. Their billboards have been brought down. Ours, thankfully, haven’t.
In the New York case, the parent of the child that was used in the billboard objected. How do you deal with challenges like that?
That’s not been an issue. We use some original photography and in some of our work we use stock photography, but that’s part of the agreement. When that particular parent signed away the rights, there was no caveat as to who could use it. That’s the thing with the pro-abortion or pro-choice side. They’re always trying to find the distraction, and they succeeded instead of talking about the numbers. In New York City, 60 percent of black pregnancies end in abortion. It is epidemic in that city, the home of Planned Parenthood. They successfully were able to divert the conversation, which I think is tragic for all of us.
Are you able to speak on this issue more easily because you are an African American man rather than a white activist?
I don’t believe in hyphenations, I’m just American. I happen to be as black as Obama, which means I’m mixed, biracial. There are times when I feel like I have to use the label, but the thing I like to focus on is that because I’m biracial I’m able to be a bridge on a number of different issues. However, I may say I’m biracial, but the next person wouldn’t have a clue. Throughout my life, I’ve been treated unfortunately in quite racist ways, so it does allow me to address this. I am a black, biracial child who was adopted and so it does give me an authority in a sense to speak from that perspective. It’s also hard to argue with my story of being born of rape.
What has the response been?
We were completely overwhelmed and inundated with email responses, phone responses, media interviews. But what it showed was this issue that many believe is a settled issue isn’t settled. The unexpected portion of the response was the venomously racist emails and phone calls we would get. I can’t tell you how many emails and phone calls I’ve received that have said, “More niggers need to die” or “Abortions don’t kill enough niggers.” But thankfully, the majority of the responses have been incredibly positive, particularly from African American women, from post-abortive men and women. And so, we know that there’s been a positive impact.
I would say the other response that we weren’t expecting was a direct response from Planned Parenthood. Our billboards have caused them to hold two separate conferences. One was a phone conference and other was a bloggers/journalists conference. So in the last year-and-a-half, two major conferences from the nation’s largest abortion chain to try to figure out how to combat specifically our TooManyAborted.com campaign.
What tactics have they employed?
Their response has been relatively simple. They love using buzz words, so they have resorted to calling us racists or mysogynists or anti-woman. That would pretty much encompass their strategy. Every billboard we’ve placed, there would be this response and it comes from a Planned Parenthood funded group called Sister Song that is a radically pro-abortion minority collective. Their whole tactic is laughable considering that the team of leaders nationwide that have endorsed and championed this campaign are all black, and many of them are black post-abortive women like Catherine Davis, like Dr. Alveda King. What they can’t do is refute the numbers. Even in their phone conference, which I managed to attend, they couldn’t refute any of the actual numbers, mainly because they’re from federal sources and from Guttmacher.
Were you shocked to be called a racist?
Having grown up in a multi-racial family with Native American, Black, Vietnamese, White, White and Black, to be called a racist is just laughable. The ultimate consequence of racism is death and we’ve seen it in American history. We’ve seen it in the horrific acts of lynching. That’s the ultimate end of racism and here you have individuals across the nation who are passionately pro-life being called racist. We are simply trying to save life. That’s what abortion does, though, it’s a complete inversion of things: an inversion of justice, an inversion of racism, an inversion of reality. So, yes, it was shocking and ludicrous.
At toomanyaborted.com, I read an article that connects feminism to abortion. Is there a way to separate the positive aspects of the feminist movement from the negative aspects?
I consider myself a feminist. I think the distinction is from an ideological or poltical standpoint where that falls on the spectrum. There’s liberal feminism, which I think in large part has been very destructive because of its emphasis on areas of “equality” that have nothing to do with empowering a woman. We emphasize those aspects of feminism which are healthy and we talk about liberal feminism that advocates abortion for any reason at any cost, and often to the exclusion of men. We also talk about many of these pro-abortion groups, which are radically feminist and their destructive approach to gender relationships and even gender itself. How did Roe V. Wade empower a woman? Our conclusion is that it’s empowered men far more than it’s empowered any woman.
You’re an adoptive parent of four children. Are they all adopted?
Two are adopted, my oldest and my youngest. My wife recently went public with how she was a single parent at one point and was faced with the same decisions. She understood, but she never considered abortion. Our daughter Hailee Radiance transformed her life. She transformed my life. That’s the beauty of possibility. Our youngest, Justice Nathaniel, is such a gift. His biological mom, we love, honor, and cherish her, and we’re trying to help her get back on her feet. She’s made some bad decisions, but there’s always redemption.
What do you have coming up next?
Our fatherhood campaign is now focusing on one of the biggest missing components in childrens’ lives. Forty-one percent of children in our nation are born in homes without fathers, and that statistic is even more drastic in the black community because it’s almost 73 percent in the black community, whereas it’s 35.7 percent in the white community. Our Fatherhood Begins in the Womb campaign is our way of calling men to responsibility and calling out the culture of abortion that has encouraged abandonment. The problem is widely ignored, but we see the results: higher incarceration rates, higher drop out rates, higher poverty.
Raising one half-African son and one of mixed European descent posed both ordinary and unique parenting challenges for my husband and me. What was best for one child was not necessarily best for the other. Often, competing concerns led to less than ideal decisions. This is true for all parents, but it is uniquely so for white parents raising children of a different race.
Education presented a particular challenge.
Our boys, Gabriel and Michael, began elementary school in my affluent hometown, which had a school system described by our regional newspaper as the closest thing to private school available in local public education. If they had grown up there, they would have benefited from a great program of academics, but little ethnic diversity. Gabriel would have had to face puberty and touchy dating issues without the benefit of African American role models to help him navigate the landmines. In kindergarten, he was already facing juvenile bigotry from a peer or two. If we raised him in one of the few racially diverse communities in our area, he might fit in better, but would attend schools with less impressive educational outcomes. And, besides, there really was no guarantee that he and Mike would be accepted by their peers. Their cultural DNA was solidly middle-class, white and suburban. Michael’s sensitive temperament also made it unlikely that he would prosper in a high-stress environment.
My husband and I sought the Lord and weighed the issues carefully. After much prayer, investigation and discussion, we moved our family to a community that is diverse on multiple planes: economic, ethnic, racial, and religious. When we lived there it was equal parts white, black, and brown; Christian and Jewish; wealthy, middle class, working class, and impoverished. The schools could provide a decent education we navigated them well.
There was a stellar band program, for example, that began in elementary school and sometimes ended with performances at New York Yankees playoff games. There were also magnet schools that ensured integration and nurtured children’s unique potential. Conversely there were more discipline problems and less support for average students than for those who excelled or lagged behind. Michael was an average student.
In New Jersey, education funding is dependent on property taxes. High property values lead to superior resources. In our new hometown, resources were scarce. Creative financing sometimes closed the gap. For example, when students were classified with educational challenges, the school system received extra funding. Thus, many more students were “classified” than might be elsewhere. Creative funding came at a price, though. Such students were labeled early and taught separately in the same classroom as other students and teachers facing multiple sources of distraction.
I’ve often thought that if my husband had been black, we would have raised our sons in my hometown. It was small and idyllic. Both boys would have received a stellar academic foundation and Gabe would have had a role model at home to help him deal with identity issues. As it was, my husband and I were clueless about basics like what to do about his “ashy skin” or where to get him a decent hair cut. Living in a diverse community solved a lot of everyday problems and allowed us to develop socially and biblically responsible attitudes about race that we might not have otherwise developed. Still, there were costs.
Michael was in third grade when his teacher seated him between the three most disruptive students in her class. She told me she was using him as a buffer because she knew he wouldn’t be drawn into their behavior. I was finishing college at the time, and as I pondered the fact that I was pursuing higher education while my child was struggling for an elementary one, I decided that I could not continue allowing him to flounder in a sub-standard situation. The only private schools nearby were either too expensive or sectarian, so my husband and I made the monumental decision to home-school him –something we had never before envisioned. Gabriel was excelling in the “Gifted and Talented” magnet program at the time. Within two weeks of beginning to home-school Michael, Gabe asked to be home-schooled as well. We agreed for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that the “Gifted” education was brimming with creativity but lean on basics.
I home-schooled Gabe and Mike through eighth grade and then they returned to public school. Culture shock from being out of sync with current fads may have been more of a challenge than any race discomfort either of them had previously faced. It was short lived though. The summer before Gabriel’s senior year and Michael’s sophomore year, we decided to go on a grand adventure and moved to Southern California. The boys bounced through a couple schools until we finally settled on a public school that was similar in ethnic and economic make-up to their diverse hometown.
One would have thought from our earlier experiences that we would have had the good sense to intentionally seek out racially diverse secondary and higher education. But, instead we slipped back into a white suburban lifestyle without really trying or noticing. Perhaps we assumed the job of diversity training and identity building was done. Perhaps it was done to such a degree that our children no longer meshed with their suburban peers. With the move, I was eager to make up for lost academic ground. When it came to college, my husband and I shared the concerns of many Christian parents that our sons’ education stretch and reinforce their faith rather than chip away at it.
Gabriel, who was a member of the National Honor Society, chose a competitive Christian college in the Midwest. Without giving much thought to the fact that Christian colleges tend to have low minority enrollment, we sent him halfway across the country. For the first time since kindergarten, he faced overt racism both among the student body and in the surrounding community. What bothered him more than fried chicken jokes and his inability to find an off-campus job was the apathy of his Christian peers when it came to systemic racial injustice. Because of his history of educational upheaval, he chose to slug it out there for four years. And I do mean slug it out. He struggled academically and socially, but was also a provocative campus voice regarding race issues.
I wish we had understood Gabriel’s continued need for an educational environment that was as supportive of his unique humanity as it was of his academic potential and Christian faith. By the time he graduated in 2007, we did understand and were making plans to move from Orange County, California, to Long Beach, a more diverse community. Gabe died tragically before we could make that move. I wrote about his death and my family’s ongoing journey through grief in a recent issue of Christianity Today.
It’s a cliché to say that hindsight is 20/20, so instead of outlining what I would do differently if I had it to do over again, I offer this advice to parents whose children are a different race from them:
1. Do not underestimate your child’s need to connect with and affirm their identity, especially as he or she begins to approach adulthood.
2. Recognize that part of your child’s inner struggle very well may be your lack of awareness. They may lash out at you and/or romanticize their absent heritage. They love those who’ve loved and nurtured them, but need room to grow into their unique selves. Their perspective on life will be fundamentally different from yours — as it is for all children, but especially for them. This is something to encourage and celebrate.
3. I do not suggest that every family raising a child of a different race pick up roots and move to an integrated community or join an integrated church (obviously, this will not be possible for everyone). Despite the negatives, for us, having done so was one of the best parenting decisions we ever made.
4. What I do suggest, however, is that you take your child’s racial identity (and difference) seriously and that you become a lifelong learner yourself.
Throughout his life, Gabriel was educating us simply by his experience in and of the world. That we did not see our own convictions about diversity through to the end of our parenting responsibility is something I regret. It was only after my Gabriel died and I was reflecting back on his funeral that I realized the only racially integrated element it included was the presence of his eulogists and friends. In the midst of our shock and grief, we didn’t think of Gabe as an African American man, but as a son. He was both.