Supporting children after a homicide or murder

BY YOLANDA COWART, Springtime Club Founder & CEO

CLEARWATER — One of the most amazing things that we have experienced while working with the families of cold cases is their incredible strength and resilience in the face of their tragedies, and the remarkable connections and bonds that resulted from their shared lost, grief and pain. None is more beautiful than the bond among Tyra Bolden and her mother Andrea, and the connection and attachment that they both share to her surrogate father Adrian “Chat” Jackson.

Jackson was Tyra’s father, Clarence Bolden’s, best friend. In fact, Bolden was playing cards in his house on the evening that he was shot and killed, while Jackson was away from the home. He is the man that Tyra has called dad for the last 13 years and he has served as her surrogate father trying to fill the void in her heart, heel the hurt from the pain of her father’s death and warm the chill in her bones from the cold of his case – an unsolved murder in the Clearwater community.

Surrogate fathers have become increasingly more important in the African-American culture. The breakdown of the nuclear family, the impact of black on black crime and the inequities of a penal system that results in a revolving door and longer prison sentences for our men, all have resulted in the ever increasing number of black homes in which the biological father is absent. This absence has overwrought our communities, stressed our children and strained our families.

According to a wide body of research, including research summarized by the National Fatherhood Initiative, children in homes with absent fathers suffer a variety of consequences, including financial distress, poor school performance, low esteem, behavior problems and greater risk for depression and other psychiatric problems. When a child has lost that father to murder the emotional trauma is even more complex.

Until recently, few studies have examined the impact of this type of loss relative to the age of the child and the quality of parenting that the child received after the loss. The high quality of Tyra’s parenting in her untraditional family is evident in the bond between Tyra, Jackson and her mother. There connection is like the twine of a cord that cannot be untangled and the knot of a long rope that can never ever be unraveled.

Bolden’s death was the first time his generation and peers experienced the loss of a life to murder through black on black crime. A tight knit community, that type of senseless violence was something that happened in the surrounding cities. His death was unexpected and sudden and the murder left family, friends and an entire community shattered, feeling helpless and not knowing what to do.

But when children like Tyra experiences the death of a parent, the emotional distress is even more overwhelming and devastating. Tyra was only five years old when her father was killed, and she will attest that it continues to be the most difficult thing that she has had to cope with in her childhood, through her experiences as a teen and now as a young adult.

When someone loses a loved one to murder, many family members and friends can’t get the images of the violence out of their heads. However, when a child loses a parent to murder, many of them talk about visualizing the act step by step in their heads. It does not matter whether they saw it happen or not. For some, it is like living every day in a horror movie, while others dream about such images each night, and usually what they imagine is often far worse than the actual crime that took place.

Today, many men in our community have experienced tragedies such as the Bolden family, the kind of situations that separate the real men from the boys. And all too often our African- American children and women has either witnessed it or experienced it. How your son’s crew forsaken him at the first sign of trouble and abandoned him in a dark, cold and lonely alley. How your brother gave his homeboys the shirt off his back only to have them turn their backs on him when he fell on hard times and was down on his luck. How your husband’s best friend fell out of touch after his tragic death and lost contact with his family following his senseless murder.

But, Andrea and Tyra Bolden will attest that none of those men or these scenarios can be used to characterize Jackson. “Chat was Clarence’s best friend and he is his brother’s keeper, said Andrea.

From the day that the Springtime Club began to work with Andrea and Tyra regarding Clarence’s case, Jackson has not missed one activity. He can be found at every candlelight vigil, standing beside them at every press conference and participating in each balloon release and anti-crime march. He has also participated in every other event related to the Springtime Club’s crime prevention program and cold case initiative, in honor of the life and memory of his best friend.

Andrea said that support does not begin to reflect the support that he has given Tyra financially, emotionally and spiritually. In fact, Jackson is as dedicated to Tyra and in some cases probably even more engaged than many parents. As Tara’s nurturer, he has made several appeals during the course of the last 13 years to employ someone with information to come forward, challenge the code of silence in our community and advocate justice for both Tyra and Andrea.

We were amazed at how close and involved he was in Tyra’s day to day life as we watched her send him home to change his white memorial t-shirt to a black one identical to hers, it soon became evident that there wasn’t anything that he would not do for Tyra. But despite Jackson’s remarkable commitment, Andrea is continuously reminded that nothing and no one can take the place of Tyra’s Father.

“Chat has been such a blessing to her, but the one thing that he can’t give Tyra is closure,” said Andrea. “Tyra and I need someone to do the right thing, we need answers and it’s time to talk,” she added.

The Springtime Club has been waiting a while to tell Jackson’s amazing story. We were trying to find the right moment in time, the right ankle to generate human interest, the right voice to carry its message and the right context to encourage someone to speak up and spark a movement for change.

We wanted to adequately represent the beauty of Tyra’s and Jackson’s relationship. We wanted to showcase the love that he shares for his best friend Clarence, and we thought it was important to spotlight a black man that is making the difference in the day and the life of a child that has lost a father to senseless violence.

But through the eyes of a child that has spent almost her entire life dealing with not only the murder but the realities of an unsolved crime, Tyra so genuinely reminds us that there is nothing beautiful about murder. For children like Tyra, the murder of her father is a lost that influences every single day of her life. A storm that is calmed by the love that she shares with Jackson for her father Clarence, and a blow that is tempered by the love that she has from his best friend, her dad Chat.

“Never before has our culture been so dangerous for girls and young women, and, therefore, never before have girls so needed good, strong and protective fathers in their lives,” said Andrea. “I am so thankful to God for the difference that Chat has made in her life, and I pray for the children who have lost fathers and where not as fortunate,” she added.

Tyra graduated from Clearwater High School with Andrea and Jackson by her side and a full athletic scholarship to play basketball. She is a junior in college now and plays for the women’s basketball team at Hillsborough Community College.

On the anniversary of Clarence’s death, The Springtime Club hosted a small candlelight vigil and balloon release on behalf of the Bolden family at Clarence’s grave site located in the Eternal Rest Memories Park & Funeral Home.

Anyone with information about this case should call Clearwater Police Department at (727) 562-4242, or email tips@myclearwater.com.  You may also be eligible to collect a reward of up to $25,000 by calling the anonymous Crime Stoppers tip line at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477).

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