Sunday mornings are filled with praise and worship in church buildings across the South, but when one grandmother began to jingle her keys to leave her home and go to her place of worship there were three little black grandchildren who began to shake with fear and trembling.
That's because Johnnetta McSwain and her sister and male cousin were forced to endure severe child incest and abuse by three older male cousins while their mother's mother went off to church. And on Jan. 25, in a phone conversation with this past abuse victim, the Atlanta Top News Examiner learned why other children who suffer such abuse ask this question of McSwain when she goes to tell them how she overcame her victimization: How can you believe and talk about God when he allowed this to happen to you and to me?
I can't talk about God to every child of abuse I encounter," Johnetta confessed, "Because some of them can't understand why God would allow such terrible things to happen to them."
Lots of people have asked the question, "If God is good then why does he allow bad things to happen?" So the young women McSwain encounters as she travels the world telling how she overcame her own abuse are just voicing their own version of that question.
A victim of terrible abuse as a five-year-old girl, McSwain could have blamed God for her terrible experiences too. And she admits she did feel let down by the community of faith when they did not realize what she and her sister suffered back then. But families keep secrets and communities, be they black or white, don't always get involved in matters they are not sure are really abusive situations or not. So children fall through the cracks.
Teachers overlook a swollen cheek if a child says they fell. Neighbors overlook the screams next door if they see kids playing joyfully outside hours later, and even grandmothers can be clueless that horrible atrocities are occurring in their own homes when they are gone, especially if a child's abuser makes the child afraid to tell what's happening to them.
How could the church know that three little children in Alabama were having their ankles and wrists tied to chairs so they could not fend off their attackers as their grandmother worshiped God in church on Sundays? They couldn't, of course, just like God was never the author of the evil done to Johnnetta McSwain and her sister and cousin when they were ages five and six. The children's uncles were.
And that's why this survivor of child abuse has made it her life's mission to educate the world about how child victimization is still going on, and how you can spot what a child may be afraid to tell you--and how you can help them get free from such abuse. And she has been sharing that message close to home, in Fulton County, and as far away as Japan and Bermuda.
The author of "Rising Above the Scars" and the Emmy Award-winning documentary "The Road Beyond Abuse," wants to show young women all over the world how they can move beyond the pain and blame that keeps them trapped in despair after abuse. And she knows she couldn't succeed in getting that message across if God didn't help her, just as he helped her find her own way out of her own depression and shame.
God has really blessed me. And recently he let my son tell me how proud of me he was," McSwain said. Actually, both sons told her as much, she confided.
And maybe the greatest accomplishment Johnnetta has made thus far (besides overcoming abuse and becoming the first in her family to achieve a bachelors, masters and doctorate degree), is that she has impacted her two sons to break the negative cycles that ran in her own family. And to know that they see her in the same light millions see Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Isn't that the greatest thing a parent can hope for? To know that regardless of what abuse they have endured in their lives their children did not have to experience it--and will not be perpetrators of it themselves?
To invite Johnnetta McSwain to your church, school or organization to speak on the topic of abuse, contact her on her Facebook page or write to this examiner at TheRealRadellSmith.com. The message will be passed along.
To learn more about her and her education and professional achievements check out her Linkedin Profile. Her next speaking engagement in the Georgia area will be at the Kennesaw State University Phenomenal Women's Conference in March, and there are still tickets available. It's a presentation you don't want to miss.