NewsOK: Oklahoma City News, Sports, Weather & Entertainment

'Angels' needed to help children, families in crisis

Advertisement

The preacher speaking at the pulpit almost paused as a man walked into the church.

The Rev. Darrell L. Armstrong was delivering the eulogy at his mother's funeral in 1998, and he was startled, then angered, to see his mother's longtime companion — a man who had abused her, as well as Armstrong and all three of his brothers, a man who had been with her when she fatally overdosed.

Armstrong wanted to leap out of the pulpit and chase the villain out of the church.

Only his grandmother's audible weeping kept him from ejecting the abuser.

Armstrong told an audience of metro-area spiritual leaders that the moment made him even more determined to continue helping children and families in crisis.

"I again rededicated myself to helping families become stronger," he said Tuesday at a clergy training conference in Oklahoma City.

The New Jersey minister served as keynote speaker for the Faith Communities Protecting Children: Recognizing and Responding to Adverse Childhood Experiences Conference, an interfaith event held at Metro Tech Business Conference Center, 1900 Springlake Drive.

The conference was sponsored by the Potts Family Foundation, Interfaith Alliance of Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Center on Child Abuse & Neglect, Department of Human Services Office of Community & Faith Engagement and Oklahoma Conference of Churches. Organizers said Oklahoma children are among those at greatest risk for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), according to recent America's Health rankings, and the conference was designed to share information on prevention and protection with faith leaders and groups who work with children and youths in houses of worship .

Armstrong, 50, shared knowledge gleaned from his background as pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, New Jersey, and as founder of the Institute for Clergy Training, which seeks to train spiritual leaders in ways to protect children and strengthen families. He shared statistics he has compiled as a Stanford University and Princeton Theological Seminary graduate, as an expert in the prevention of child abuse and as a respected leader in the national and international child welfare and family strengthening movement.

Churches called to action

Perhaps he was at his most compelling when he talked about his experiences as a survivor of child abuse and trauma.

Armstrong said his mother, a victim of child sexual assault at some point in her childhood, was 16 years old when she give birth to him, the first of four boys in South Central Los Angeles. He said she was a drug addict, and he could remember watching her do drugs when he was as young as age 3 — marijuana and eventually crack and heroin. When he was 5, she began a relationship with the man who abused her and her children.

The preacher said he will never forget his brother's screams when his mother's boyfriend lowered the 2-year-old brother in a tub of scalding hot water one day. Armstrong said his brother had to be hospitalized as a result of the abuse, and the child soon was placed in the care of one of the boy's father's relatives.

He said soon afterward, he was placed in child protective custody, and he eventually was taken in by his maternal grandfather and his wife, who also were caring for five other youths. Rounding out his set of "angels" — caring adults — were a minister from his neighborhood church, his maternal grandmother and a loving social worker who remains in his life to this day. He said his two younger brothers also were taken from his mother because of abuse and neglect.

Armstrong said from his own experiences and his life's work, he encourages houses of worship to lead the way in preventing child abuse and neglect and to help people overcome Adverse Childhood Experiences. Over the years, researchers have concluded that there are many experiences of the modern era that should be considered in the ACE categories, including school violence, natural disasters, combat injury of a loved one, homelessness, bullying/cyberbullying and war.

Armstrong said houses of worship are poised to play a key role in turning children's lives around for the better.

He said several studies have found that the top two major influences on a person's parenting is the individual's own upbringing and their faith and religious background. So, he said, religious leaders and faith communities have golden opportunities to become "angels" to help children and families.

"I am suggesting to you today that you all are angels in some children's lives," he said.

Houses of worship should be places that teach and promote resilience, which he described as the presence of protective factors that can often mitigate the consequences of Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Armstrong said spiritual leaders must break down barriers that sometimes prevent houses of worship from doing more to prevent abuse and protect children. This includes what he described as the "myth that what families do behind closed doors is their business."

Religious leaders just need to look no further than their holy books for the mandate to protect the vulnerable.

"For me this is the Gospel. This is good news," he said. "We want to create an environment where Adverse Childhood Experiences are minimized and children thrive."

To learn more

For more information about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) or to take the ACE questionnaire, go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's ACE Study website at https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy.

For more information about the Institute for Clergy Training, founded by the Rev. Darrell Armstrong, go to http://www.clergytraining.org.

For more information about ACE Overcomers, go to https://aceovercomers.org.

Carla Hinton

Carla Hinton, an Oklahoma City native, joined The Oklahoman in 1986 as a National Society of Newspaper Editors minority intern. She began reporting full-time for The Oklahoman two years later and has served as a beat writer covering a wide... Read more ›

Comments