When she was arrested on charges of running guns for a notorious Harlem gang, 17-year-old Afrika Owes told her mother: “My life is over.”
"It’s not,” the honor student's mother replied, according to the New York Post.
The congregation of Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church has just put up $25,000 to set Afrika free on bail while she awaits trial.
The pastor of that church, one of New York’s most prominent clergymen, the Rev. Calvin Butts, told me: “I’m happy she’s been freed on bail. I’ve known Afrika since she was two. We will stand by her.”
This is Holy Week in the Christian religion. And Butts pointed out that the power of redemption is at the core of Christianity. He is confident that Afrika can be redeemed too.
“I regret that there are tens of thousands of children who are behind bars and have few resources to overcome their plight," he said.
"Afrika’s situation should make us intensify the fight against drugs and guns in our community and throughout the nation. We acted as the body of Christ. We stepped in, hoping to get this girl a second chance. It’s particularly noteworthy that this happened during Holy Week. I wish it happened earlier.
“I think we should remember, too, the case of Patty Hearst, the newspaper heiress. She was convicted of carrying guns and robbing a bank. Her wealthy family helped her. And, ultimately, she got a presidential pardon and has led a good life. She’s married and the mother of two children. She has had a career as writer and actress.”
This Christian Holy Week happens to coincide with the Jewish holiday of Passover, in which the story of the Jewish people’s bondage in Egypt and liberation is told at Seders. It is also a tale of redemption -- from slavery to freedom.
Afrika was rounded up with 13 alleged members of a Harlem crack and gun gang. She was accused of carrying firearms for gang members. Her boyfriend, locked up in Rikers Island for armed robbery, was reportedly running the gang from his prison cell. She and the boyfriend have known each other since early childhood.
Afrika faces conspiracy and gun charges. “I’m not guilty of these things,” Afrika said in court. Her mother, Karen, asserted that it was hard to monitor children’s behavior: “It could happen to anyone’s daughter.”
Owes was an A student at Millenium High School in the Financial District. She was on the basketball team and was visiting campuses at Barnard, University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and Yale -- hoping to be admitted to one of the schools.
Theology scholars have written of the power of redemption. Many churches are named for the "Redeemer." In the book of Job in the Old Testament, Job says: “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”
Butts has faith that a young member of his flock will be redeemed. He believes in Afrika Owes -- and the power of prayer and renewal.
Butts’ strong advocacy makes you want to believe in Afrika too.