Monday, December 10, 2012

I’ll Never Dance with My Father”: Zoey Belcher’s Story of the Aftermath of Domestic Violence

R3 Contributor

In the early morning hours of December 1, America learned that another young African American child had been left behind, this time without having ever entered a classroom.  Three month old Zoey became an orphan when her father, National Football League Kansas City Chief’s linebacker Jovan Belcher killed the infant’s mother (his girlfriend) topping off this carnage by taking his own life less than an hour later.  

Nationally, football fans and even nonfans havoeye remained riveted and been sated with the salacious details of this macabre murder/suicide.   Unsurprisingly, Belcher garnered and continues to receive most of the media’s coverage and attention. Sadly, Zoey’s 22 year old mother Kassandra Perkins, a community college student and aspiring educator has far less of the media spotlight and she was the one murdered. Even Belcher’s mother (who was in the home when the murder occurred,) left by her son to deal with the fatal blood bath and death that ensued in his master bedroom, received more media coverage than Zoey’s young mother who was shot nine times by  the baby’s daddy with two of the legally owned weapons in his arsenal.

Curiously Zoey’s plight has received the least coverage of all, which made me wonder who will tell her story? In posted Belcher and Perkins Facebook page pictures and family photos, Zoey was a tiny but central fixture, obviously adored by doting parents. At three months old she had just left that newborn stage and was no doubt beginning to connect with her surroundings. Perhaps she was beginning to smile, manipulate her newly found hand/eye coordination. Maybe she was beginning to sleep through the night, coo at her mother or father; an infant’s’ tell-tale sign that she recognized their faces and voices.  

Mercifully, she will not remember that she was crying as her parents bitterly argued. She’ll probably not even remember that her father kissed her one last time when he left the house on his ill-fated escape to commit suicide. Perhaps Zoey may someday be comforted by knowing that her father’s last words uttered to Chiefs’ Coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Scott Crennel before he took his own life were pleas for them to “take care of his daughter.”

Apparently his pleas for his daughter’s welfare and continued well being were heard by the right people. Monetarily, the NFL will take good care of Zoey.  The Kansas City Chiefs have established a trust fund for her. “Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families and everyone affected by the heartbreaking events of last Saturday,” Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said in a team-issued release.  “As we continue to struggle with the emotional pain from the tragedy, the Chiefs family is focused on helping 3-month-old Zoey Michelle Belcher as she faces the challenge of growing up without the support of her parents.  Zoey will always be a part of the Chiefs family, and we hope that this trust will help to ensure she has the resources necessary as she grows up.”  

A December 5th New York Daily News article notes that Belcher’s four year playing status on his team also helped to provide for his daughter’s future.  Zoey stands to receive $108,000 annually over the next four years, $48,000 in the fifth year and then $52,000 each year until age 18. She will receive more money (until the age of 23) if she decides to go to college.  Belcher’s beneficiary also will receive $600,000 in life insurance, plus $200,000 for each credited season. There is also $100,000 in a retirement account that will go to his beneficiary or estate. Ideally some or all of those funds will go to Zoey.

There are some things money won’t be able to buy for Zoey however. She won’t be able to understand how her father, who was a member of the University of Maine’s’ Athletes against Violence organization could brutally take her mother’s life.  She probably won’t be able to comprehend how her father, a man who graduated in less than four years with an undergraduate degree in child development and family relations could so callously decimate their young family’s right to thrive and prosper in a hailstorm of bullets. Both parents will miss her first steps, her first words.  

Zoey may need a lifetime of intense therapy to cope with the painful knowledge that both of her parents will never be a part of her life apart from photos,  NFL video clips and memories of the two shared by family members and friends.  The greatest tragedy of this devastating debacle is that both Jovan and Kassandra will miss the quintessential rites of passage parents typically experience as their child grows up—Zoey’s first day at school, her first date, first prom, graduation from high-school and college. There will be no mother/daughter wedding dress trysts at bridal shops with Kassandra.   Paraphrasing Luther Vandross’ mournful musings, Zoey will never experience the joy of being lovingly swept up in the big expansive linebacker arms of Jovan. She will never be able to dance with her father.

I pray that Zoey will one day find and express her voice, one that allows her to publicly and privately forgive her father. I pray that she comes to know her parents fondly as two young people who created her in love and who tried to love each other in the midst of the oft times overwhelming financial, professional and social pressures of daily life. Only then will she be able to lift herself out of what is sure to be a morass of unfathomable pain and cease being left behind.

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