A White Man's Journey into Black History - Part 1

Michael Ireland | Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service | Tuesday, January 08, 2002

A White Man's Journey into Black History - Part 1

In 1997, Joel Freeman, a white man from a small town in Alberta, Canada with a Ph.D. in counseling, who served as mentor/chaplain for the NBA's Washington Wizards (formerly the Bullets) for 19 years ('79-'98), co-authored the book, "Return To Glory: The Powerful Stirring of the Black Man" with Don Griffin, an African-American who has served as top human resources executive in private industry in the New York City area for a number of years.

Michael Ireland: Why did you co-write the book?

Joel Freeman: I had pastored for 18 years, with many of those years in Baltimore City. During those early years, I didn't have a clue about the effects of racism upon people of color. In 1979 I began to work as the mentor/chaplain for the NBA Washington Bullets/Wizards ('79-'98). Over the years, I had many frank discussions with a number of African-American pro athletes about some of the subjects mentioned in the book, but I still didn't have full picture.

In 1993 I left pastoring in the traditional manner, taking my pastor's heart into the business world. In 1994 I started my own company, The Freeman Institute. Our company has three arenas of expertise: executive coaching, long-term organizational culture change and seminar programs addressing diversity, leadership, teambuilding, and stress management. We work with Heads of State of other countries, corporations, music/entertainment industries, government agencies and faith-based organizations. "Dealing With People Who Drive You Crazy!"(r) is the favorite seminar.

In 1995, as the human resources director of a large milk company near New York City, Don Griffin invited me to facilitate a number of leadership programs. Between sessions, Don and I began to talk about various subjects. Very quickly we both discovered our mutual love for Jesus and great respect for the Bible. Don began to share some insights about Ancient Black History as it relates to the Bible. This was stuff I had never heard before, especially when he shared about a prophecy in Isaiah, directly mentioning people from beyond the Rivers of Ethiopia who were tall, smooth of skin and awesome (to be feared) from the beginning.

I came home from one of my discussions with Don Griffin and studied some commentaries, hoping for greater enlightenment. But as I got into the original Hebrew, I began to understand what Don had been communicating. It was the Biblical drive that drew me in to the entire topic.

At first I gently challenged Don to write a book about the subject of "Return To Glory," but then he thought it would be profitable for a black man and a white man to do this project together, with a special target audience - young African-American men, ages 12-25.

Don wrote the first half about the historical and Biblical perspectives. For the second half, I interviewed 40-50 African American men, each over the age of 35. I wanted to talk with men who had some perspective.

Each conversation started in a somewhat awkward manner, because it was strange to have a white man from a small town in Canada wanting to co-write a book for young black men. After 20 minutes or so, I would ask a question that seemed to open hearts to such an extent that many conversations ended with tears and hugs - and deep friendships.

The question that broke the ice was: "Do you remember the moment when you realized that because of the color of your skin the rules were somehow different for you in this country?"

This question caused men to pause, sigh and then to embark upon a clear memory of a story of what happened to them when they were 5, 6, or 7 years of age. I was amazed at the clarity with which each could relate to that event. It was a moving experience for me.

My education is in the discipline of counseling and psychological studies. From these stories I began to see a developing theme - each one was struggling through the grieving process. The Moment. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. The Pit of Despair/Depression. Acceptance. The main challenge was "Acceptance." What does that look like or feel like? Is there anyone who has experienced it on a continual basis?

Michael Ireland: What is your thesis or main theme?

Joel Freeman: "Return to Glory" calls for African Americans to return to their pre-slavery historic greatness. It is written Joel Freemanin a reader-friendly format with "time out" questions at each chapter's end for reflection, personal analysis and application for action. Aimed at informing, building self-esteem, and mentoring black young adults as future leaders, "Return to Glory" is believed to be the first such book directed at this important "neglected generation" audience co-authored by a black man and a white man.

"Return to Glory" is an essential tool for helping solve America's pervasive and vexing problems of racism. "Far too few men and boys - both black and white -are aware of the true nature of African-American heritage and of their immense potential for personal greatness in years ahead."

Don Griffin's first half of "Return to Glory" begins by calling the historical "theft" of black historic contributions to civilization "the greatest rip-off of all time" because their true history was, in effect, stolen. He verifies that black Egyptians were the first people to invent science, engineering, and writing and to discover medicine, architecture, astronomy, agriculture, and much more. Yet, the heinous practice of slavery was justified in later years by a massive campaign of fabrications and deceit about black intelligence.

After citing highly credible "eyewitness" sources such as Herodotus and Diodorus for historical verification of accomplishments by black Africans, Griffin (15 pages of research notes in the rear of book) documents how "racism played far too big a role in the writing of black and African history."

Be sure to read Part 2 of this article tomorrow on "Religion Today."

About the Authors:

Joel Freeman is president of The Freeman Institute, an organizational culture change firm based in Severn, Md., and facilitates many seminar programs, including "Dealing With People Who Drive You Crazy!"(r) "A White Man's Journey Into Black History," "Diversity: The Value of Mutual Respect" and "When Strangling Someone Is Not An Option." He also coaches executives in their personal/professional lives. Freeman has authored three other internationally acclaimed books.

As founder and president of a counseling and human resources consulting practice, Griffin has an M.A. in counseling, and is an historian and popular public speaker. From Easton, Pa., he brings a wealth of personal experience combined with a unique ability to simplify the complex and communicate with clarity to people of diverse backgrounds.

The video, "A White Man's Journey Into Black History" is the story of Freeman's journey in co-authoring that book. Freeman made this PowerPoint presentation (with video clips) before a group of 700-750 African American men at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden in the Washington, D.C. area. Several cameras were set up and they decided to edit it down for the 140-minute video. The response has been quite overwhelming, said Freeman.

His e-mail address is: joel@returntoglory.org. You may log-on to http://www.freemaninstitute.com or http://www.returntoglory.org to find out more about this project.

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