‘Joyful Noise,’ ‘Dark Horse,’ and the Truth About Paganism

by Nick Westbrooks

Christian rappers Flame and Lecrae in their video for "Joyful Noise"

Christian rappers Flame and Lecrae in their video for “Joyful Noise”

Katy Perry

Pop singer Katy Perry in her music video for “Dark Horse”









In a lawsuit against Katy Perry’s song and music video “Dark Horse,” Christian rappers Flame and Lecrae claim that Perry used their song “Joyful Noise” without permission and has contaminated its message with pagan imagery, but as Christians do they know where their religious doctrines and practices come from? 

Upon reading about Christian Hip-Hop artists Flame and Lecrae suing pop star Katy Perry over a song they believed Perry “partly” stole from them, I thought I would respond to the situation for different reasons and from a different perspective from what most people would expect. Besides the fact that I haven’t written anything in a long time, I found this situation as a whole and the public’s response to it to be relevant to subjects I’ve been studying independently over the past year.

I watched the videos for both songs, Flame and Lecrae’s “Joyful Noise,” released in 2008 and Perry’s “Dark Horse,” released in September 2013, almost a year ago. The public has been asking, “Why are Flame and Lecrae filing this lawsuit so late?” “Why are Christian rappers suing anyone?” and “Do the songs actually sound alike?” I won’t be answering any of the aforementioned questions, and they’re of no concern to me. You can visit the comments section of YouTube and other websites and join the conversations there.

As a person of African descent, my primary concern lies not in the claim that Perry used the song without permission, but the claims by the Christian emcees that their song “has been irreparably tarnished by its association with witchcraft, paganism, black magic and Illuminati imagery evoked by the same music in ‘Dark Horse.'” (NY Times) My other concern has to deal with why Perry deemed it acceptable to incorporate ancient Kemetic (Egyptian) culture and symbols into her music video.

To address the claims made by the rappers, I’ll consult a book that I read around this time last year, written by one of the world’s leading scholars of ancient and contemporary history. In 1970, Dr. Yosef ben-Jochannan, simply and widely known as Dr. Ben, published his seminal and thought-provoking work African Origins of the Major “Western Religions.”  Dr. Ben uses the history, beliefs, and myths to argue that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam originated from ancient African spiritual systems and philosophies.

Namely, he focuses on the Voodooism of West Africa and the Mystery System and principles of the Nile Valley with African spirituality and influence reaching its zenith in Egypt. These spiritual structures among the many others were designed to “find the answer to the unknown factor responsible for life itself,” but have been relegated to paganism, voodooism, witchcraft, and black magic. As stated in the thesis of the book, Dr. Ben argues that the three major Western religions inherited many of the classical African spiritual rites and principles — from the laws, lessons and stories written in the religious texts, to the rituals performed during religious services. (For brevity, I’ll have to omit specific examples of the rituals and principles, but Dr. Ben discusses these in detail. The book is still available in print, or you can listen to Dr. Ben’s lectures on YouTube.) Ironically, many Jews, Christians, and Muslims criticize any spiritual or religious system outside of their religions as pagan. Certainly, the majority of the world is probably unaware of this research and analysis, and unfortunately most would most likely be close-minded and apprehensive towards considering and discussing Dr. Ben’s findings.

In a way, I can understand and agree with where Flame, Lecrae, and the producers included on the lawsuit are coming from. Yes, the dominant culture or the “powers that be,” which control mainstream media and supposedly the entire world have hijacked ancient Egyptian culture and have perverted it to the public as something negative and sinister. Scholars and conspiracy theorists writing and speaking on Freemasonry and the Illuminati have long postulated these views in articles, books, and videos. In this sense, the imagery in the “Dark Horse” video can be considered questionable. However, let’s be clear: Ancient Egypt in its original and purest context isn’t evil in and of itself. It’s reputation has been tainted by a certain group of people for the purpose of turning the public away from historical truths and reserving the facts of the benefit of an elite few. Don’t get me wrong, all societies, civilizations, and empires have their negative aspects, and in our teaching of history, we must tell the good, the bad and the ugly. Nevertheless, the Nile Valley’s contributions and ways of living outweigh the less desirable factors.

As a sidebar, people refer to the Illuminati as the secret society, the bloodline that allegedly controls the world, but the definition of Illuminati simply means “enlightened ones” according to Professor Griff who is accepted as an authority on this particular subject by the “conscious community.” Essentially, the ancient Egyptians who were masters of science, math, law, philosophy, architecture, astrology, etc. were the original Illuminati or Enlightened Ones, but not in the context of the “evil, devil-whorsippers” we know now. Prodigy  of Mobb Deep raps about this in the chorus of his song Skull and Bones.” 

Back to our regularly scheduled programming: If Flame and Lecrae want to go after Katy Perry for copyright infringement, then by all means go for it. If the rappers are to criticize Perry’s message and imagery in the “Dark Horse” video, they should demand that Perry leave the culture of their African ancestors alone and push Perry to stop her participation in the continued demonization of the culture. Lastly, they can tell her to end her contribution to the ongoing whitewashing of ancient Egyptian history as we see in the upcoming film The Gods of Egypt. 

Aside from entertainment news and conspiracy theories, the main point is that the moment when Christian artists or Christian anyone refers to Egyptian principles and culture as pagan is the moment when they characterize a considerable chunk of their own religion as pagan.


Back in February, several online outlets reported that 65,000 Muslims worldwide signed a petition against the “Dark Horse” video slamming it as “blasphemous.” The video depicted a pendant bearing the name “Allah” turning into sand. That’s another topic for another day, but I have to ask, where was the uproar from the “conscious community” about Katy Perry making a mockery of ancient Egypt and portraying herself as present-day Elizabeth Taylor?


Why Is Tim Wise Stamping the Anti-Racist Ghetto Passes at Teach For America

Full disclosure: I applied for Teach For America in October 2012. I went through the entire process and received my rejection email in just after the new year. Additionally, I recognize that many college graduates–Black and White–have gone through the TFA program and have become effective teachers who continued to teach beyond the two year minimum that the program requires.

Further, I’m familiar with Tim Wise’s name, but not his works. I found this article by Bruce Dixon for Black Agenda Report questioning Tim Wise’s endorsement of TFA to be damning and the accusations against TFA to have some merit based on my observations and research before, during and after the application process.

Teach For America is part of an elite bipartisan scam to privatize public education, starting, and perhaps ending with the inner city. TFA replaces qualified, experienced mostly black teachers who live in the communities they serve with mostly white temps, graduated from a 5 week course who will move on to Wall Street and other lucrative careers after only a couple seasons in the classroom.

Closing public schools and replacing experienced teachers with Ivy League missionary temps isn’t something that’s being done to wealthy white suburban public schools. It’s only the prescribed remedy for school districts full of black and brown youth, and black and brown teachers.

Read Bruce Dixon’s entire piece at Black Agenda Report.

Reflecting on Independence Day and Not Celebrating It

Writing for the Huffington Post, Pastor William H. Lamar IV contends that African-Americans shouldn’t celebrate the false sense of freedom the 4th of July emanates but rather reflect on America as what it historically was and what it currently is — a place where he is surrounded by “economic bondage, educational bondage, political bondage, health care bondage and religious bondage…”

There will be fireworks and Sousa. But I am sticking with Flav and Frederick. Why? I find little to celebrate. Douglass calls the Fourth “your holiday.” He does not own it. What happened to white Americans in 1776 was hardly felt by many black Americans in 1976. He calls the founders “your fathers.” He does not own them. And I cannot own them. They never intended for my ancestors to be anything but human cogs in the wheel of their economic prosperity. That is a fact. To forget that is to trample upon the bones of my forbears. I must reflect upon my ancestors’ elusive dream of freedom.

The government and the corporate media celebrate as patriots those who are uncritically supportive of America’s imperial exploits. That is not my heritage. I am Richard Allen’s son, the first black man to write a political pamphlet challenging America’s white supremacy. And we must keep writing. I am Ida B. Wells Barnett’s son, the powerful black woman who refused to let America lynch black bodies without sounding the alarm of outrage. And we must continue to speak up for those crushed by American violence masquerading as law and order. I am Bayard Rustin’s son, the black man who strategically organized people and resources to challenge the status quo and to demand justice from America. I am William H. Lamar III and Eartha A. Lamar’s son. I am only one generation removed from the ugliness of legal oppression in America. How can I celebrate liberty with bondage — economic bondage, educational bondage, political bondage, health care bondage, and religious bondage — all around me? On July 4, 2013, I will reflect on America as it was and as it is. And I will affirm my allegiance to my ancestors whose fight lives on in me.

Read William H. Lamar IV’s entire piece at the Huffington Post.

The Spirit of Garvey Must Live On

The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey

The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey

An editorial in The Final Call discusses the history and influence of the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey. His example of self-determination and racial pride should be a model that we study and apply to the struggle for our liberation.

In the 20th century, the struggle for Black liberation produced many giants and many who suffered for daring to assert our humanity and our divine right to self-determination. One of the men of that era never to be forgotten is the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey, a great son of Jamaica and a father of modern Pan-Africanist thought.

The Garvey-led Back to Africa movement is one of the most important movements of that time and all time. It was rooted in Mr. Garvey’s wise understanding that the Black man had to have his own place among the nations of the earth and that continued attempts to join on to the White Western World and America were pure folly.

While others craved to be close to the former slave master, Mr. Garvey called for an end to hypocrisy and for the Negro to reject the status of an inferior being. He was inspired by the work of Booker T. Washington and Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, but never met the great educator. He was also nurtured by earlier Pan Africanist and Black Nationalist efforts.

Read the rest at final call.com.


(PHOTOS) IBW Call to Action to End Mass Incarceration & War on Drugs

By Nick Westbrooks @NickWestbrooks

End the War

WASHINGTON (June 17, 2013) – D.C. residents and national supporters alongside the Institute of the Black World marched and rallied today in front of the White House urging the Obama Administration to end mass incarceration and the War on Drugs.

The Direct Day of Action marks the 42nd anniversary of the War on Drugs, and it brought a plethora of speakers including clergy men (Yes, they were all men.), leaders of community organizations relating to the criminal [in]justice system, law enforcement and reentry as well as activists and politicians. Rev. Jesse Jackson was the keynote speaker, and Mark Thompson the host of Make it Plain on Sirius/XM radio moderated the event. The youngest and the probably the only young person that spoke was Hip-Hop artist and activist Jasiri X who delivered a few rhymes before engaging in a brief speech on the criminal [in]justice system’s attack on the youth.

A few people held signs that read “the War on Drugs is a war on us” [Black people]. Unfair sentencing laws for nonviolent drug offenses and mass incarceration disproportionately affect African people in the United States. Activists fighting against the system constantly reference Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow to put the relationship between slavery/Jim Crowism and the current Black prison population into perspective.

Advocates are calling for federal intervention in particular for President Obama to end mass incarceration and the War on Drugs through either Congressional legislation or executive order. After its inception 42 years ago by President Nixon, families and communities have been destroyed by the War on Drugs, and many Americans are tired of it. Most supporters would prefer the government to focus on drug rehab, mental health and job creation.

Although the rally was small in number, the energy was powerful, and the message will get out to the masses through the various media outlets that were present –both national and international– and the influence of social media and the Internet. Petitioning the federal government is a step towards ending mass incarceration and the War on Drugs, but as Salim Adofo from the National Black United Front (NBUF) said, we need our own people in the boardrooms to change policy as well as the street soldiers in the community reaching out to the grassroots. We must unite across organizations, faiths and races and  implement all tactics and use all avenues to obtain the change we want to see.

View some of the photos from today’s rally below:

Colonialism 101: Obama’s Morehouse Speech and Blaming the Colonized for their Condition

I got this from NPR WFUV Radio. I don't own it...tried to select a photo that wasn't leading or editorialized even though this article is quite editorialized

I got this from NPR WFUV Radio. I don’t own it…tried to select a photo that wasn’t leading or editorialized even though this article is quite editorialized

I was debating on whether I should write about President Obama’s commencement address to the  graduates at Morehouse. I was absolutely moved to say something until several other articles starting springing up this week discussing issues primarily around the President and the First Lady lecturing African-Americans and speaking condescendingly towards them.

Writing for “Journal-isms,” Richard Prince reignites the reignited debate on Barack Obama’s attitude towards Blacks and whether they should display some “personal responsibility” or if it’s the government’s responsibility “he [Obama] leads to address African Americans’ plight.”

The title of Vanessa Williams’ article for The Washington Post is self-explanatory: “Obama Needs to Stop Lecturing Predominantly Black Audiences, Some Supporters Say.” Kai Wright’s post on Colorlines echoed the same sentiment about the Obamas’ “finger-wagging lectures.” Yvette Carnell marked the differences between Obama’s Morehouse speech and former president Bill Clinton’s speech at Howard noting that overall Clinton didn’t “make a racialized speech evoking tough love or the imaginary penchant black men have for excuse making.”

Dr. Boyce Watkins questions whether Obama would give the same “no excuses” speech to women and gay people, and Raynard Jackson critiques the Black bourgeoisie for venerating the President and not challenging him on “Black issues” like mass incarceration and teen pregnancy.  Of course you can’t leave out probably the most popular critique coming from Ta-Nehisi Coates, which reverberates the feeling that the speech was “hypocritical and condescending.”

To be fair, a Morehouse graduate, commented on Carnell’s article expressing support for Obama’s speech:

The speech that Obama gave was tailored to black males and was intended to prepare for what we are about to face once we enter the “real world”. It also charged us to be men who do not believe in excuses. I would not have wanted Obama to present a speech that he would at any other institution because Morehouse in not just any other institution. As black men we do not need to be “pacified” or “blanketed” from the harsh realities that we will face once we enter work spaces where in some cases there will be no one that looks like us.

It’s also fair to add that the speech was a hit amongst the graduates. It’s also fair to say that right before publishing, I came across Jack White’s article on The Root, which questions the harsh criticisms Obama received from Black commentators, and he contends that their comments went too far by challenging the President for sounding like a father figure rather than a politician.

I feel bad for adding to the list of editorial pieces about President Obama’s position on Black people and our issues, and I believe all of the scholars, journalists and pundits are brilliant and respectable individuals presenting thought-provoking and insightful opinions. I enjoy reading some of these writers’ thoughts on the daily basis. But, they all seem to have missed an important caveat that they’re either unaware of or don’t support: colonialism and the role it plays in America.

I probably would’ve forgotten about it if I didn’t just complete I Mix What I Like: A Mixtape Manifesto by Jared Ball. In the book, Ball analyzes how corporate control of the music industry compares to colonialism. How does this book relate to this discourse? The author provides readers with a general understanding of colonialism first. In order to understand Obama’s–seemingly-allegedly-possibly-maybe-based on some people’s opinions–condescending remarks to the Black college graduates, we must have a basic understanding of colonialism and neocolonialism (the 21st century manifestation of the former) and then learn one key lesson of colonialism.

In my own words, colonialism can be defined as the act of an autonomist power taking control of a dependent nation and its land, resources and people. The action has been in existence since the beginning of history, but the concept was popularized in the 19th century. It’s primarily associated with Africa and Europe’s assault on the continent. As mentioned previously, neocolonialism is the 21st century manifestation more covert form of colonialism.

Ball makes an interesting and compelling case, arguing that African America is a colony within the United States and that Black people are the colonized. It makes sense considering our history in America under slavery, terrorism and discrimination and our continuous predicament under the current versions of slavery, terrorism and discrimination.

It’s also critical to understand that many African-Americans are colonized regardless of affluence. Many are wealthy and/or (mis)educated but are either dependent on mainstream society, to an extent are psychologically enslaved or lack power. Money alone doesn’t equal power.

There are many key components of colonialism and lessons to take away from this concept. The single message on colonialism emanating from Obama’s speech and the number of columns and blog posts on “personal responsibility” and “tough love” is what Ball briefly mentions in his book in regards to what happens to any colonized group: “The colonized are blamed for their condition.” It’s a quite simple and concise lesson, but very profound and significant once it’s thoroughly and seriously considered.

What the President did in his speech and what many writers and analysts subconsciously danced around was that he blamed the colonized for their condition. Women and gay people are colonized groups as well, and Dr. Watkins is probably correct in his assessment that the President most likely wouldn’t offer the same patronizing tone if he were speaking to the aforementioned groups, but keep in mind that African-Americans and Africans throughout the diaspora are at the very bottom of the colonial pyramid.

Like the title of Frantz Fanon’s work on Algeria’s fight against French colonialism, Black people are considered to be the Wretched of the Earth. What makes this a sticky situation is that Obama was speaking to a crowd of young, Black men like myself and the speech could very well be identified as a father-to-son message, but I came this far…no turning back.

Most people with the exception of my African-centered, conspiracy theorist, Tea Party and apathetic  folks will disagree and strongly rebuke me in the name of Jesus for this assessment of the President. Logically speaking when Black people debate the President’s position on the Black condition, both Obama supporters and the opposition use the argument that he is not only the President of Black America, but he’s the President of the United States. This is indeed the truth, but not because he has to represent all of the diverse cultures and groups in America, but because he’s a representative and the spokesperson for the powers that truly control our society.

As a student of Pan-Africanism, the principle of colonialism within the U.S. isn’t farfetched.  Clearly I’m writing too much, but it’s all necessary (in my own mind). The point is that if we don’t expand our thinking, grasp these ideas of colonialism and neocolonialism and apply them to our political theory, we will continue having these dead-horse-beating, reignited and tired debates over Obama’s position on “Black issues,” how he talks to us and the so-called “Black Agenda.” How’s that coming by the way?

Jay Harris: Education, Record Deals, NFL Contracts and Making a Living

By Nick Westbrooks

Jay Harris aka Jay DatBull

Jay Harris aka Jay DatBull

I first read on the Root.com that Jay Harris, a standout Philadelphia high school wide receiver, turned down a football scholarship to Michigan State University to pursue a rap career. That led me to an article and video on deadspin.com that went into further detail about Harris’ decision and provided a glimpse of the aspiring rapper’s talent or lack thereof depending on your taste and preference.

According to the article, Harris, whose stage name is Jay DatBull was considering dropping football and pursuing music for a few years now, but he was afraid to tell his parents. At first, I was led to believe that Harris’ decision was strictly his own, but the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the football star’s explicit music and videos impelled the school to revoke his scholarship. A Michigan State spokesman says the decision was mutual.

In fact, in Jay’s first single DatBull 4 Life,” he raps about smoking weed, and in the video, he can be seen enjoying the herbal therapy with his crew. The writer of the DeadSpin article then comments that it’s more difficult to make a living rapping than it is playing in the NFL: “At the start of next year’s season, there will be some 1,700 on NFL rosters. There aren’t 1,700 men and women combined who are making NFL money by rapping.”

But with more than 140,000 views on YouTube within the first couple of weeks and the toxic recipe to create mainstream rap poison that would attract any major label, Jay DatBull has a chance at getting signed and making a living off of rapping. This brings me to my point of critical analysis.

The discussion—and there should be a discussion about this—concerning Jay Harris’ decision to drop college football to pursue rapping should go beyond his likelihood of making a living in either career. It should even go beyond the claim that he can get an education while playing football. And, it’s not about what his parents will think or whether it’s more important for him to chase his dreams or be realistic.

A rap career making music about smoking weed and having sex will bring him big checks to make a living and even enjoy some luxuries for himself, his friends and his family. But what’s missing is his consciousness. Being able to support yourself is necessary, and there’s nothing wrong with owning a few nice things, but in the words of the author and cultural historian Tony Browder, “money without consciousness will usually lead to self-destruction of some form or another.” Being a slave to a corporate record label that’s out to control the artist and his listeners will ultimately contribute to the continual destruction of Black people.

Many people mistakenly believe that money will bring them happiness, but money without consciousness will usually lead to self-destruction of some form or another. -Tony Browder

The sad reality with college athletes is that although they have the opportunity to get an education through an athletic scholarship, many of them either don’t receive an adequate education while they’re in school or they don’t finish and receive a degree. While living in the moment of playing football at a major Division 1 school, student-athletes can lose sight of life beyond collegiate athletics and don’t think of back-up plans just in case professional sports don’t work out. While in school at Howard University, I had a football player as a roommate one year. After telling him about my major and career plans, he told me that he never really thought of life after college football, and I encouraged him to seriously consider it.

Harris’ decision exceeds getting an education on a football scholarship, because earning a college degree doesn’t necessarily ensure that he will experience a change in consciousness when his foresight is already limited to becoming a professional athlete while attending an institution that considers him to be a mere commodity in a billion dollar industry who won’t even receive compensation for putting his body on the line. In addition, he’ll most likely be in a space where he won’t be exposed to his true history and learn that he is much more than a weed-smoker, athlete or entertainer.

Lastly, there’s the small chance that Harris could have made it to the NFL if he decided to stick with football. Playing professional football seems less harmful than rapping about weed and sex, but here again he would be making big money without having any consciousness, which will lead to his self-destruction. You can see it with the many multimillion-dollar earning Black athletes that have gone broke and the scores of others who have gotten in trouble and ruined their reputations for engaging in damaging behavior.

When we’re helping our Black youth plan their futures, we can’t strictly think in dollars and cents. While it’s important to argue which career Harris has a better chance in succeeding at, it’s also imperative to ask how he can use his potential career to improve the condition of his people by first liberating himself from the chains of psychological slavery. Harris can rap; he doesn’t have to play football if he doesn’t want to, but he needs a proper education to shift his paradigm, reach his highest level of excellence as Black man and to advance his people. We must begin to understand that the destructive path of the individual contributes to the destruction of the collective.


The Teachings of a King’s Mother

By Nick Westbrooks

The teachings of King Lemuel’s mother found in the last chapter in the book of Proverbs is a testament to the wisdom of our mothers, and it serves as a timely Mother’s Day message this year, and being a young man, it’s especially meaningful to me. The woman in the text gives her son a few words of advice that sons and even daughters can apply now.

First, it’s important to understand the premise under which this queen is advising her son. The king’s name tells a lot about not only his mother’s high expectations for her son, but it reveals his divine identity and the Creator’s expectations for him. The name Lemuel means, “belonging to God.”

When you’re consciously classified as property of the Most High, you have to live a particular way and not do certain things. As a man of God, Lemuel couldn’t hang out all night stumbling around town in a drunken stupor and lustfully chasing after women.

More important than the things you can’t do are the things you must do. This is an important lesson for us who identify ourselves as children of God. We have to live righteously as we represent our families, our ancestors, our God and ourselves.

What wisdom did King Lemuel’s mother impart in him? She taught him not to spend his strength on women and his “vigor on those who ruin kings” (Prov. 31:3). Commentary in the New Quest Study Bible explains that kings were susceptible to investing their time, money and energy on courting and marrying multiple women. Engaging in this type of behavior will lead to self-destruction and ruin.

In verses 8 and 9, Lemuel’s mother instructs him to practice social justice by being a voice for the voiceless and being a reasonable advocate for the less fortunate: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the right of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (NIV).

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the right of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy (NIV).

Sounds familiar right? In our society, poor people are marginalized and forgotten, because they don’t have the authority and resources to influence the dominant power structure. It appears that individuals who are in positions of privilege aren’t interested in working with anyone who can’t add to their power. The lessons taught by the king’s mother in these two verses are those that everyone should apply as it’s our responsibility as human beings and as God’s people.

To conclude the mother-to-son wisdom, Lemuel learns how to choose a wife of noble character. She tells him to choose a woman that is wise, works hard and exemplifies strength and dignity. But, one of the strongest pieces of advice from this epilogue in Proverbs is to choose a woman that transcends good looks and reveres her Heavenly Father: “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

At the moment, we don’t know anything about who King Lemuel was or his kingship. But we do know that he felt it was imperative to share the wisdom that came from his mother. He probably recognized the influence and role his mother had in shaping who he was and had become. On this Mother’s Day, this scriptural passage reminds us of the role mothers can have in building character in their children, and it now may serve as a model for all parents and guardians everywhere aspiring to rear their youth in ways that are pleasing to the Creator.

Women’s History Month: The History of Strong Women

By Nick Westbrooks

Bishop John R. Bryant, the Presiding Prelate of the Fourth Episcopal District and Senior Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and also the father of the Rev. Dr. Jamal Harrison Bryant recently preached at a recent Sunday chapel service at Howard University. As it was the first Sunday in March, Bishop Bryant’s sermon correlated with the start of Women’s History Month. His message entitled “The History of Strong Women,” told the story of Queen Vashti’s strength and highlighted the strength of other influential women in our history while encouraging women now to build on their legacies.

The first chapter in the book of Esther discusses King Xerxes, a dominant leader of great power and wealth who “ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush” (v.1 NIV). After a six-month exhibition displaying the “vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor of his glory,” he held a weeklong banquet (Bryant called it a party) for “all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa.” Meanwhile, his wife Queen Vashti held a banquet for the women. (v.4-5, 9).

Xerxes had an endless supply of fine wine and encouraged his guests to drink liberally as he did the same. On the seventh day of the banquet while in “high spirits from wine,” the king ordered his servants to bring Vashti before him so she could “display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at” (v.10-11). Providing commentary, Bryant emphasized that all of the men partying with Xerxes were drunk, and he was requesting that his wife –who was required to “walk in modesty”—parade herself in front of his guests.

Putting this point into perspective, Bryant asserts that Xerxes is objectifying and reducing his wife to a thing rather than a person. Upon receiving the king’s command, Vashti refuses to come, and the king becomes angry (v. 11-12). After his wife’s defiant act, Xerxes consults his law experts to decide what should be done to Vashti for disobeying the king’s command. The king feared that all women would become aware of Vashti’s conduct and begin despising their husbands. As a result, Vashti lost her crown and was permanently banished from King Xerxes’ presence.

Despite losing her royal position and her marriage, Vashti had enough strength to “stand for her personhood” according to Bryant. In the genealogy of strong women, he also mentioned individuals like Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Dorothy Height and Rosa Parks. These are all strong women that we should admire, but the bishop argued that we should go beyond veneration and not wait for the next comparable woman to liberate us.

It’s not enough to celebrate greatness. We must emulate it. We must be who we are in search of.

It’s currently a crucial time for everyone to study and pay homage to strong women in history, not only because it’s Women’s History Month, but because we live in a society beleaguered with sexism, misogyny and objectification that continues to be fueled by ignorance and misinformation. Men should learn the history of strong women to correct the falsehoods and stereotypes that have traditionally characterized women as weak, irrational and inferior. This may help to promote a new culture of giving women the respect and love they deserve. Women should learn the history of their strength to rise out of mediocrity, love and revere themselves, become the greatness that they seek and demand respect just as Vashti stood strong for her personhood.

By the Time I Get to Arizona: Public Enemy and MLK Day


By Nick Westbrooks

As an admirer of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and a fan of Hip-Hop music, I reflect on the classic 1991 Public Enemy song “By the Time I Get to Arizona.” The song and video is a response, and to me a diss track, to former Arizona governor Evan Mecham’s opposition to observing Dr. King’s holiday.

Music website Song Facts provides the background:

“The song deals with former Arizona governor Evan Mecham, who faced harsh criticism during his time in office after he refused to recognize Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday. John McCain was an Arizona senator at the time, and in 1983 he opposed creation of a federal holiday to honor King. He later admitted that this was a mistake, and in 1990 supported the holiday. The music video stirred some controversy, as it depicts the group assassinating the governor with a car bomb. The song and the video are Public Enemy at their most militant, implying that they will use force to advance their agenda.”

In addition to the assassination, the video depicts the racism common in the Jim Crow south along with the acts of resistance executed by African Americans in response. It’s a polarizing song/video. On one side, Gov. Mecham’s refusal to observe the holiday can be seen as racist, and Public Enemy may be applauded for speaking out. On the other hand, Dr. King’s philosophy emphasized nonviolence, and the depictions of PE’s militia, the S1W’s, performing target practice and placing an explosive under the governor’s limo may be perceived as hypocritical.

Chuck D raps:

“Wait I’m waitin’ for the date
For the man who demands respect
‘Cause he was great c’mon
I’m on the one mission
To get a politician
To honor or he’s a gonner
By the time I get to Arizona”

I also notice genealogical undertones in Chuck’s threats to the governor. The renderings of violence in the video are reminiscent of the 1968 riots in reaction to King’s assassination. Since, Arizona was merely one of two states refusing to observe King’s birthday as a holiday (New Hampshire was the other), I doubt that Public Enemy would incite national riots on a similar scale.

One may consider assassinating Gov. Mecham to be extreme, but as appreciators of Hip-Hop, we should commend PE for applying its musical genius and aesthetics to this social and political cause. The group should also be recognized for its conscious lyrics and its attention on matters important to Black people while appealing to the youth. Just like any issue affecting Blacks, we may agree that we’re there’s injustice, but we usually disagree about how to go about implementing solutions. Watch the video below.