Black History 365 includes originally composed music by Grammy-nominated producer Dr. Kevin “Khao” Cates, who has worked with notables such as Jay-Z, the late Nipsey Hustle, and Ludacris. This snippet of video is from a webcast about the project.
Dr. Walter Milton, Jr., remembers the shame he felt back in elementary school when his teacher announced to the class that they were going to learn about Black history and then started with slavery. He said he wanted to hide under the table. But later when he returned home that night, he also remembers the impact his parents had on his spirit when they explained that African Americans are descendants of ancient kings and queens. Dr. Milton and his partner, Dr. Joel Freeman, want other children to have that same impactful, eye-opening experience about Black history and that’s why they created the Black History 365 education curriculum.
“We want to give the students this whole experience about the Moors, the hunting, fishing, gathering, agriculture, all these different aspects how the civilizations began throughout ancient Africa,” said Dr. Freeman, who has included his personal photo collection of artifacts from Africa in the curriculum. “So, there’s images from the collection, where I’ve had people of African descent say, ‘Wow, I almost feel like I’m in that picture. I see my ancestors. I see myself there.’”
Both Milton and Freeman have strong educational and professional bonafides to take on a mission of bringing Black history to life in an innovative and technological way that will capture the heart and spirit of a new generation. Milton served as a school superintendent for twelve years in the states of New York, Michigan, and Illinois, and he taught at several universities across the United States. He’s also published several books addressing issues related to Black parents, schools, and education. Freeman served as player development mentor and character coach for the Washington Bullets/Wizards For 20 NBA seasons. He has also worked with the Association of International Schools for Africa (AISA), traveling extensively throughout the continent of Africa and conducting a number of training events for educators, government, and business leaders. Genuine documents and artifacts from Dr. Freeman’s personal collection have been showcased in exhibitions at the United Nations, White House, and Clinton Presidential Library.
“I met Joel when I was a superintendent back in Springfield, Illinois,” said Milton, adding that a friend of his insisted that he’d have a lot to talk about with the historian, who he called a “brother, but not a brother.” Milton was perplexed. “He’s a white guy? I said, okay, a white guy with Black history. No problem. So Joel and I met each other and the rest is history. He was one of the first persons that I called to start this project,” said Milton.
A Peek Inside Black History 365
When you first see the Black History 365 curriculum book, it looks like any other textbook. But take a peek inside and that’s where the ordinary becomes extraordinary. The artifacts from Dr. Freeman’s collection are sprinkled throughout the beautifully designed schoolbook, which begins with a chapter on Ancient Africa and ends with George Floyd. Students can scan QR codes with their smart phones that lead to originally composed music by Grammy-nominated producer Dr. Kevin “Khao” Cates, who has worked with notables such as Jay-Z, the late Nipsey Hustle, and Ludacris. Cates has a doctorate in education and through his own educational program called Bridging Da Gap, he has produced more than 600 songs for K-12 grade levels. The music is meant to engage listeners, but the QR codes also link to relevant people and places related to the subject matter. The eBook version of the book will have music and videos embedded right in it, no WIFI needed. An app is in development, too, as a way to integrate current events.
“Everyone around the country who downloads the app will get a spritz of information every morning. And then it creates this technological ecosystem where a teacher can start a class with that,” said Dr. Freeman. “Hey guys, what did you think about what you saw this morning…at the dinner table…in the grocery store? Whatever it might be, it can be sparked with these conversations.”
That said, the opportunity to bring in conversations is already a staple in the book. The “Elephant Experience” is a sidebar area to the core content of the text. It represents an opportunity to talk about hot topics that are often not so easy to discuss. In other words, the “elephant in the room.” The co-founders wanted to provide a resource that would invite students, educators, parents, and anyone else who engages with the material to become critical thinkers, compassionate listeners, fact-based and respectful communicators, and action-oriented people with solutions.
“One of the things we wanted to do with this elephant experience is deal with topics like three fifths of the human being and reparations. What about tearing down statues? And are we in a post-racial society since we had a Black president for two terms? Did Africans sell Africans into slavery? Topics that people butt heads about or talk past each other or just unfriend each other on Facebook,” said Dr. Freeman.
The Black History 365 project has expanded beyond the talents of Dr. Milton, Dr. Freeman, and Dr. Cates. The team now includes 30 additional expert educators, trainers, and instructors. Eager readers will have to wait until August to receive the curriculum, but you can pre-order it for $175 at BlackHistory365education.com.
Bob Kendrick, President of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO, had big plans for celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of baseball’s Negro Leagues. He was the driving force behind an effort that would have had all 30 major league teams, for the first time, participate in a salute to the Negro Leagues in an unprecedented show of solidarity. The “Tip Your Cap” campaign originally was tied to the celebrations with teams, players, and fans in those 30 stadiums that, at some point during the game, would tip their cap in honor of the Negro leagues.
“In baseball, there’s nothing more honorable you can do than a simple tip of the cap,” said Kendrick.
Then COVID-19 put the baseball season on hold.
Kendrick was desperate to find a way to salvage the centennial celebration. That’s when he thought of a virtual Tip Your Cap campaign. A few friends who liked the idea agreed to help him. It took them two weeks to pull together the monthlong campaign, which runs from June 29 through July 23. The campaign was a hit right off the bat. Outside of the fact that it’s a warm-hearted, positive activity amid chaos, people can easily participate by submitting a photo or video of themselves tipping their cap in honor of the Negro Leagues and email it to [email protected] or post a tribute on social media with the hashtag #tipyourcap2020. Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter have all recorded video tributes, as well as civil rights hero Rachel Robinson, baseball legend Hank Aaron, Derek Jeter, Reggie Jackson, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Billie Jean King, Tony Bennett, and Bob Costas, and many more. NASA Astronaut Christopher Cassidy even joined in the online celebrations from the International Space Station.
Negro Leagues Baseball Museum Celebrates 30 Years
But the centennial isn’t the only celebration happening this year for the Negro Leagues. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is the only one of its kind nationwide and celebrating 30 years in 2020. When it opened in 1990, no one gave it a chance.
“Here at historic 18th and Vine, there was nothing. It was like a lot of urban communities. It had died. It had been left abandoned,” said Kendrick. “Everybody thought we were crazy. But basically, it was the infinite wisdom of my dear friend, the late great, John Buck O’Neil, who said, ‘This is where we will build this museum. This is where the origins of the Negro Leagues took root. And we will build this museum here. And in doing so, we will help resurrect what was once this very proud, prominent community.'”
O’Neil was right. The museum has changed the landscape of the community. The same thing that the Negro Baseball league did for urban communities across the countries, the NLBM has done for Kansas City.
“It was never self-serving. It was always about the greater good. And that’s something to appreciate,” said Kendrick.
Believers in Kenya having a church meeting underneath a tree using materials from Urban Ministries, Inc.
How many of us have an old Bible on a bookshelf, a stack of old curriculum stashed in a closet, or several years of commentaries stored away in a desk? Did you know that in Africa and other parts of the world, some people are willing to walk miles just to get even one of those older pieces of Biblical literature?
Love Packages, a nondenominational nonprofit, takes on the arduous task of sending more than 1,500 tons of donated curriculum each year from churches and individuals nationwide to people all over the world who desperately seek them. They’ve got two warehouses – one in Decatur, Alabama, and one in Butler, Illinois. At various collection points around each state, people bring their used Biblical literature in any way they can – in horse trailers, cars, vans, trucks, and tractor trailers. Nine major publishing houses, including Urban Ministries, Inc., also make donations. Once the materials reach the Love Packages warehouses, more than 1,000 volunteers go through it and sort it into six categories: Bibles, reference materials, Sunday School literature, books, magazines, and daily devotionals (music/tracts/miscellaneous). Then, in the host countries, the materials are delivered in ocean-shipping containers to distribution points where various ministries, such as Every Home for Christ Assemblies of God or Evangelical Fellowship, distribute it.
The organization’s website is filled with testimonials from all over the world. One from South Africa this past February reads: “We had meetings last week at New Stock Road. After the preaching at the campaign, 46 people gave their lives to Jesus and we gave them the Christian material that we got from you, and also the little booklet of John and Romans, it was a great time of joy. Love in Jesus Name.”
Steve Schmidt, the founder of Love Packages, shared an experience he had on a visit to Zambia in 1999. It started when he read an article about the first elected president Frederick Chiluba, who was explaining that he was a born again Christian and he wanted to do everything in his power to bring the principles, precepts and powers of God to bear on his country. However, he didn’t have any literature. He wrote a letter to President Chiluba explaining his organization and he was invited to visit the country to help them out. When he met with a Bishop who oversaw 700 churches, he learned that most of the pastors didn’t have a Bible and none had Sunday School materials.
“That was in ‘99. We’ve improved that some. We’ve sent about 400 tons of literature into Zambia and we’ve been shipping into Zimbabwe now too,” said Schmidt, who said in general they ship 20 to 40 tons of literature every week. The 20-ton containers they use cost between $3,500 to $9,000. “Every 20-ton container has at least a half a million pieces of literature in it.”
A distribution center overseas receives commentaries from Urban Ministries, Inc.
Schmidt started Love Packages in the summer of 1975. He had four-year-old old Bibles and initially thought he’d use it to prepare lessons. But God had other plans.
“I argued with the Lord for about three months. Told him I was going to use it to prepare lessons. He said, ‘No, you’re not,’” said Schmidt, who questioned, “Who am I going to give an old Bible to? I don’t know anybody who wants it.”
But then he thought of some men who had just graduated from a Bible college and were going home to their home countries in Ghana, Nigeria, India, and various other countries. He wrote them a letter, asking if they had any need for old Biblical literature.
“I didn’t know there was a great need,” Schmidt said. “I didn’t know anything! But the letters seemed like they were only gone a couple of days and they were back, and said, ‘Yes, we can use as much as we can get here, as soon as you can get it here.’”
Schmidt and his wife started in the basement of their home and in the first year sent 60 little boxes overseas from August to January. As he went to various small church events held in his community, from the Baptist chicken dinner to the Methodist Pancake breakfast, the donations started to pour in. By the second year, people began dropping off boxes on their front and back porches and their living room was full of boxes.
“It grew that second year to three and a half tons. And then, the next year, seven tons, and eleven tons… And our goal for 2020 is to ship 2,020 tons!” said Schmidt. “Even with COVID-19, we’re still at 660 tons of literature that we shipped this year so far. And that’s just the literature that’s being used in different places. We’ll send enough literature this year for about somewhere between 60 and 80 million people to read.”
Between the two states in Alabama and Illinois, Love Packages maintains three full-time staff members in each state and is supported entirely by donations from churches and individuals. Youth groups or men/women ministries going on short-term mission trips, and even families in Illinois at the Butler warehouse are able to come and stay in two dormitories, one with 25-30 rooms and the other 10-15 rooms. Groups can stay for up to a week.
“You can eat dinner with us. There’s probably a hundred or so stories. We have a chalkboard and there are stories about different testimonies that happened and people who got saved or healed or got a book for the first time or etc. And we tell stories during the lunchtime and try to encourage people to think eternally and pursue God with all their hearts,” said Schmidt.
Fighting through a dark season in your life where you find yourself depressed and at times filled with debilitating sadness is challenging enough for the average person. But it’s hard to imagine what that’s like for those in the public eye, living under social media scrutiny. In his latest book, I am Restored: How I Lost My Religion, but Found My Faith, Lecrae reveals a maturity in his faith after navigating through the uglier side of politics and Christianity, being a celebrity, a Black man, and a believer.
It’s part of a series of initiatives in 2020 focused on his personal restoration as well as serving as a catalyst for others in his faith, the music industry, and within popular culture. In May 2020, he released “Set me Free” featuring YK Osiris, the first track from his forthcoming ninth album, “Restoration.” A documentary about his life also will be coming out this summer.
Lecrae’s journey toward restoration began in his first book, Unashamed, where he didn’t hold back in talking about what he’s been through on his road to salvation—from drugs and abuse to rehab and even suicide.
I recently spoke to Lecrae about restoration issues of race, practical steps for dealing with depression and dark seasons, and how he’ll raise his kids in the faith.
Shari Noland: The full title of your book is I am Restored: How I Lost My Religion But Found My Faith. It’s a provocative title. Can you explain the distinction you’re making between religion and faith?
Lecrae: I would define religion as working to earn God’s love and God’s affirmation, and faith being operating out of already having God’s love and affirmation. So, for me, it was understanding the difference between my devotion to God and God’s devotion to me.
Shari Noland: You spent some time traveling to Biblical places and being rebaptized. How did your travel to those biblical places influence your perspective on your faith?
Lecrae: Yeah, it was pretty intense. I think it’s almost like when my wife was pregnant, I knew there was a child coming, but I hadn’t seen the child. So, there’s a belief—there’s even ultrasounds—which is like I’m reading the Bible. I can get an idea, but it was just different once I saw the actual child. Similarly, it was like I knew these places existed, I knew God was real, but then just being there and then you see the evidence and you see the places that are written about was really mind blowing and just reinvigorated my faith on a different level.
Shari Noland: Do you have any thoughts about Black Jesus vs. White Jesus?
Lecrae: I actually do. If I’m being completely honest, that’s what a large portion of what my book talks about. I ended up in a dark season because of a lot of issues with race in the church. I had to wrestle with how my faith and my Blackness work together. And it wasn’t until I went to Egypt and I realized that we in America have a very Western perspective on the Bible and on God, and that’s okay. I mean, we’re from the West, so we should. However, it’s not always accurate. And I think because in the West, we’ve seen so many depictions of angels as white of Jesus as white, of the disciples as white, sometimes when you see the issues with race in America, that can help create problems within your faith. So, because you’re seeing issues of race or issues with your white brothers and sisters that are frustrating to you, you now begin to wrestle with your faith because it’s like, “Well, God, is this how you are?”
The only other example I can give is that I didn’t grow up with my father in my life. Older men were very abusive, and so for me to consider God being a father was just strange to me. I just couldn’t reconcile it in my mind for a long time. And long story short, I had to understand that. Yes, Jesus came to this earth and He dwelt in a human body, but He does transcend race.
But at the end of the day, your race and your ethnicity matters. There’s beauty in our diversity, and we should embrace that and accept that. Obviously, Jesus is not a white man. He isn’t from Europe, He’s a Palestinian Jew. He’s not an African American. He’s not an African man, but he’s a Palestinian Jew. He’s a person of color. And if that makes a difference to you, awesome. But ultimately, what should make a difference is what He did for you on the cross and how He lived. And that’s what we should pledge allegiance to more than His ethnic identity.
Shari Noland: You’ve mentioned that your grandmother took you to church at an early age. Given what you’ve been through in your life, how will you raise your children in the faith?
Lecrae: My grandmother was very traditional—so there wasn’t quite the children’s ministry. I didn’t really participate in any kind of youth programs or anything like that. It was just sitting in there and hearing her and some of her congregation on the organ. That was my church experience.
A lot of my grandmother’s children walked away from the faith because there were just way too many rules. They weren’t allowed to wear pants or lipstick. There’s so many rules in order to earn God’s love, so to speak. And she’s since changed a lot.
But I think, for me, I want to make sure my kids understand that there’s nothing they can do to make God love them any more or any less and that you live in light of love instead of trying to earn love. I wouldn’t want them to try to earn my love. I’d want them to just understand that daddy loves you and you don’t have to earn it. But because daddy loves you, that may change some of the decisions you make and change some of the actions that you take in life. And I hope they treat God the same way.
Shari Noland: What are your conversations like with God when you’re going through the creative process?
Lecrae: A practical step that I think for me, in my time of prayer or meditation, is that I remind myself that He’s present. The Psalms say that He’s the shade at your right hand. So I’m reminded He’s as close to me as my right hand is from me. So, I can talk to Him like a father. I can talk to Him in a way that my kids would talk to me. I don’t have to come to Him with these verbose wordings. If my kids came up to me and said, “Oh, mighty father, may I please go outside?” I’d say, “Well, why are you talking to me like that?” So, I just talk with God, and I say, “Dad, I’m struggling, and I’m wrestling with some of these things. Can you help me with this or with that?” And that changes the dynamic. He becomes close and present, versus being far and unapproachable.
Shari Noland: With the book, album, and documentary, how are you hoping to impact people? What messages do you want them to take from your initiatives?
Lecrae: For me, it’s being very transparent, very vulnerable. So, I show a lot of my scars, and hopefully, by showing off my scars, other people can realize that their wounds can be healed. So, I go in depth, I talk about my marital struggles, my career struggles, personality struggles, identity, politics, race, all those things that feed into our regular lives. I think sometimes people just say, “I’ll just pray, and it’ll be okay.” And prayer’s definitely a part of it, but there’s some action steps and there’s some struggles that people just don’t want to talk about. I want folks to find freedom by seeing how I’ve struggled through those things.
Shari Noland: In Unashamed you wrote, “If you live for people’s acceptance, you’ll die from their rejection.” and you often have said that these are words by which you live. Why?
Lecrae: Because that’s something I struggle with. Sometimes we get caught in this mindset of living for the acceptance of other people, and that’ll carry you into your ideas about God, as well. You get so wrapped up in trying to be what other people want you to be instead of being who you were created to be. And for myself, I’ve done that for a large portion of my life and my career. Oftentimes, people build you up in order to tear you down. So if you’re just trying to earn everyone else’s approval, at some point in time when they don’t approve of you or when they don’t agree with you, then you’ll be devastated. I want to free people from that thought process.
Shari Noland: Yeah, it’s hard sometimes not to crave acceptance from people. And I see what you’re saying about being true to yourself. But, practically speaking, how can people keep strong and do that?
Lecrae: We live in a comparison culture, so it’s fighting the temptation to compare yourself to other people. We all have our own races to run, so run your race as best as you can. I believe that success isn’t what I do compared to other people, success is what I do compared to what I was created to do. If I’m constantly looking over my shoulder at how everyone else is running and their success or their form, their stride, then I will not pay attention to my own self and my own abilities. So, that’s what I want people to just try to do as much as possible. It’s going to be a lifelong battle. It won’t happen overnight.
Shari Noland: Can you share a few pieces of advice with us? Maybe give a little tidbit of what’s in your book?
Lecrae: I think one is being vulnerable and transparent as far as your mistakes are concerned, as far as your shortcomings are concerned, with a close circle of friends. That’s been one of my steps in terms of getting past things. In terms of wrestling through issues of race or politics, I understand that I don’t have to find a tribe. The tribe that I belong to is God. So, there’s going to be moments in your life where you’re not going to fit in or you’re not going to agree, and that’s okay. It’s accepting that it’s okay and learning how to disagree with people but love them in the process and being okay with other people not agreeing with you and your decisions. So, I think those are some practical pieces of advice or proverbial wisdom that I try to give people.
Shari Noland: You’ve talked about the bouts of depression you’ve had and how God restored you from them. What advice might you give people who are going through similar struggles?
Lecrae: I think one is helping people understand that it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to be in seasons of blue and seasons of darkness. The Bible says, “We walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” So one, you’re walking through it, you’re not living in it. And then, it’s the valley of the shadow of death. So shadows are only cast when there’s light present. So, there’s always going to be light in the midst of the shadows.
I want people to know that it’s okay, to feel lesser than or feel strange or not feel like you’ve got to perk up. Embrace that moment. Sometimes we need to grieve.
And then, also there are some mental health or brain health components that are different. Some of what I experienced was different. It wasn’t just a sadness or a grief. It was a serious bout with depression. And when it comes to that, I’m a big advocate of medication, meditation, and mediation. Those three things shouldn’t be frowned upon. If you need medication, then take it. If you need mediation, which is a counselor, then take it. And meditation—spending time clearing your mind and spending time with being present and around Godly presence.
Shari Noland: What was the turning point that made you realize that you needed help beyond what you were doing on your own?
Lecrae: I mean, the basic analogy that I think people use all the time is the guy who’s praying. He’s drowning and he’s like, “God send me some help.” And a helicopter passes, and he says, “No, I’m waiting on God.” And a boat passes, he says, “No, I’m waiting on God.” And then, someone throws him a rope, he says, “No, I’m waiting on God.” And he ends up dying and he goes to heaven and he says, “God, where were you?” And God says, “Man, I sent you a boat, a plane, and a rope, you didn’t take it.”
Similarly, I think oftentimes we think, “Oh, I’m just going to pray it away, I’m going to pray it away,” and we don’t realize, “No, no, no, no, no. God is furnishing you with these options to give you the help that you need.” And so, that is a means of God’s grace and His goodness, and that’s what I felt about Him and how other people should feel. The goal is to be healthy. That’s it. That’s the goal. And if God is giving you a means to be healthy, then take it.
Photo on UrbanFaith.com home page courtesy of Alex Harper