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Decolonizing the Black Mind: Emancipating Oneself from Mental Slavery


From Bermuda to New York, from Idaho to Durban South Africa, viewers from across the globe gathered online to join Sydney Freeman, Jr., PhD, as he kicked off his three-day virtual summit titled “Decolonizing the Black Mind.” The summit ran from November 19–21, with all sessions made available to watch on both Facebook Live and via YouTube stream. Collectively, the summit generated around 5,000 views over its runtime.

“The purpose of this summit is to help liberate the minds of those who have been captive by white supremacy, and provide strategies and tools to decolonize our minds and provide a road map for our collective liberation,” Freeman said.

Freeman, who is associate professor in the Department of Leadership & Counseling at the University of Idaho, invited various guest speakers to host critical conversations centered around one main goal: to provide viewers, specifically Black viewers, with the guidance and tools to help decolonize their thinking both socially and spiritually.

Becoming Unstuck

Tiffany Llewellyn, DSW, LCSW-C, founder and president of Adventists for Social Justice, started the first session off by defining what decolonization is. She placed emphasis on how in order to begin the process of emancipating oneself from mental slavery, one’s previous way of thinking must be removed in order for a new way of thinking to take root and settle in.

“When we talk about decolonizing, we’re talking about how we program ourselves and our minds,” Llewellyn said. “Colonization has distorted how we see ourselves and each other, and it has also distorted our perceptions of God. Negative thoughts, systems, beliefs, and behaviors that have been injected into the psyche of individuals over the past century are what needs to be uninstalled, as it’s left Black Christians in the midst of an identity crisis.”

Additionally, Llewellyn urged people to walk patiently with others as they go through new learning experiences and gain a new self-awareness in an effort to rediscover their identities. She noted that it is not just reaching for the books and biblical texts, but instead having one-on-one conversations, “talking it out and connecting the dots,” and getting to know Jesus all over again.

“Colonization is deeply psychological… it changes our memories, our language, our judgment, our social behaviors,” Llewellyn said. “The result of colonization says to us, ‘I am not good enough for God, blackness is not good enough for God, black thoughts, black pain, and being black is not good enough to connect and experience God.’”

Over the years, Jesus has been warped to fit the mold of whomever is describing Him, however Llewellyn reminded viewers that when one turns to the Bible, they can get to know the one true form of Jesus.

“If we can accept Jesus’ identity and its true authentic form, then we can do the same for our own identities,” she said. “And by decolonizing Jesus, we re-capture the essence of our personhood. We remember that God has always intended and ordained it to meet us where we are.”

Don’t Confine Yourself to a Small Container

Stepping away from any previous profession can be a scary step, as it can feel like you are leaving God’s calling behind. Courtney Ray, MDiv, PhD, an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and President of the Society for Black Neuropsychology, gave advice on how one can transition from pastoral ministry over to something else without feeling guilt or anxiety. She said it’s important to note that ministry is larger than working for a church, and that being a pastor is not the only definition of a minister.

“There are so many other larger things that God is able to do through us in order to bless people and to evangelize to the world,” Ray said. “Whatever it is that God has asked you to do, if you feel that it is a calling on your life, don't be encumbered by the fear of your own inadequacies. God will give you the ability to fulfill that calling.”

Lola Moore Johnston, a motivational speaker and senior pastor of the Woodbridge Seventh-day Adventist Church in Virginia, shared Ray’s sentiments that it is okay to move from where you currently are. She said that if one finds their community to be toxic, or if they feel God calling them to grow elsewhere, they should not be afraid to pack themselves up and go somewhere else. Perhaps the setting one is currently in is not where they've been called to help dismantle the current oppressions. But if they go slowly and ask questions along the way, God will show them where their job of breaking the cycle will begin.

“There’s some forms of oppression that are our experiences over long periods of time because we have chosen to stay,” Johnston said. “And sometimes God is saying you can go.”

Re-defining Church: Evaluate Values and Be Accepting of Differing Cultures

Johnston reminded viewers that Jesus is notorious for inviting everyone to join His community. There were no limitations or turning away of others who didn't fit the “typical mold” of a church-goer. Age, race, ethnicity, and gender have no bearing on who can sit at the table next to Jesus.

“I believe that every time we see the kingdom of God and its ideal form, it is a diverse group of people who haven’t had to surrender their cultural differences in order to be faithful to God. God was not expecting or demanding that people surrender their cultural identity in order for it to be uniform, rather we surrender our hearts, uniform our allegiance to God, and then God infuses our cultural identity so that people can see a representation of Christ in their own skin.”

Pastor Joshua Maponga, a motivational speaker and philosopher from South Africa, finished off the summit by reiterating the need for a new definition and gave advice on how the church can better meet the community and teach contexts that are relevant to today’s current world.

He emphasized studying the cultures within the Bible and asking yourself if you believe in the text or if you believe in being politically correct. Understand that not everyone's worship experience is the same as yours, and that there is no right or wrong way to worship the same God.

“We [Africans] don't worship in the excellence of buildings, but in the canopy of creation,” Maponga claimed. “African worship for me includes clapping of hands, dancing, beating of the drum, all done together. It's not time bound. American theology teaches you holiness on a day. African theology teaches you that worship is a lifestyle.”


Taylor Dean is a junior Public Relations major at Southern Adventist University. She is currently the news editor for the university's student-led newspaper, the Southern Accent, and hopes to pursue a career in corporate communications.

Image courtesy of Dr. Sydney Freeman.


Further Reading:

An Interview with Sydney Freeman by Alita Byrd for Spectrum

An Interview with Tiffany Llewellyn by Alita Byrd for Spectrum

Tiffany Llewellyn’s “Girl Meets Church” podcast for Spectrum

Courtney Ray’s monthly column for Spectrum


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