In this podcast Amadon DellErba interviews Masud Olufani, a multidisciplinary artist, activist, & writer, based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a follower of the Bahá'í faith; the host of “America's Most Challenging Issue,” a podcast about racism in America; and the co-host of “Retro Report,” a PBSprimetime investigative news show that looks at news events through the lens of history.
Together Amadon and Masud explore art, religion, spirituality, and the parallels between the Baha'i faith and Divine Administration. They discuss the blight of slavery and racism in American, and how it differs subtly in the lives of indigenous and First Nations peoples. A refreshing conversation between two truth seekers, who have found a kindred spirit in each other. (GR\DT 23)
You can learn more about Masud Olufani at his website: https://www.masud-olufani.com/
Listen to “America's Most Challenging Issue” podcast here: https://bahaiteachings.org/podcasts/americas-most-challenging-issue/
Masud Olufani: My first identity is spiritual in nature, that's my primary identity. My secondary identity is my culture of origin, it's the fact that I'm male, it's the fact that I'm an artist. Those are all secondary identities. But the thing I foreground when I enter a space, is that primary identity first. It’s the thing that allows me to look at everybody and say: “Oh, there's my sister. Oh, that's my aunt over there. Oh, that's my mom. That's my dad over there.” It's that interconnectedness that, you know, that is such an essential aspect; the foundational element of being a human being that connects us all. So yeah.
Amadon DellErba: That’s beautiful. I like the way you phrase that, your primary identity and your secondary identity. And that's consciousness that allows you to be a unifier and not a seperator.
“Nothing You Do Matters Unless What You Do Matters”
I’m Amadon DellErba and this is “Get Real or Die Trying”
Amadon DellErba: Good afternoon, Amadon DellErba here with “Get Real or Die Trying.” I'm really excited to be here today on Episode 23. I'm sitting down, and I feel honored to have a conversation here, with Masud Olufani, and he is a gentleman that I have a lot of respect for. I've never met him, but just from reading his work, seeing his videos, seeing his art, I really was drawn to what his calling is and what he's doing in the world. He's a multidisciplinary artist, he's a writer, he's an actor, he's a host of the podcast “America's Most Challenging Issue,” he's the co-host of “Retro Report” on PBS - a primetime investigative news show that looks at news events through the lens of history - and he's a member of the Bahá'í faith and he's a man of God. So, very excited to sit down with Masud. How are you doing today, brother?
Masud Olufani: I'm doing pretty good, man. How you doing?
Amadon DellErba: Really good. Thanks for coming on, man.
Masud Olufani: I'm happy to be here, brother. Happy to be here.
Amadon DellErba: Well, we got a lot to talk about. I definitely want to dive into some spirituality and your Bahá'í faith and how you interpret your view of life and things in the world through all that. But first I want to talk about your art. For those of you who don't know who he is, check out his website, but a lot of very good pictures there of your different sculptures and different art forms. I find it very fascinating and I really appreciated how you blended in a lot of cultural important historic facts into your art. So it was not just…. it was kind of an educational lesson, too, viewing the art. I found it fascinating to be taught some of what you were trying to communicate - historical facts through art. Tell me about your art and how, how you see your art in the world.
Masud Olufani: Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting, man. I mean, you know, I've been engaged in making visual objects ever since I was about four years old, you know? So a long time, just naturally drawn towards, you know, renderings and draftsmanship and, you know, cartoon characters initially and then I developed over time. You know, I think the work that I'm making now, you know, which operates in multiple spaces creatively; like it's sculpture, but then it's also some drawn imagery, there's sound, there's video in some of the work as well. It's informed by a deep concern that I've always had regarding memory, historical truths, historical myths, historical lies… Seeing how our past, our memory, our history impacts us today. The links between the then and the now. And also, the possibility of what may be. So conceptually those are issues that have always kind of been... that I've kind of revolved around, you know, and always come back to consistently.
I think those conceptual interests, I think can be traced back to developing a deep love for reading, which happened when I was in high school, I was living in Queens, out in Far Rockaway, near the beach, and I was actually going to school in Newark, New Jersey. So that train ride is usually between 60 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes long. So, I just had a lot of time so I started reading and fell in love with narrative stories, narrative structure. And was just naturally drawn to historical nonfiction books. And that's kind of where the love for those historical… mining the historic past, as kind of like creative fodder began for me.
Amadon DellErba: Very cool, man. Yeah, I appreciate that you, you know, some people, I guess just do art for an emotional release and it may not even have a meaning. It's just an abstract piece of art. It has a meaning to them but it's not easily tangible to others. I think what I really liked about looking at your art is that, it has a very clear meaning, you know, and it's… and art, to me, should always communicate something, you know, should communicate a message. It should uplift. And I think when we were talking on the phone a few weeks ago, I mentioned that I read The URANTIA Book and you know, there's a great quote I thought you would appreciate in The URANTIA Book about art. There’s actually a few. I kinda, I kinda think you're a poet, too. From hearing you speak, and hearing you write and, one of those is, “Only a poet can discern poetry in the commonplace prose of routine existence.”
Masud Olufani: Hmm. I love that. I love… Yeah, I love that.
Amadon DellErba: And so I think some of your sculptures, I thought like, wow, this is actually a tragic thing. Or, you know, it's really a mundane thing of the existence, but you turned it into poetry and communicated that way. And, of course the art… this quote, “The high mission of any art is, by its illusions, to foreshadow a higher universe reality, to crystallize the emotions of time into the thought of eternity.”
Masud Olufani: Yeah. Yeah.
Amadon DellErba: So I thought you might appreciate that, just being an artist.
Masud Olufani: No, definitely man. Yeah, absolutely. There's a beautiful quote in the Bahá'í writings that says “Art is a ladder for the soul” and I think it lifts us, you know, hopefully it's our intent as we, you know, utilize these gifts and these disciplines is really to elevate consciousness and thought get us to a higher place, which I think those two quotes that you shared definitely are in line with that kind of aspirational view of an artist who aspires to use their work in a deep and meaningful way. So, yeah, man. That's awesome. Thank you brother, for sharing that.
Amadon DellErba: Thank you, if there's one piece of art that you would consider your favorite that you've done and our listeners, you'd want them to check out, what would that be? You name your art, you know...
Masud Olufani: Yeah. Yeah. You know, the one that I'm thinking a lot of, probably because it's the most recent and it's a public work of art is the Elder Project that I just completed.
Amadon DellErba: I saw that.
Masud Olufani: Yeah, and that's important, I think, because it foregrounds the history of a person that a lot of people don't know about which was David T. Howard, who formerly had been an enslaved person and after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, he was able to develop an undertaking business here in Atlanta and acquired, you know, a certain amount of monetary success. And then purchased some land where the original David T. Howard school was built. And that school along with Booker T. Washington school, here in Atlanta, were the only two schools that would educate black students in the city. So, you know, it's a rich history that site and all of the people who came through that school - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. went to that school as a boy; Maynard Jackson, the first African American mayor of Atlanta; and other notable people. And so for that project, you know, just because of that history, it was profound. But also because I got to work with alumni from the school and cast their hands and their hands become a central element in the piece. And I was able actually to cast the hand of one of the original graduates of the original high school class, which is 1946, I believe. And she's in her nineties now. Brought her into the studio, she held her hand very steady, we got a really good mould off her hand, and, you know, now she's included in this piece to honor that history. So...
Amadon DellErba: That is cool.
Masud Olufani: Yeah, so a lot of that, you know, that idea of memory and historical realities and legacy and the elders, you know, those who we unfortunately in our society too often discard, but they really are the repositories of memory and of history, and they’re so such an important integral part of a healthy society. So, yeah...
Amadon DellErba: Yeah, absolutely man. Yeah, I was attracted just to the name of it and then I saw the hands coming out and I was like, I had the thought, “I wonder if those are specific people's hands,” you know?
Masud Olufani: Yeah. Yeah.
Amadon DellErba: And of course the elder… the lack of, in our culture, respect for our elders today is really quite sad. And not just our chronological elders, but our spiritual elders, you know, the people that have gone before us, made the right choices, have a lot of wisdom to offer. And young people today don’t seem to have the appreciation and respect, you know, that they did at one time.
As a young man, I, myself, you know, I fail on that sometimes. But as a young man who's trying not to fail, I feel it's important for me to preach, to speak to other young people, to, find their elders, respect their elders, learn from them, you know. I have spiritual teachers. I have spiritual elders. And sometimes your spiritual elders tell you things you don't want to hear and that's part of the growth, you know. I'm sure we'll get into that more as a man of God, yourself, in the Bahá'í faith.
But yeah, like I said, I really appreciate that your art communicates a higher message. You know, when you look at it, anyone who's got the eyes to see, they can tell that it's not really about you, and that's what I appreciate. You know, the art’s not about you, it's about you're trying to communicate something bigger than yourself. You're trying to communicate historic facts and moving things that really place a lot of value and time on a whole culture, the African American culture, too, a lot of, of what's gone on in the past. So thanks for that. I find it very educational.
Masud Olufani: No, I appreciate you on that, man. I appreciate it. You know it's interesting because I'm thinking about, you know, indigenous communities, man, and how the arts have a very, like, they're an integral part of those communities, right, historically. Whether you're talking about Native American indigenous tribes, whether you're talking about African indigenous tribes, you know, tribes from South Latin America, South America, what have you… And, you know, art is really this fundamental, like, force within the totality of the culture. And even something as simple as a drinking vessel is treated with this incredible creative care, the way they designed it, the way it's executed, so that you're constantly surrounded by beauty. And that has a meaning, right? In the way that we shape our lives.
So, yeah, man, I think about that as I'm in my studio. I'm like, “How can this work, this process?” You know, which is, which has these kind of mystical and majestic elements. How can it be in service to something that's greater than me? And, that for me it's really always the intent and the aspiration and so I appreciate you saying that. I'm trying, brother, I'm trying.
Amadon DellErba: Thanks, man. So tell me a little bit about how you came, how you became part of the Bahá'í faith? You know, I think I read on your website, it was during university, it was introduced to you. And what were some of the things that attracted you to the Bahá'í faith? What were the main tenets, or what really drew you in?
Masud Olufani: Yeah. You know man, I grew up man, with this really kind of like, ecumenical kind of experience with religion. I mean… and it wasn't that my parents were intentionally trying to be ecumenical and you know, kind of expose me to a number of different faiths. It just happened by chance that my father at one point was very inspired and influenced by Malcolm X. So for awhile, I was in the Nation of Islam as a kid, I remember going to mosque. My grandmother was a Lutheran, so I used to go to Lutheran services. For a while we went to Southern Baptist. So I had this like, really kind of varied kind of engagement with religion and spiritual expression within the context of religion.
And then when I got to college I really began to think critically about how religion manifested itself in practice, right? And how it, in ways that it lined up and in ways that it deviated in some fundamental ways from the teachings of the Messenger or the Manifestation of God of that particular faith, whether it be Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Mohammad, so forth and so on. And one of the things that was really interesting to me, my experience with Christianity, was I couldn't understand why there was so many different churches that catered to a particular…. they seemed to be very culturally exclusive. So you had a white church, you had a black church, you had an Asian church, you had a Latin church. And Christ's message, to me, seemed like it was one. It was about a kind of… inherent in it was a kind of… a sense of unity in the sense that those teachings were for everybody. Everybody can find something meaningful in those teachings. So I didn't understand that division and there were other things that were troubling to me. The kind of disharmony or the lack of harmony between science and religion; how it seemed to be a conscious decision within certain expressions of Christianity to kind of gut, right, the religious expression from the... gut science from that expression. So, you know, science was something to be viewed with skepticism or a kind of suspicion, you know, and that didn't make sense to me cause I was like, well, God created the world. And I'm like, there seems to be an inherent harmony between everything within the world. I mean, all of the creatures, the water, the air, you know, the sky, all of these things seem to be working in a kind of symbiosis; a kind of harmony there. So it didn't make sense to me why science would be rejected.
And then when I found the Bahá'í Faith (which I didn't go looking for) I was introduced to it. There was a young woman I was seeing when I was a student at Morehouse and she was a theater student while I was in the art department. And she was the one, she was not a Bahá'í, but she respected the Bahá'í Faith. And at the time I thought I was going to be an Episcopalian priest. I mean, I had kind of, my career had kind of changed cause I was going to an Episcopalian service, liked it, so forth and so on. And, but, she's like, “I don't think you're going to be a priest Masud, but I think you might like the Bahá'í Faith.” And she was the one that arranged the introduction to a woman who I now refer to as my spiritual mother, Jamila Canady, who's a long-standing Bahá'í here in the community and just a community servant, just a wonderful servant. And that's how I began my engagement with the Faith. Interesting, the postscript to this story is that the woman who I was dating, who I had asked to marry me, who had said yes, she contracted breast cancer and she died when she was 23, shortly after introducing me to the Faith. So she had gone to New York University to start a graduate work, and found out she had breast cancer and literally died within the year. So that's a profound kind of dimension of that story. Like she was on her way out, but prior to her leaving, she was like, “I'm going to open this door for you.” You know? And so, yeah, I think about that quite often when I reflect on that story and, you know, what a key role that she played in me becoming a Bahá'í, so…
And the faith answered a lot of those questions for me, the oneness of mankind, which is the core principle of the faith. That's the main principle… of harmony of science and religion, equality of women and men, spiritual solutions to social-economic problems. So all of these things resonated for me and seemed to answer those questions that kept haunting me in my previous experiences with religion.
And so, and that's how that journey, that journey began, man, for me. Yeah.
Amadon DellErba: Wow. Very cool. Thanks for sharing. You know, I study a book called The URANTIA Book, which is a Revelation, it's the Fifth Epochal Revelation. And I study the Continuing Fifth Epochal Revelation, these books called The Cosmic Family Volumes. And there’s so many similarities between the Bahá'í. And, you know, I don't consider myself a part of any religion, or a religionist, but I consider myself a religious man in the true context of what it means to be religious. But not in the, not in the dogma and the, kind of the separations that you were talking about that we see in so many of the religions, and the isms and the schisms.
Masud Olufani: Yeah, absolutely.
Amadon DellErba: It creates a lot of separation actually. And I'd like to, I've always been very attracted to the Bahá'í Faith and consider myself Bahá'í in many ways, as far as my agreement spiritually in my heart and soul with the tenets of it. I was blessed to visit the Bahá'í Temple in Chicago and had a really beautiful experience there. And I've read a lot of the teachings from the Bahá'í Faith. And so oftentimes depending on what situation I'm in, someone will ask me, “What's your spiritual beliefs?” I'm like, “Well, you know, Bahá'í is pretty much the closest thing. If you want to label me something, label me Bahá'í.” I read the The URANTIA Book and I think there's truths in all religions, you know? And I think there’s a lot of similarities in some of these tenets, you know, Bahá'í talks about the unity of science and religion and what I study is called Ascension Science, and that’s the fusion of spirituality and science… And the importance that they're combined. And there's such a separation in other religions, as you mentioned. My parents actually founded a university called The University of Ascension Science and the Physics of Rebellion, and so that's a similar teaching there. And then of course equality of the sexes as men and women. We have teachings about divine pattern and the balance of man and woman both being in leadership roles, and the Mother Spirit and the Father Spirit. And of course, one foundation for all religions and we have a similar concept called “unity without uniformity” and that’s what The URANTIA Book teaches. My father, Gabriel of Urantia, has a quote: “One God, one planetary family.” That’s it.
Masud Olufani: I love that. I love that. I love that. Yeah.
Amadon DellErba: A lot of similarities there brother that really, you know, connect. And one thing too is I was reading about the Universal House of Justice. And of course we have the concept also, another parallel concept, Divine Administration. It’s an administration that governs the whole world, that is divinely led. It’s divine, because the human people are in contact and hearing from God, and listening to God. And there's a divine connection, you know, and that's really important. My mother actually also has been to the Bahá'í Temple, she sent me… I told her I was going to be interviewing you and she sent me this book here “World Peace and World Government.” I've been kind of skipping through this. You know,I really appreciate how this was done because in my own belief, personal beliefs, you know, I have these, I'm very convicted, and committed to what I believe in and passionate about it.
And then there's a lot of... I do get into a lot of debates with people sometimes, and how to answer someone's questions, “well, how does that solve the problem?” can be difficult. And this is a really good way that Tyson came up with, the Bahá'í approach to world peace, and really the world government, which I also believe in by the way, world government; Divine Administration is what we call it. And, there's a line in here that stood out to me here, it says, “Some religious people will claim that the creation of a world government is insufficient to solve all of the problems of humanity. Because a world government can not address the spiritual element of the problem. Bahá'í’s would wholeheartedly agree with such a view. The spiritual development of mankind is the ultimate solution to problems induced by materialism.”
Masud Olufani: Yeah, absolutely.
Amadon DellErba: In the words of Bahá'u'lláh, “The corrosion of ungodliness is eating into the vitals of human society. What else, but the elixir of his potent revelation can cleanse and revive it.” And so that to me, sums it up, that it's about spiritual consciousness
Masud Olufani: Absolutely. Absolutely
Amadon DellErba: The Spiritualution, it’s basically the same thing as the Bahá'í faith of oneness, it's the spiritual unity, it's the merge of the word, spiritual and revolution and spiritual and solution, a spiritualution. Spiritualution is the Solution.
Masud Olufani: Oh, I love that love. Yeah. I love that.
Amadon DellErba: My father created that in the early nineties, man, Spiritualution is a, it's a consciousness movement, man. So, that's what the Bahá'í faith is talking about, man. It's all the same, man. It's about one love.
Masud Olufani: Absolutely.
Amadon DellErba: Having that consciousness together.
Masud Olufani: Yeah, yeah.
Amadon DellErba: What do you, I think you'd, I mean, I know you do a lot of work with, racism and educating around that and you have that great talk, “Erasing the Stain of Racism.” What do you think it's gonna take for that spiritual consciousness, on a mass level, to rise? Because I have my opinions. I'm curious what you think, what is it going to take for really a global consciousness desire for a unified spiritual consciousness?
Masud Olufani: Yeah. You know, man, it's so interesting because you know, we spent… this quagmire of racism, which in America we've been at for some 401 years, right? Which was predicated on, well, it was developed in response to the challenge of reconciling behavior with Christian teachings; behavior that deviated from Christian teachings. And was tied very much to the economic engine, you know, here in America. So how do we get free labor to, you know, pick the cotton, you know, plant the cotton, cut the sugar cane, cut the tobacco leaf and all of that. And then racism, of course, develops out of that as a way to justify the enslavement of a group of people, of our brothers and sisters who happened to be of African descent.
So we've been at this predicament for a long time, for four centuries, and it's gonna require a deep commitment, what the House of Justice says, there are two qualities that are indispensable to this work, which are “patience and perseverance.” And patience in the sense of being patient first with myself as I engage in this process, right? That I am… that I recognize that this is going to be the work that is gonna require me to tolerate discomfort; to actually consciously go into spaces that are uncomfortable so I can engage in these conversations and what, in the Bahá'í Faith, we call meaningful conversations; meaningful connections, built one-on-one between people and individuals. So that you can break down some of these divisions.
So if I look in my circle of friends and I say, and I take a, from a practical point of view, I'd take a stock of my friendships. And I say, “Man, all of my friends are African American.” Well, that can become kind of like an echo chamber. Right? And it doesn't really... Am I really doing my part in helping to break down these divisions by maintaining a circle of friends that is exclusively from my culture of origin? So I have to consciously on a day to day basis question myself in regards to my circle of friends, look at what am I doing on a daily basis to help propel this idea, this concept, the spiritual law of the oneness of mankind, forward? And so one thing I can do is to make sure that I'm building those relationships across culture, across social economic divides, across gender. So I'm extending that circle, that pool of humanity, right? That connective tissue. So I'm essentially, what I'm doing, is playing catch up in a way to the spiritual law. Right? I mean, the reality is that we're one, that you and I are brothers. Right? So if I am in some way, right? If I come from a situation or environment that has told me that that's not the reality, well, I've got to get that stuff out of my system. I got to spend a lifetime purging myself of that poison. Because this reality is what it is, that's not changing, you know? So I have to play catch up. And then I, on… So that's on an individual level. So those are, those are the things that I'm interested in doing on an individual level.
But then there is this kind of communal activity that the Bahá'í community at large is engaged in, which is something that we call the core activities or a plan of action, which is about spiritualizing our communities and our neighborhoods through activities and initiatives like children's classes, junior/youth gatherings, devotional gatherings, junior/youth empowerment workshops. And all of these are about really developing meaningful relationships and connections with people in your neighborhood, young people as well as older people, people who are, you know, similar to you in age, and doing it around spiritual principles and laws; doing it around the word of God. It's not about converting anybody to Bahá'í or trying to proselytize anybody about the Bahá'í Faith. It really is about, let's see what we can do as a community, right? These are some actions that we can take that are centered around the teachings of God, that can help us deepen our relationships, that can help us develop stronger connection, and have a healthier community for everybody. You know, no matter what your spiritual choice is, what you choose to do, spiritually, whether you're a Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, you're none of those things. But these are some cohesive ways that we can work to build a more unified community; extend that pool of humanity, of brotherhood and sisterhood, and heal this America of this conundrum, this sickness, this malignancy of race, which has perplexed us for 401 years.
Amadon DellErba: Thanks brother. Oh, it's long overdue man. It's time for that stuff to be dropped, you know? I feel like we've gone a little backwards the last four years, of course.
Masud Olufani: We have, we have
Amadon DellErba: But in some ways it's actually accelerated the awareness and the need… It's kind of dug up some of that stuff that was buried, not really buried, but you know what I mean? Like it’s coming out in the country right now, and it's the cleansing process. It's the times that we live in.
I was going to ask you about, you know, being Bahá'í… Have you ever experienced discrimination for being Bahá'í? Cause I know from my own personal standpoint, you know, I grew up in a community. And early on we were called a cult, you know, and so that was the bias. And you know, I was having a conversation with someone the other day… and I didn't want to be presumptuous and say that I, as a white man, could ever put myself in the shoes and say, I know what it's like to be a black, African American man, and be black, and feel racism, and be called a n*gger, and all these things. But I could understand discrimination of that type of attitude, for being, you know, “You're part of a Cult,” and this type of discrimination, religious discrimination, and the feelings of that. And it kind of occurred to me like, wow, that's what it feels like. Imagine that, but even worse, all the time. That's what racism feels like, you know?
And you can't hide the color of your skin. I can hide my religious belief. No one knows what I believe until I start speaking, then the discrimination comes out. And so I had this profound experience of like. “Wow.” You know, putting myself in the shoes of another man, of another color, whether it's black, Asian, you know any minority group… And how that, you know… because I think that white males, white people need to do that to understand their white privilege. They need to understand, because we don't understand that we are privileged, right off the bat. And when I started kind of consciously diving into that I experienced a heartfelt, like, wow, you know, that is what it's like, you know…. I forgot what I was going to ask you, but I'm going somewhere..
Masud Olufani: You were, you were saying you were, you were saying, have I ever experienced discrimination as a Bahá'í? Yeah.
Amadon DellErba: Yes, thank you. Yeah, obviously racial discrimination, but have you ever experienced a religious discrimination?
Masud Olufani: Yeah. I mean, I would say skepticism, people kind of looking at you kind of side eyed, I've gotten some of that. People trying to prove to you that you're wrong and they're right. I'm fortunate, you know, as a Bahá'í, because one of the core principles is independent investigation of truth. So we all have a responsibility to investigate the truth for ourselves and then determine where we land on that. So, you know, you can't be a Bahai’ because your parents were of a Bahá'í. You can't be a Bahá'í because, you know, you were born into a Bahá'í family. That really is dependent on your own investigation of the writings of Bahá'u'lláh. And then you make a decision, you know, and that is to be encouraged, it's a spiritual law, and to be encouraged in everybody. The Bahá'í, you know, beyond some of the mechanics of being a Bahá'í, like a believer in Bahá'u'lláh and his station of teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, at its core the high faith means seeker of the truth or seeker of the light.
So wherever you find that light, and that truth, and that reality, embrace it, you know? And this is why, you know, we have to be… This whole thing with other religions, sometimes when they get into, “Well, it's our way or the highway,” or “If you don't believe this way, you're going to hell,” and all of this. And you know, when some Christians say that about Muslims, I'm like, there's a billion Muslims in the world. They can't all be wrong. Now, there is something profound in The Quran that they found that speaks to their heart. When I read The Quran I find some beautiful writings in The Quran. It speaks truth to me. I can go and I can read some of the quotes from indigenous communities and they speak to me in the same way. You know, I can read some African Proverbs, they speak to me in the same way. So that's the light of truth. And I think the heart, as Khalil Gibran says, you know, “No man can reveal to you aught of that which lies already half asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.” You know, and then goes on to say… He talks about rhythm, and he talks about how the truth is “like a rhythm that plucks the strings of the heart.”
And, you know, so, I mean, it's like we know it's something that is beyond words that can't be quantified in language, that can't be proven in terms of a scientific experiment in a lab. You know, when you come face to face with it. And that's what I always want to be open to and to continue to cultivate is that awareness, that listening ear that is able to hear that rhythm, and have my heart respond to the reality of that.
So, yeah. You know, in short I've received, certainly some side eyes, some suspicion, but, you know, I'm fairly clear about where I am and you know, you just love people, man. People are where they are and if that's where they are and they have a hard time opening their eyes and… you just have to love them through that, man, you know, and that's all you can do.
Amadon DellErba: Life is so much more pleasant when we just accept where other people are at. Not that you're complacent or you allow evil, but not trying to force things, you know, and you love them through it. It takes a lot of stress? It’s cool you mentioned Gibran because he's a huge hero of mine in his work, and he's got that quote: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encompasses your understanding.” That is such a big one that we have to realize that we get in our mental and our consciousness comfort zones and it's painful to kind of break out of those. You said a couple of things in a speech that I've watched a few times cause it was so good, “Erasing the Stain of Racism” speech, and wanted to pull up something here. You said, I'm kind of paraphrasing here, but, “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” And that really stood out to me because that's another parallel of something I believe from The URANTIA Book and it says: “Throughout the universe, every unit is regarded as a part of the whole. Survival of the part is dependent on cooperation with the plan and purpose of the whole. The wholehearted desire and perfect willingness to do the Father's divine will.”
Masud Olufani: Yeah, yeah. I love that. I love that. Yeah, it's interesting because it reminds me of the whole idea of tossing a pebble into a pool of water, and those ripples extend from the center. And the entire pond at some point is impacted by those ripples. And so nothing that we do is in isolation, we're all interconnected. So that is always something… And that quote that I said in that talk comes from the poet, John Donne, who Dr. King used to often quote. I just thought he phrased it so beautifully and so perfectly about our inherent interconnectedness. And how you know, we may attempt to block ourselves off, to close our borders, to build walls, but the reality is a virus can find its way through those walls. Love can burst through those walls, you know? So there's no way really of closing ourselves off completely. We are interconnected. And, so, you know, I love that, man. And it's the fact that, you know, that knowing that my identity, my first identity is spiritual in nature, that's my primary identity. My secondary identity is my culture of origin, it's the fact that I'm male, it's the fact that I'm an artist. Those are all secondary identities. But the thing I foreground when I enter a space, is that primary identity first. And so the thing that allows me to look at everybody and say: “Oh, there's my sister. Oh, that's my aunt over there. Oh, that's my mom. That's my dad over there.” It's that interconnectedness that, you know, that is such an essential aspect; the foundational element of being a human being that connects us all. So yeah.
Amadon DellErba: That’s beautiful. I like the way you phrase that, your primary identity and your secondary identity. That's consciousness that allows you to be a unifier and not a seperator. And so many of us in this Western culture… Really all over the world, humanity, I think humans are raised not even consciously, but raised the wrong way… To be separators, to see the differences, not to see, you know, the similarities, what unifies us. And it does take a spiritual God-consciousness to see, “Oh, I am a spiritual being under a loving creator and we're all created beings. Therefore, everybody's my brother and sister.”
Masud Olufani: Exactly.
Amadon DellErba: Everybody is my mother and my uncle. And it's such, actually, a refreshing and beautiful mindset when you find others who share it. Then you have cosmic family, you have a family, a spiritual family. That’s another thing we call our community is the cosmic family. Because, even though the guy down the street may not be my blood brother, he's my brother, you know. And we actually treat ourselves like that spiritual family and the same loyalty, and the same commitment in the same family-first type of attitude one would have with a biological blood family, you have with your spiritual brothers and sisters, and really it can extend across the whole world. And that’s the principle of Bahá'í is talking about world government, because when each person has that consciousness in their heart and that God-consciousness, then you don't see the walls, you don't see the separations. And it seems like a kind of a farfetched, idealistic dreamer-type mentality for those who haven't experienced it. For brothers like you and I who have experienced it, it doesn't seem as far fetched. Because if I can just take what I'm experiencing and help one other person experience it, and then they experience it, and they're there and that can spread. And that's the consciousness of love, brother, you know, that's, that's where it’s at...
Masud Olufani: Exactly. I mean, division is the illusion. Unity is the reality. And that is… when I think of my body and I think of how my body is composed. I have all of these cells, all of these organs that work together in unison to maintain this majestic dynamic, extraordinary machine. So they have to work in unison. So we think about the human family, the body politic is made up of individuals who operate like cells in the body, if we’re doing… if we’re in alignment... Right? And we recognize that oneness, we will find ways to work together and recognize that what is good for my brother and my sister, right, fundamentally is also good for me. What is bad for me is also bad for my brother and sister. So in order for us to function collective as a human family, you have to recognize that interdependence.
Amadon DellErba: Interdependence, man, it's a key concept too. My spiritual teacher, Gabriel of Urantia, he renamed Independence day, Interdependence Day.
Masud Olufani: I love that. I love that.
Amadon DellErba: We would have these events on Independence Day instead of being really nationalistic and flying the flag and being all about that. We would have Interdependence and we would celebrate how each one of us human beings is interdependent upon our brothers and sisters all over the place, and celebrating that, you know, rejoicing in it. It's a beautiful thing.
Masud Olufani: Absolutely. Absolutely. I love that brother, love that.
Amadon DellErba: You said a few things today and also in some of your talks that I've seen online and some of the stuff I've read. That really speaks to me in my belief too kind of about the duality of man and woman, and how we, as spiritual beings, are always trying to overcome our human nature and our spiritual nature. This is my wording, you know? And in your wording, you talked about… You have that talk, “The Stony and Glorious Path Towards Oneness.” And I talked about, you know, the duality of man and we're yearning to come into singularity, into unity, to rid ourselves of that duality of our animal… human nature battling our spiritual nature until we come into singularity, and it's just spiritual nature. The reason why I like the “stony and glorious path” is because it is stony and it's a hard path to get to that point. And it takes, it takes a lot of work. And as a man yourself, you know, I've been doing a lot of exploration of correcting wrong thinking as a male. And even though I was raised right, I was totally raised right. Great father, great mother, spiritually God-centered, taught me right. I still have absorbed the wrong thinking of the entire world. And so I have to correct the chauvinistic thinking, the machoism as a man. And I think, you know, in seeing you speak and reading your work, I find you to be a balanced, strong man, which I appreciate. You have natural leadership qualities. And I think that I… when I view a lot of men today, there's a tremendous imbalance. They've become what I would consider personally, weak and not inheriting… personalizing the concept of what it means to be a strong man, or they become… they're just macho and they're way too, out of balance. What would you have to say to speaking towards young men and you know how to become a balanced man? And what does it mean to you, actually, to be a spiritual God, man?
Masud Olufani: Yeah, man. That's such a great question. I love the way you framed it. You know, it's interesting because I mean, historically, you know, if we look at the way that men have been socialized as opposed to how women have been socialized, you know, we have ascribed emotionalism, intuition, those qualities to women while men are competitive, aggressive...
Amadon DellErba: Stoic.
Masud Olufani: ...Exactly, stoic. You know, and of course we know the problems that have resulted from that. We have women who have been locked out of positions of leadership because they are deemed to be fundamentally incapable of occupying a boardroom, or a prime minister's office, or a president's office, you know. And then we have men who are, you know, deal with things like heart disease, high blood pressure, who are struggling to maintain this kind of stoicism that is fundamentally at odds with the emotional interiority of their lives. They reject their emotional interiority because we do have one, you know, men do have that. And then we're also not encouraged to develop our capacity to be intuitive as well, because I know many men who actually recognize that they have intuitive capabilities and actively work to develop those.
So. You know, it really puts us at odds with this other dimension of ourselves. Women are not allowed to be ambitious in our society. You know, that is a quality that is almost, you know, exclusively reserved for male energy, you know? And when a woman expresses her ambition, she is often called a lot of derogatory names or referred to as being mean or, you know, what do you tell, “You're irresponsible… You're an irresponsible mother. What do you mean you are ambitious?” You know? So I think as we, you know…
The Bahá'í Faith has this wonderful concept about man and woman are like the right and left wings of a bird, and in order for that bird to fly steady, both of those wings need to be strong. So we have to find a way, men do (and I'm speaking because I'm a man) have to find a way to integrate those aspects of what historically society has taught us to reject. There's nothing unmanly about expressing your love for your children; about hugging and kissing your children. There's nothing unmanly in moments of great anguish or pain and crying out to God, pouring your heart, you know, on the altar of God and saying, “I don't know what to do in this moment. Help me. Show me the way.” You know? There's nothing unmanly about, you know, listening to your inner voice, recognizing that there's something operating beyond the intellect, you know? As the old African proverb says: “There's a difference between a knowing and the knowing.” You know, so we have to begin to not see these things as mutually exclusive, but interdependent. And I think as we move forward and we mature as a human family there will be less of that dichotomy. There will be less of that unintegrated, you know, less of that tension, that kind of dissonance between the male energy and the female energy. And there will be more of an integration that will allow men to express their emotional interiority when the moment is right. When they're in a moment and they need to express it. And allow women to be ambitious without feeling that they will be labeled as being a “bitch.”
Amadon DellErba: No, I appreciate that man. Beautiful insight. Yeah, it just, it really stood out to me. Again, watching your talk. I was like, “I like this guy because he's decisive. He’s passionate. He’s bold and he's not afraid to, you know, be a man,” basically. You know, and I do think that there's a bit of a fear now. It’s gone to the other end of the spectrum, actually for men to exhibit what we culturally would consider manly qualities; the decisiveness, the passion, the absoluteness, you know? Because there has been such an imbalance and most men have taken it too far and you know, and so I've been having conversations with different people on my podcast. I'm going to be on another show called “Manly Matters.” And just exploring this, but what's interesting is the men I've been talking to her my age, you know, 30. So I appreciate talking to a man like you who's been around longer, and who I consider to appear balanced in your male circuitry as a man. So I appreciate that, brother.
Masud Olufani: Brother I appreciate you, man. Thank you.
Amadon DellErba: I appreciate your insight there.
Masud Olufani: You know the thing, dude, this is another aspect of it, man… There is a difference between men and women. We are different, but the difference is not, it doesn't mean that one's better than the other. It's just different and we need both, you know, we need both.
Amadon DellErba: Do you find in the African American culture… I was having this conversation too with someone the other day we were talking about, you know, I'm Italian American, my father's side, Italian. And so obviously we're passionate. We show affection, culturally, no problem, men kiss each other. We hug each other. We tell, we love each other all the time. That's how I was raised. In other, you know, cultures, it's very strange for a man to kiss another man or to say, even to say, “I love you” to another man, their best friend, “I love you, buddy. I love you, man.” Which I find it so strange because I tell my brothers, I love them all the time, “Man, I love you.” I’d kiss them on the cheek, if I have to, you know? It just shows what a cultural upbringing - how it really affects inherently how we behave as men. In the African American culture, do you find that there's a more prevailing anger and machoism because of the trans-generational trauma really to them and the oppression? And this is just my... I ask this question because I've kind of viewed it as that sometimes, that there’s a deep inner anger, and you see that and then you see… It's interesting. And this is a touchy subject, so I could easily be misunderstood here by saying these things, but I'm taking the risk, you know? Some of my Native American brothers and sisters, my indigenous brothers and sisters, there's the same time of oppression, but they're not quite as in the machoism and anger, they're more in the hopelessness and they feel defeated as a man. And so I’ve just observed these things, culturally and historically, I'm not saying it's across the board, it’s just something that I've been curious about and ask you if you've observed that or feel that way.
Masud Olufani: No, very much so. I think you've delineated quite effectively. You know, it's interesting because when… I’ve been spending a lot of time in Canada and so when I go to Canada, there aren't many African Americans in the part of Canada that I go to. But there are a lot of Indigenous Canadians, or First Nations Canadians. And as soon as I meet them there's an understanding, an unspoken understanding. It's an understanding that I know your struggle, you know my struggle. But the expression of that struggle is different, you know, across cultures. I think in the African American community, there’s…
Well, both cultures share a deep seated mistrust of the dominant culture, because their trust has been broken so many times; agreements, promises, have been broken. So over a time that gets solidified within your consciousness and you just… There's a sense of hopelessness or just… in a perpetual state of feeling like you're being surveilled and feeling like someone is watching you all the time. And part of that, you know, part of that is based in reality and part of it sometimes exists in it's… It's not in reality, you know, but it's based on some historical truths. And it's just in muscle memory. So people react/respond that way, you know? And I think in the Indigenous community, because so much was taken from them and they still live on land that they know was, or around land, or they remember the land, you know, they can get around and they can see the land. So there's a sense of defeat, a sense of kind of, you know, our land was stolen. We were removed from our communities. Our hair was cut. We were not allowed to speak our language. We were placed in these reeducation schools. Alcohol was introduced to our community. And we were kept in a perpetual state of poverty, of impoverished conditions. So over time that does some profound damage to the psyche, which impacts how we think about ourselves, how they move through the world, you know? So, I think that sense of, kind of, defeat and, kind of, deep despair comes from that.
African Americans it’s a little bit different, because we were removed from the continent of Africa, we're not... we don't have this… We're not constantly assaulted by a visual image of what we had before or where we came from. Indeed, those realities were cut off systematically by the system of slavery. So your name was taken, your language was taken, all of that. But there's not the constant assault, it's not the visual assault of land, of the spaces that we came from. So that exists, but it exists in a kind of opaque, a kind of clouded, sometimes romantic vision that we have of where we came from with… Because we don't know the specific place. And also the brutality of the slavery system, which was so systematic, I mean, the emasculation of black men, the fact that the owner of the plantation would come in and bed your wife, and there's nothing you can do about it. The fact you were beaten if you showed any resistance whatsoever, and even beyond that, sometimes strung up and killed, or shot, or some other kind of way you are offed. So, that constant repression of the natural male inclination to defend your loved ones and indeed your sense of self, to have to constantly stamp that stuff and keep it repressed within you allows… That energy begins to boil over and it begins to be expressed when it can be expressed sometimes in unhealthy ways.
So, you will see in certain aspects of the black community, you know, there will be physical violence within the home. You will see high blood pressure. You'll see a lot of diabetes, a lot of heart disease, because there's this inability to historically grapple with those really profound emotions, angers, sadnesses that your family‘s experienced generationally and that they have not been allowed to process and express in a healthy way… And that gets passed down from generation to generation. So there's a lot of love in the black community. There's a lot of compassion and affection, but I would be, it would be disingenuous of me to deny the fact that yes, there is also those unhealthy, toxic forms of masculinity that also get expressed sometimes. So, yeah.
Amadon DellErba: Wow, well thanks man. You have an incredibly well rounded view of the spiritual, psychological, and historical aspects that affect everything of the current psyche today, you know, really well rounded. I appreciate that.
Masud Olufani: Thank you.
Amadon DellErba: You know, my mother Niann Emerson Chase, who's a spiritual teacher as well, and she's a writer. She grew up on a Native American reservation, San Carlos Apache reservation. And so I spent time as well, learning about the culture there and attending ceremonies there. And my father also has been very involved with Native American elders over time and has done ceremonies and has met a lot of the well-known native American Elders. And so I've been exposed to that culture and I've been in these Inipis, the purification lodges, at a young age and different ceremonies. And what I saw was… it's just hard to, it is what you basically, you said, it's the generational trauma, and it's the father has the son and it gets passed down and not even consciously. But the sadness, the oppression, the anger, and also the righteous anger, the righteous sadness. And trying to teach your children your heritage, your culture, and also not to teach the rest is… It's a very interesting thing and I've had, kind of, round table discussions with young Native American men before who are quite impassioned and have their anger, rightfully so. And honestly I relate to them, you know, I feel one of them and I feel one of the young black brothers too. I feel like I'm one of them, even though I am not. And so I don't want to be presumptuous to say I am because I haven't had those same experiences, but my heart connects with them. You know, I totally get it. I’m a freedom fighter and I want to fight for them, you know? So I look to the spiritual answers of these problems and I look to how… What can I do to connect, or to teach, or to help, or to even understand? Maybe just be a good listener, maybe have compassion. I think people think they're better listeners all the time than they actually are. I know I do. And then when I actually…
Masud Olufani: Right there with you!
Amadon DellErba: When I actually listen and ask the question and really hear them, and the listening part and the hearing part is really penetrating my soul, and what is it that they're saying that I can find a similarity to, relate to, and have compassion for, or even change me and even better yet, correct me if my thinking is wrong or aiding in their pain, you know? That's the responsibility that we all have to come into that spiritual unity and that oneness, you know, if humanity, we have to heal those constructs. I think that you have a great grasp on that man. So I think you can do a lot of great work. I think you should help. I think you are helping them, but I see you as a kind of… you could be a great mentor for young men in your community and really talking them through that and being role model. And you are a role model and you probably already are doing it through your art and you are doing it. But I could just see you, like, you know, really leading the way for that healing to take place. So I appreciate it, man.
Masud Olufani: Thank you brother. The, you know, encouragement is such an important apparatus for community building that we don't access enough and we need to be constantly encouraging each other in our work. So, man, for you to say that I'm honored and it encourages me to keep pushing brother, just to keep pushing.
Amadon DellErba: Another question I had for you, you know we talked about the Bahá'í and the oneness of humanity. What are your thoughts on the, on the amalgamation of all the races? You know I was reading about you and that you have Irish in you and what are your thoughts about the intermixing of, you know, cause I've always thought one way (this is obviously a long term thing) but one way to heal this is to intermarry, all the time. And there’s part of a culture, that's the consciousness that's wrong. Where I have friends who are Jewish, “you got to marry a Jewish person, no matter what,” you know? African American friends, you gotta marry that. Native American and keep the culture.
[To Be Continued...]