6 Quick Steps: A Christian's Guide to Meditation

As a young man, raised in the Baptist Church, I was taught to be wary of different religious beliefs and practices.  In 2010, I entered Morehouse College, the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr., holding on to belief that involving myself with any other religion was blasphemous. My perspective changed during my last year at Morehouse.  Despite my background and upbringing, I chose to study theology (the study of the nature of God and religious belief) for my last six months at Morehouse. 

The experience was enlightening.  I was encouraged by my professors and peers to explore the traditions and beliefs of other religions. Through studying, seeking, praying and listening I was able to understand that all religions are truly interconnected, centered around the ultimate divine being and energy force, God.  Knowing that my God, the father of Jesus Christ, was also the ultimate source for all other religions and traditions, I felt at peace. My perspective of Jesus Christ did not change nor shift, it was simply expanded.  This new perspective was solidified for me during my time at Harvard Divinity School in a diversity exploration program.  I spent a week at Harvard Divinity School experiencing different religions sharing beliefs and practicing traditions together, in peace and harmony. 

A major aspect of what I'll call "my expansion" was learning how to meditate.  Through my studies, experiences, trials, successes and failures, I was able to understand the power of meditation and utilize this tradition to deepen my spiritual connection to Jesus Christ.  

So at this point, you're probably thinking, "Wow! He's dead on!" Or you may be thinking, "Ok, this is different." Either way, I wanted to share 6 quicks steps for a Christian that may be hesitant but interested in meditation.  Please be aware that everyone has their own individual path. This article is simply me sharing mine with the intent to provide a light for others.  

1.      Make yourself comfortable. Sit erect, with your spine straight, your feet firmly planted on the floor, your hands relaxed in your lap, and breath normally. There is no mystical or occult reason for this, it is very simple when your body is perfectly comfortable one is not conscious of it. Take a breath and count to four. Breathe in and out four or five times counting to quiet your mind. Breathe normally.

2. Say "I turn within to the Christ of my own being".

3. Ask yourself "What is God?" and receive the answer from God. The kingdom of God is within you. Say to yourself, "Speak Lord, thy servant heareth, or "Father, I am here, speak."

4. Assume a listening attitude as if you were waiting to hear the answer. Thoughts may come. Think about God as the source of our being and all this is, Omnipresent, Omnipotent, and Omniscient.

5. Someday, while meditating and pondering this idea, "What is God?" realizing now the nature of prayer, you will suddenly find that you cannot think anymore; you have come to the end of thought about God and prayer. Then you will sit there, quietly, at peace, no more thoughts, no more questions, no more answers, just peace. Thoughts will be quieted, the inner ear will open and a long deep breath like a sigh of relief or a sense of release will probably come to you. It is as if you were escaping from something; as if a burden were dropping off your shoulders. It will appear in many different ways, and when that release or relief comes, you will be so full of the Spirit that you will get right up and do the work that lies ahead for the day, or perhaps some work that has been neglected. With that release will come divine wisdom, divine guidance, and divine strength, for this reason, that deep breath, the click or release, was a God experience, the actual presence or activity of God in your consciousness.

6. Try not to stay in meditation for more than 10 minutes at a time. It takes a long time to be able to stay in meditation 10 minutes or longer.

 

 

The Visible and Invisible: Why Washington D.C. Willingly Chose to Opt Out of Hip Hop For Almost 40 Years

“During the 1980s, Washington, D.C., was described as a city with two population groups—the visible and the invisible. The visible group consisted of tourists, the Washington elite, the federal government, and professionals who flowed in and out of the city. The invisible group was the largely African American, blue collar group that made up a fairly high percentage of the city’s population.”
— Reynolds & Zimmerman, 2015 (O Say Can You See: Stories from the National Museum of American History)

This Saturday I found myself in a smoked out section of Washington D.C.'s Howard Theatre. The event was a summer festival, sponsored by WPGC 95.5, one of the local radio stations in the D.C. area.  I was excited to see live Go-go music from bands such as Black Alley Band, UCB and Backyard Band.  

For those who may not know what Go-go music is, which is probably most of the national audience, think of songs such as "Pretty Girls" and "Bait" from Grammy nominated rapper, Wale.  

Go-go music is a genre of black music founded by Chuck Brown in the 1970's. Heavily inspired by funk, blues, soul and salsa, Go-go music is defined as bands playing "syncopated polyrhythms and (using) multiple percussion instruments." Chuck Brown pioneered this genre of music throughout the 70's with hits like "Bustin Loose," and "Wind Me Up!" reaching national notoriety. 

Due to Brown's influence, young people growing up in the D.C. area during the 1980's created and joined hundreds of bands.  At a time where almost every young black man was captivated by a new genre called rap music, young men and women in D.C. were focused on a genre of black music all their own. The progression of Go-go was fueled by initiatives in the D.C. school band and summer youth employment programs. These programs, championed by community leaders such as former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, provided youth in the D.C. area with the skills and means to join the Go-go genre. Very few young men and women from the District wanted to be rappers when they grew up; and even if they did, their skills would be used as the lead microphone for a Go-go band instead of as a rapper using digital production.  Go-go music would dominate the focus of young men and women in the D.C. area for the next several decades.  

More than 40 years after Chuck Brown's first album released, I found myself anxiously awaiting to experience the evolution of the black music genre he created. On a Saturday night in 2017, at a historic D.C. venue, that has held more Go-go's then the Washington professional baseball team has held home games, the line to get in was wrapped around the corner. After I walked in, I found a spot a couple feet from the stage. I immediately recognized that the vibe inside the Howard Theatre was different from the Go-go’s I went to in my adolescence at places like the La Pearl, the Blackhole, and the D.C. star. The vibe felt comfortable, almost friendly; curated specifically for a mature, familiar audience. 

Mixed within an aroma of good weed, bad weed, spilled beer and cocktails was a feeling of authenticity. I felt a familiar, genuine sense of D.C. culture that I grew up loving and admiring. That culture was present and overflowing from the people in attendance. Anyone could see that the clothes, the demeanor, the overall styles of the majority of the crowd screamed D.C. This crowd, despite their differences, were all connected to the District. The connection this crowd has to the Nation's Capital and the genre of music birthed here led everyone to the Howard Theatre with the expectation of one thing: live Go-go music.

I was positioned right next to the sound booth, only a couple feet from the stage. Black Alley Band was first.  They played what seemed like an endless amount of original songs and covers. Their style, displays an evolved form of Go-go music; a kind of Go-go with sounds similar to live bands like the Roots led by Quest Love and Black Thought.  After a 30 minute set, Black Alley creatively set the standard for the night. They played original songs such as Complicated while melodically weaving covers like "DNA" from Kendrick Lamar into their set.  The vibe after Black Alley Band finished felt like a shared need for more Go-go music. The 30-minute set was a small glimpse into the night that WPGC had in store.     

UCB and Backyard Band closed the show.  By this time, the sound booth to my left was smoked out. The air was filled with the need for Go-go and UCB fulfilled all desires.  Performing classics like "Sexy Lady", UCB blessed the audience with the kind of live Go-go that can only be experienced in the Nation’s Capital.  An experience that was even deeper for someone with a genuine connection to the culture.  

When UCB finished, the packed audience was anxiously awaiting for Backyard Band to close the show.  When the curtains rose, and Backyard started playing, the way the crowd reacted reflected the personal and cultural connection that almost each person at the Howard theater had with Go-go music.  Black Alley Band led us into the evening, UCB forced us to remember and acknowledge the greatness of Go-go, and Backyard Band concluded the night with what felt like a spiritual initiation into the genre. Lead Mic and D.C. icon Big G's performance was remarkable. Witnessing him lead Backyard Band through the performance was like watching a Pastor, Rapper, and Black D.C. Superhero all in one. The leader and his band blessed each audience member with songs like, "Keep It Gangsta." Their performance meant more than anyone who grew up outside of this area could ever imagine.  

To add to the night, Backyard Band brought out special guests Fatz Da Big Fella and Reesa Renee. At this point, the amount of D.C. legends and icons on one stage was pleasurably overwhelming. Performing their new song, "Feeling", Fatz, the "mayor of D.C.," and Renee with Backyard Band playing the music, illustrated the current condition and essence of Go-go. Go-go is a genre of black music from Washington D.C. that will never die, but instead, will continue to reinvent, evolve, and expand itself through the young people of the D.C. area.  Ask any major artist from the D.C. area, from Shy Glizzy and Goldlink to Chaz French and Fatz Da Big Fella, and they will tell you that Go-go is embedded within the culture of each of them. 

(24 Songs That Will Make You Love Go-Go)

Since Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-go, pioneered a genre of music birthed in D.C. that reflected the social conditions of the people in the area, Go-go has evolved into many different forms. For those interested in the various types of Go-go, I’ll write about those in future articles; but for now, I’d like to focus on when the D.C. area transitioned from Go-go to Rap music. As stated before, D.C. was filled with young black men & women who wanted to be a part of a Go-go band. With the success of major artists like Wale, the young people in D.C. finally saw the possibilities of rap.  Before Wale, there were major rappers here; that’s a fact.  But what Wale did with artists like J. Cole, The Roots, Lady Gaga and others was unprecedented for the D.C. area. Simply said, Wale may not have been the first, but he was the biggest Hip-hop artist that the D.C. area has ever seen.  

I remember hearing Wale’s first songs on the radio, "Dig Dug Shake It" and "One Thing About a Playa." I would never have imagined that those songs, both songs with heavy Go-go samples, would take Wale to the places he would go. I did know, however, that the culture of the area had instantly shifted as soon as those first two songs lifted Wale to notoriety in the D.C. area.    

The city doesn’t yet have a robust music industry where ex-offenders can more easily find work, but the culture is getting there and other artists are being signed and good music is being made.
— Excerpt from "SLUGG: A Boy's Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration" by Tony Lewis Jr.

It was the wave of Wale’s early career that opened up the doors of the hip-hop entertainment industry for the D.C. area.  In a section of D.C. legend, Tony Lewis Jr.’s book, "SLUGG: a Boy’s Life in the Age of Mass Incarceration", he describes the transition of D.C.'s focus on Go-go to rap. 

"To get an industry running in D.C. we had to get our local hip-hop artists some support and exposure. At the time, Wale showed the most promise...Now he's a Grammy-nominated artist and owner of a number one record on the Billboard charts for his album The Gifted. He was our hope and he was my hope for my grandiose visions of a hip-hop culture in D.C. Kids needed to be inspired, and guys coming home needed jobs. A movement could start with one artist."

This new hip-hop market was, and still is, an opportunity for men and women in D.C. with interests in alternative paths to have opportunities that directly align with who they are and where they want to be in life.  Since this market has opened, we have seen more artists with national & international success from the D.C. area than ever before.  No longer are young men and women focused on the genre of Go-go music; instead, Washington D.C. has finally chosen to participate in the Hip-Hop industry.  D.C.'s participation has fostered an environment where diverse artists from the area are creating their own lanes for success.  The industry, itself, is not even 10 years old yet (counting from Wale's 2009 debut album release). The potential for growth, with the right guidance, direction, and business foundation seems limitless.  

I'm excited for what's next from the D.C. area, and if you're not already, you should be too.  

 



 

The Literacy Gap in Washington D.C. Schools

Picture owned by: Darien Harris 

Picture owned by: Darien Harris 

Earlier this year, I published my first children's book, "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin."  "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin" is a children's fantasy novel with an African-American lead character: Scott Benjamin.  I was inspired to create a children's book for many reasons.  In previous articles, I've discussed how my spiritual calling and Hip-Hop were some of the inspirations for my book (click the links for more information).  Those posts discussed my motivations to create a children's book; however, they did not address the experience in my life that created the urgency I needed to see this project through.

New Beginnings Youth Development Center

One of the primary reasons I wrote, "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin" was my experience teaching at Maya Angelou Academy inside the New Beginnings Youth Development Center. New Beginnings is the only long-term juvenile detention center for Washington D.C. youth. 

Being from Prince Georges County, Maryland, I was excited to have the opportunity to teach students with similar backgrounds and experiences as myself. This opportunity showed me the reality of the major issues impacting youth from the D.C. area.

One of the most puzzling truths that I became aware of (others will be explored in future articles) during my experience was discovering that some of my students could not read.  When I first started teaching at New Beginnings, I had no expectations for the academic standards of the students. Simply put, I had no idea what I was walking into. But to learn that students, ages 14-21, were either reading below grade level or not able to read at all, I was severely stunned. 

In 2015, I chose to transition from my position serving youth at New Beginnings and pursue a Master of Arts in Strategic Communications and Public Relations.  Although I was no longer teaching inside of the juvenile detention center, the realities I became aware of haunted me on a daily basis.  I dedicated myself to learning, growing, and seeking ways to make a systemic impact on the juvenile justice system.  I believe this decision led me directly to my desire to create a children's book.  

Literacy Gap in Washington D.C. Schools

The literacy gap inside of the juvenile detention center is only a small sample size of a major issue: the literacy gap present in the Washington D.C. school system. 

According to the DC Assessment results on the Partnership Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA), 75% of students did not meet expectations for English language arts and literacy in the 2015-2016 school year.  The same performance summary also revealed the following statistics: 

Performance Summary (2015-2016 school year)

  • 75% of students did not meet expectations for English language arts and literacy
  • 81% of Black students did not meet expectations in English language arts and literacy
  • 78% of males did not meet expectations in English language arts and literacy
  • 73% of students in grades 3-8 did not meet expectations in English language arts and literacy
  • 75% of students in the District of Columbia who took the Grade 3 test did not meet expectations

Key Subject Areas

  • 52% of students in the DC area did not meet expectations in the following key subject area: literary text
  • 55% of students in the DC area did not meet expectations in the following key subject area: informational text
  • 53% of students in the DC area did not meet expectations in the following key subject area: vocabulary
  • 63% of students in the DC area did not meet expectations in the following key subject area: writing expression
  • 51% of students in the DC area did not meet expectations in the following key subject area: knowledge and use of language conventions

Schools 

  • 55 Schools with less than 10% of students meeting expectations in English language arts and literacy

These statistics illustrate the massive literacy gap present within the Washington D.C. school system. This literacy gap is an issue that must be addressed by all stakeholders: parents, teachers, community members and community leaders.  My desire to fulfill my responsibility to address the literacy gap for Washington D.C. youth led me to create "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin."  My goal is to provide children with creative materials that will help them fall in love with learning.

In the coming months, I will be launching a campaign to donate 800 copies of "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin" across all eight wards of Washington D.C.  100 copies of my children's book will be donated to a library, school, or children's hospital within each of the eight wards in D.C.   

For more information or to support the "8 Across 8" campaign, feel free to contact me or visit www.scottiebenjamin.com.

 

"Hip-Hop Scottie" - How Andre 3000 and Kid Cudi Led me to Create my First Children's Book

“The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin” is a children’s fantasy novel. What makes this children’s book unique? This children’s fantasy novel is one of the very few with an African American lead character.

Scott Benjamin, the main character, is a seven-year-old African American boy. "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin," tells the story of a young black boy becoming a superhero. Scott realizes that he can overcome any obstacle with the power of self-confidence. His super powers come from the power of his imagination. 

The first edition of “The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin” introduces Scott. It describes how Scott transforms into a superhero. Through the power of self-confidence, Scott defeats his first enemy: Metus the Dragon. 

Last week, I wrote an article about how my spiritual calling led to the creation of Scottie Benjamin. My spiritual calling was not the only influence on my first children's book. 

Scott has much deeper roots than the first part of this fantasy novel reveals. The idea for this African American lead character came from several places. African Americans publish only 22% of African-American children's books. This statistic stunned my co-author, Matthew Talley, and me. 

We felt a social responsibility to address this diversity gap. We felt a social responsibility to use our creativity to create our own African American children's book. 

My co-author and I started by creating the characters that would serve as the center of this novel. We committed to creating a role model for young African American males. This commitment led to the creation of a young African American superhero. We knew we wanted the superhero to overcome any obstacle using the power of his imagination. However, we still needed a name.

Talley and I have been friends for almost ten years. We have many interests in common, but our love for Hip Hop is at the center of our decade-long friendship.

Co-authors, Matthew Talley and Darien Harris at Broccoli City Festival DC 2017

Co-authors, Matthew Talley and Darien Harris at Broccoli City Festival DC 2017

Our love for Hip-Hop is so deep that we have also created “Diggin’ Thru the Crates,” a traveling Hip-Hop & Art exhibit. We are currently planning the fifth installation of this event. Previous partners include the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Check out our latest recap video below.

So how does our love for Hip-Hop connect to “The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin?” 

After Talley and I agreed on the direction of the main character, we still needed a name. For inspiration, we turned to our love for Hip-Hop. We named the main character after Scott (Kid Cudi) Mescudi and Andre (Andre 3000) Benjamin. 

Kid Cudi and Andre 3000 are two musicians with a direct impact on the lives of many. People around the world know Cudi and 3000 for their unique, creative and inspiring works of art.

They have gained massive influence through their inspirational music. This inspiration now stretches to a new 7-year-old African American superhero. Scottie Benjamin is a direct product of Hip-Hop's influence on the lives of my co-author and me. In short, Hip-Hop was a primary force behind the creation of "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin." 

To illustrate the connection between Scottie and Hip-Hop, I have curated “Scottie’s Playlist.” This playlist is a compilation of music that reflects the plot of “The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin.” 

Visit www.scottiebenjamin.com, to find more information or to order a copy of “The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin"! 

Don’t forget to download and share “Scottie’s Playlist” below! 

Click here for Scottie's Playlist - Tidal Music

Click here for Scottie's Playlist - Tidal Music

Click here Scottie's Playlist - Apple Music 

Click here Scottie's Playlist - Apple Music 

How My Spiritual Calling Led to My First Children's Book - "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin"

I have dedicated the past five years of my life to serving my community. My education at Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA was the foundation for this service. My time at the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr., revealed within me a spiritual calling to address issues, such as Mass Incarceration in my community. Through prayer, studying, praise, worship, and self-discipline I was led to understanding one of the primary reasons for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ: to serve the disinherited. My spiritual calling to walk in this same tradition and serve the disinherited has led me to many places, serving many different communities.

After graduating in 2014, I chose to sidestep my original plan of pursuing law and, instead, help my community by teaching at the only long-term juvenile jail for Washington D.C. youth for several years. During this time, I served incarcerated young people from Washington D.C. between the ages of 14-21. I became extremely familiar with these youth; with their families, their home situations, their neighborhoods, and most importantly the struggles and obstacles that walk with them on a daily basis. After several years of serving as the Workforce Development Director, I chose to resign.

My resignation came from the desire to do more. To do more by helping our youth before they became incarcerated. To do more by helping our youth before they even begin to have thoughts or dreams that would lead to actions that result in incarceration. To do more by going into these neighborhoods and addressing the biggest issue: the growth, development, and evolution of our children educationally, emotionally and most importantly, spiritually.

The desire to do more is one of the main reasons I created my first children's book, "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin". I wanted to personally be responsible for the creation of a tool that can inspire youth ages 5-10. "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin" was given to me so that I may have the opportunity to reach children before the ages of 14-21. The sooner we reach our youth with relatable, educational and inspiring tools, the better chance we have of providing these youth with the tools they need to succeed.

My spiritual calling of serving young people and the disinherited has led me to submit myself as a vessel for serving God’s kingdom according to His will. This mission has challenged me to step up and do more to help our community and address whatever needs possible. This task challenged me to create my first children's book and speak to people all over the D.C. metro area. I challenge you to walk in the same tradition and ask yourself: Am I doing more? The answer to that question may motivate you to seek your spiritual calling just like I did.

For more information on my first children's book "The Dreams of Scottie Benjamin", visit www.scottiebenjamin.com.