An Open Letter By Dr. Ray Hagins To The Afrikan Community
Greetings Brother & Sisters!
For 9 years people have been asking me this question in many different ways. And, for 9 years I have tried my best to extinguish what I perceived as an attempt by many to exacerbate childish and inappropriate behavior on the part of someone who is supposed to be strengthening the Afrikan community. That’s right --- for 9 years I have not spoken out on this issue for basically two reasons: (1) Each time that I have been approached by someone it was within the context of hearsay. And, if there is one thing that I have learned (in 36 years of ministry) NOT to do, it is DO NOT GIVE ATTENTION TO HEARSAY. And, (2) I don’t have time for foolishness. I am much too busy doing what I do to waste time trying to heal a situation when the people (or person) involved doesn’t want healing.
However, two weeks ago I had the wonderful experience of fellowshipping with brothers and sisters in the Bahamas at the 2009 Afrikan Heritage Conference. I was one of the invited speakers of this glorious event. Ashra Kwesi was also one of the invited speakers. This was the first time in 9 years that Ashra and I were to be speakers at the same event!?!?!?
When I received the brochure about the event and saw Ashra’s picture on it, as one of the speakers, I thought either this is a conspiracy to get the two of us together or the Universe is at work saying that it’s time to address and dispose of whatever Ashra is dealing with. --- How wrong I was (at least about the latter).
So, my reason for taking the time to write this missive to the entire community (along with an open letter to Ashra) is to do what perhaps I should have done years ago, and that is provide the missing pieces of what has puzzled and damaged so many sincere, good-hearted brothers and sisters. This is not written based on hearsay about what Ashra said or did. I WAS THERE! I witnessed what happened. And it is time now for me to speak out on this asininity.
Before proceeding any further, I want to be sure that the members of the Afrikan community understand that my reason for addressing this issue is ONLY because I will no longer keep silent while young brothers and sisters are wounded to the point of discouragement and disillusionment because two people that they hold in high esteem appear to be enemies. And notice, I said, APPEAR to be enemies. For 9 years I have been going behind Ashra trying to mend the wounds that he has caused in brothers and sisters who completely lost their inspiration for Afrikan unity because of the seeds of discord sown by him in his fabrications about me and others around me. Enough is ENOUGH…and it MUST stop.
So, please allow me (after 9 years) to place ALL the cards on the table and hopefully answer some unanswered questions and satisfy the longing of so many brothers and sisters within the Afrikan community to understand what exactly is the problem between Dr. Hagins and Ashra Kwesi.
In December of 1998, I had my dear friend and brother, and late warrior scholar, Dr. Ishakamusa Barashango come and speak at my church. Needless to say, this was a spiritually powerful event because I was in the process of growing a traditional Baptist church into an Afrikan-conscious congregation. I had only been there since February of that year. So, seeing their reception of Dr. Barashango was really something to celebrate. We were beginning to attract “conscious” brothers and sisters into our congregation.
About a month later, one of the brothers in our church, Brother Craig Johnson, gave me a video of Ashra Kwesi and suggested that maybe we could have him come and speak at the church. I told him that I would watch the video and let him know because I had to be very careful of who I allowed to come and speak to the congregation (within the context of my assignment of raising the consciousness of our people). It was several weeks before I had the opportunity to sit and watch Ashra’s video. However, as I watched it, I agreed with Craig’s recommendation about Ashra coming to speak at the church.
A day or two later, I received a phone call from Dr. Barashango and he had Ashra on the phone with him and wanted to introduce him to me. After Dr. Barashango introduced us I told Ashra that I had just watched a video of him a couple of days ago. Dr. Barashango asked if I would allow Ashra to come and speak at the church. I immediately said, “Brother, YES!”
NOTE: I have a criteria that must be satisfied before I allow someone in my pulpit to speak to the congregation under my charge; that is: (1) I must hear them to see if I approve of their message; and/or (2) They must be recommended by someone whose opinion I respect in such matters. Well, both points of my criteria had been satisfied, so I had no reservation at all with allowing Ashra to come and speak at the church.
I scheduled Ashra to be the speaker for our 1999 Spring Conference. That’s right…the sole speaker for the weekend. I had no problem with this because I knew that he was teaching the truth and my friend had vouched for him. Ashra, along with his wife, Merira, came to the church and did a splendid job and was well received by the congregation. I didn’t schedule Ashra for that Sunday morning because I didn’t perceive from his presentation that he was a “Sunday morning speaker” for a transitioning “traditional Baptist church,” so I gave the message that Sunday morning. Ashra and Merira were present, sitting right there on the front row, directly in front of me. After the message, as was my practice at the time, I asked, “Is there anyone here who would like to become a member of this church?” Ashra and Merira stood! The entire congregation burst into an applause of pure joy. We had come to love Ashra and Merira in the short time of a couple of days. We knew that they were messengers of truth, and were honored to have them join (what was then) the “ New Ephesus Missionary Baptist Church .”
Even though I was honored to have this great teacher join our church, I was somewhat surprised that he would join a “ Baptist Church .” I knew that I was trying to gradually move the congregation away from the errors of Christianity into Afrikan-consciousness, but we hadn’t come that far yet. So, I grabbed a microphone and went to Ashra to welcome he and Merira into our congregation, but I had to ask him why he wanted to join our church. He replied, “When I came in here and saw the ankh on the pulpit I knew that this is where our membership should be.” Okay, I felt much better because there are only three ways that you can join a “Baptist” church: (1) By baptism (confessing Jesus Christ as your savior and being baptized in water to wash away your sins); (2) By letter of recommendation from another Baptist church; or (3) By “Christian experience.” You see, I was wondering which one of these Ashra was going to comply with?!?! But the answer that he gave was sufficient for me and the congregation as well.
After that, Ashra, Merira and I developed a wonderful relationship and friendship. I had them to speak on subsequent occasions and whenever they were in the area they would stop by their “home church” and the congregation was always glad to see them. I signed up for his 1999 Kemet Nu Tour to Egypt and had a wonderful time with them there. Everything was great between us. In 2000, I signed up for his Kemet Nu tour again and because he was a part of our congregation, and we had come to love and appreciate he and Merira for their work, a total of 12 of us from the church went along with them.
Our relationship and mutual respect for each other’s work caused Ashra to pull a surprise on me and have a ceremony raising me to the sublime degree of a “Sa Ra.” Brothers and sisters, let me tell you, that was one of the most sacred and meaningful events in my life. What was most meaningful to me was that my “friend” thought enough of me to perform this sacred ceremony at the beautiful and sacred holy place of our Ancestors, The Temple of Luxor in Egypt . He could have done this at the church, but he decided to honor me on the “holy ground” of our ancient past. You cannot possibly imagine how much that meant to me. Then, to top it off, my dear brother and friend, Dr. Barashango (who I miss dearly), was also honored at the same time along with me and raised to the sublime degree of a “Sa Ra.” There was also another Elder (whose name I cannot remember) who was also consecrated with us. In addition to that, some of the members of my congregation who were there participated in the ceremony. I often wondered how they kept the secret from me so well. I have been through quite a few degree ceremonies (both academic and fraternal) in my time, but none of them meant as much to me as that ceremony. Dr. Barashango and I frequently talked about that special time in our lives bestowed on us by our “brother,” Ashra Kwesi.
After returning home from such a wonderful trip, I made a video tape of my experience there in Egypt . I entitled the video “Afrikan Evidence That Demands An Afrikan Verdict.” As with all of my videos, I made it available to the public. Since I do have a national audience, people from all over began to order this video. I began to receive testimonies from hundreds of people about the video and how much they learned from the footage in it.
Then, one day while I was at the church, I received a call from Ashra. As always, it was good to hear from him because he and I would frequently call each other just to see how the other was doing. As usual, everything seemed fine. He said, “Brother, I just called to check on you to see how you were doing.” I told him that it was good to hear from him and that I was doing fine. Then, we hung up from a very short conversation (about a minute and a half). After I hung up the phone I told my secretary that was Ashra. Then, about 20 or 30 seconds later Ashra called back and said, “Brother, I was in California and a sister told me that you disrespected my wife.” I was completely shocked by this statement. We had just hung up 30 seconds ago and everything was fine! What happened? I asked him, “Ashra, what are you talking about? What do you mean I disrespected your wife?” Then he told me that he heard that I had made a video tape and that I disrespected his wife because I didn’t mention her name in the video tape during the naming ceremony of Minister Alyce Herndon. I couldn’t believe that this was coming out of Ashra’s mouth. As close as he, Merira and I were, how could he think that I would dare disrespect such a beautiful queen sister as Merira? But, I could tell that he was livid over an innocent oversight on my part. So, I apologized to him for forgetting to mention Merira’s name and told him that I would correct my mistake by re-editing that part of the footage (which I did).
He then told me that he didn’t appreciate my disrespecting his wife and that I had a problem with women. When he said this to me, my training kicked in and I immediately began to realize that there is a deeper seated issue here (especially when he connected disrespecting his wife with the comment of me having a problem with women). I said to him, “Ashra, you know that I love you AND Merira. If I had a problem with Merira, I would not have allowed her to repeatedly speak in my church (especially in a traditional Baptist church where they frown upon women speaking publicly anyway).” I asked him how he could say such a thing. We ended the conversation.
I looked at my secretary and we both were taken by this whole thing on Ashra’s part. What we were baffled by the most was how he had just called acting as though everything was alright, and then called right back with a completely changed demeanor.
Then, he called back again and proceeded to complain some more about the video tape that I had made and that he didn’t appreciate it because I didn’t have his permission to make the video tape. I told him that I didn’t need his permission to make the video. He told me that it was his tour and that I needed his permission to make a video. I told him that it was his tour, but it was MY trip, that I paid for with MY money and used MY camera and MY film. Then I reminded him that he knew that I was going to make a video because we sat in Kennedy Airport before we departed for Egypt and I showed him my new camera and told him that I had intended to make a video when I returned. It was also at this same time that I offered the use of my video production facilities to help him with the quality and production of his videos.
Ashra carried on so much about my video that I told him that I would discontinue the distribution of the tape if it bothered him that much. Ashra, then had the audacity to say to me, “Brother, you stick to teaching theology and let me do the teaching about Africa . Because this is my bread and butter that you are messing with.” I just couldn’t wrap my mind around Ashra thinking that he had the right to even say something like, “You stick to teaching theology and let me teach about Africa .” But he made it very clear what his motive was for saying that. My secretary and I were very disturbed by Ashra’s attitude and his asinine demand. We discontinued the conversation at that point and that was the last time we talked until a couple of weeks ago when I saw him in the Bahamas .
NOTE: At this point, I think that I should mention how I had received comments from so many brothers and sisters about Ashra and I being at the same event. Everyone (including me) was hoping that this would be a time and opportunity for us to reconcile whatever differences existed between us so that the body of Afrikan brothers and sisters who love the both of us could be healed from the damage caused by this division. We’ll, that is definitely NOT what happened!
When I saw Ashra, he was stepping out of the elevator and I was sitting there in the hotel lobby. He looked right me and didn’t speak, so I said, “Hey Ashra.” He said, “Hey” (as he turned to walk away). Even though he was walking away from me, I said, “How have you been?” He said (with his back to me), “Fine.” And that was all we said to each other.
I couldn’t believe that this person, who had been traveling all over the country talking about me, slandering my name, and attempting to assassinate my character for the last 9 years, would now see me and have nothing to say.
Even though the 2009 Heritage Conference in the Bahamas was an awesome and powerful time of fellowship for brothers and sisters, there was a thick cloud of dissention in the air. I later found out that Ashra told the hosts of this wonderful and glorious event that he was not going to speak if I was present. WHAT!?!?!? How do you say something like that to someone who has spent thousands of dollars to accommodate you? Who does this person think he is? If you have the least bit of integrity, you don’t behave like that. The hosts had not done anything to Ashra! Why inconvenience them?
I literally watched the brothers and sisters there in the Bahamas --- who were joyful and celebrating a coming together of Afrikans from all backgrounds and walks of life --- I watched them go from a being joyful to almost becoming electively mute. Those who traveled with me said, “Pastor, there is definitely something wrong here…we can feel it, and it has something to do with Ashra Kwesi.” I told them that I felt it too.
The last night of the conference, we started almost 2 hours late because Ashra refused to speak if I was present. So, the sponsor of the conference asked that I would come to her home, because in this way, Ashra would not have to see me when he arrived at the venue.
When I arrived at her home, this sister grabbed my hand and said, “Dear brother, Rev. Dr. Hagins…what is the problem between you and Ashra Kwesi?” Until this point I could only suspect that Ashra was the cause of this dissention, but when she asked me, then I knew for certain. I told her everything that I wrote above. She nodded her head and said, “It is so sad that the two giants for our people are divided.” Then, she asked me to accompany her back to the venue and close out the conference after Ashra finished speaking.
When we returned to the venue Ashra was speaking, and doing a great job at disseminating information (as he always does). But, the atmosphere was all wrong. Information was being disseminated, but the powerful presence of God, our Ancestors and Afrikan unity was absent.
After a while people started to leave and I asked those who would to stay for the closing. You see, as a Chief Elder, pastor and spiritual leader, having the “right kind” of benediction is very important to me. I just could not allow these brothers and sisters to leave that 2009 African Heritage Conference with the “spirit” that they were sitting under. I HAD to break that thing (for those who know what I mean).
After Ashra finished disseminating information, I was presented to close the conference. As is the professional thing to do, I acknowledged Ashra and then I proceeded. I closed the conference asking God and the Ancestors to bring healing and unity among us. We ended with the Oath To The Ancestors that we recite in The Afrikan Village. Ashra didn’t stay…he left immediately after he finished speaking.
What was most painful to me at that time were the looks of disappointment on the faces of the brothers and sisters who look up to Ashra as an “Elder” in this movement. So, I just had everyone to join hands and make contact as a symbol of unity as we recited the Oath To The Ancestors for our benediction. We ended as Afrikans in unity…and it was beautiful. Everyone was hugging and greeting each other. All praises be to The Almighty and our Ancestors for getting us through that.
Now, as I close this open letter to the Afrikan community, as the National Chief Elder and Spiritual Leader of The Afrikan Villages, Afrikan Village Study Groups, and all affiliates and associations of the same, I am asking that you regard Ashra Kwesi as an enemy to Afrikan unity and empowerment for the following reasons:
1) Ashra Kwesi has knowingly and willfully perpetrated false and injurious statements against another brother of the community, namely Dr. Ray Hagins;
2) Ashra Kwesi has consistently and intentionally tried to damage the character and reputation of another without just cause to foster his own personal gain.
3) Ashra Kwesi has refused the request for unity and/or counsel by Elders within the Afrikan community and has shown no desire for reconciliation.
4) Ashra Kwesi has refused to cease and desist from a behavior that is causing emotional harm to many members within the Afrikan community.
Brothers and Sisters, it saddens me to have to send this open letter, I apologize to the entire Afrikan community for not addressing this issue much sooner. As I previously stated, I do not like acting on the words of others. But, please be sure that what I saw manifested in the character of Ashra Kwesi is not what we would (or should) see in one who is concerned about unity in the community…not at all!
Therefore, I submit to you that as long as we continue to support Ashra by asking him to lecture at our gatherings, paying honorariums, buying his productions and participating in his tours that he will see no need to change from his destructive behavior or mend his ways. I also suggest that Ashra Kwesi make an apology to the Afrikan community for his behavior and if he refuses to do so, that he be reckoned as an adversary to our unity.
Brothers and Sisters, I do not have the words to explain how stressful it is addressing this kind of foolishness. Therefore, please understand that I have taken much time and care compiling this in the way that I best deemed fit. All that I have to say about this matter, I have said it in this missive and will not waste any more time with it. I pray that all who reads this will understand the intent of my heart in submitting it.
Hotep --- for the healing of the community,
Dr. Ray Hagins
AN OPEN LETTER TO ASHRA KWESI FROM DR. RAY HAGINS
When you became a member of our church one of the things that you agreed to was that part of our covenant which states… “We further engage to watch over and protect one another; to pray daily for the leaders and members of our body; to aid each other in sickness and distress; to cultivate sincere empathy and courtesy in speech; to be slow to take offense, but always ready for reconciliation; and to be mindful of the teachings in our daily living and to appropriate them without delay.”
What do I say to you, Ashra? I had hoped so much that we would get to talk while in the Bahamas .
You see, I have concluded that something happened to you that causes you to hold on to “stuff” indefinitely. I am so sorry that you are in so much pain. I don’t know who hurt you, Ashra, but it wasn’t me! Someone did…and it is quite evident that you are still carrying the anger from whatever happened. You need to deal with that because it is going to destroy you if you don’t.
I have watched how you lash out at people who violate what YOU think should be. You did it when we were in Egypt to Barashango over, and over, and over again. I am sure you remember my coming to you in behalf of the rest of the group and asking you to “let it go,” all because Shaka corrected you in front of the group. You were ruining everyone else’s trip with your constant retaliation against our brother.
Then, there was the sister who passed out “Jesus” fans at dinner one evening. Man, you literally leaped over chairs to get at her as though she violated and did bodily harm to a loved one. I admit that her behavior was inappropriate and needed to be addressed, but did it require such a drastic reaction (not response) from you?
There is a passage of scripture that says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Transliterated, that means that “a person thinks the way they do because that’s the way they are.” Ashra, you are you, and I know that there is no hope of unity between you and I because it’s just not in you…that’s all there is to it! And that’s fine with me, but it’s not fine when brothers and sisters (who have the highest respect for the both of us) become disillusioned by your behavior and feel that this whole thing of Afrikan consciousness and unity is a lie and not worth fighting for. I say this to you because I have talked to quite a few who have heard you say damaging things about me. A sister called my office from Chicago in tears because she attended a lecture you did there and you began to slander me. Is that what a historian, teacher, griot Elder, (or any other title that people have assigned to you) does?
There is an Afrikan proverb that says: “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” Well Ashra, the grass (in this case) are the people. Haven’t you harmed enough grass?” Or don’t you care?
Every now and then, some of the people who love the ground you walk on attend a lecture that I am giving. As soon as they approach me, I can discern their spirit. And it never fails, they ask me, “So what do you think about Ashra Kwesi?” And you know what, I have NEVER spoken against you. I have ALWAYS answered that question by saying, “Ashra is one of our best lecturers and historians.” And that is true…you are that.
The only problem here is, you don’t need to be a good-hearted person to be a “lecturer” or a “historian.” All you have to have is the intellectual data and the skill to communicate it to your audience. And you certainly have both. You do an awesome job at that. But, as you heard me say (as you were rushing to leave while I was up speaking in the Bahamas )… “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” That’s what is missing in you Ashra.
Ashra, I know that you know what Ma`at is (at least from an intellectual perspective). But are you doing it? I haven’t seen ma`at in your deportment since we first met. I have seen isfet though, especially in how you interact with others.
Do you remember the night we were at Applebees and a young, zealous brother asked you a question about extraterrestrials building the pyramids. You had no compassion for this young brother’s emotions at all. You humiliated him right in front of everyone. This young brother considered you as one of his teachers. I could see that his spirit was crushed. But that didn’t matter to you.
I don’t know, Ashra, maybe that’s just how you are. And as I said, that’s fine with me. You don’t add to or take anything away from me, but the people deserve better.
So, since you seemly cannot help yourself with regard to controlling your tongue and emotions when it comes to me, I will have to help you. Therefore, be advised that I am (for the first time) formally requesting that you cease and desist making any remarks about me that may be considered slanderous and/or injurious to my character and reputation. Any such further behavior on your part will be met with prosecution to the fullest extent of the law.
It is so sad that I have to do this, but evidently you cannot stop on your own accord. I hope, therefore, that this letter will empower you to comply with my request. Or you will leave me no choice but to enforce it. And, Ashra, please do not doubt my resolve.
Dr. Ray Hagins