All of them, those in power, and those who want the power, would pamper us, if we agreed to overlook their crookedness by wilfully restricting our activities.
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Visit any neighborhood in the Black community and you're bound to find a church on nearly every city block. When it comes to faith-based communities, African Americans are believed to be one of the most religious and spiritual especially those who practice Christianity, Islam, Catholicism, or Judaism. There are even some Buddhists, thanks in part to iconic celebrity, Tina Turner, who introduced Black folk to the religion in her autobiography, "What's Love Got to Do With It." But, when it comes to another religious belief, Scientology, lots of black entertainers are mum.
However, one Hip Hop legend isn't afraid to speak out about being a Scientologist. For eight years, Douglas "Doug E. Fresh" Davis, has been a member of the fastest growing and most controversial religion to come on the scene.
"I am the first Hip Hop artist to do it," said Doug E. Fresh, 42, who was introduced to Scientology through his former girlfriend, Miss Jones, an early 80s R&B singer, former New York and Philadelphia radio personality, and author of the book, "Have You Met Miss Jones?: The Life and Loves of Radio's Most Controversial Diva."
"Isaac Hayes was a former coworker of Miss Jones and he told her about it," said Doug E. Fresh. "I went with her to one of the classes. Miss Jones stopped going but I continued. I found it fascinating. It changed how I thought. I've learned how to look at things and not judge them but respect them and use it in a way that people understand that I respect them, show them love and respect their reality."
Fascinating as it might be, Scientology has received much public scrutiny from. Since the religion's inception it has been referred to as a cult that practices black magic and sorcery, along with tales of UFOs and alien spirits inhabiting each human. One of Scientology's most revered and vocal advocates has been A-list celebrity, Tom Cruise. The media has not frayed from their attacks on Cruise and his "odd" behavior blaming it on Scientology. There's his infamous appearance on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2005 when Cruise leapt from his seat and jumped up and down on Oprah's sofa declaring his love for his then bride-to-be Katie Holmes. There was also that same year his appearance on "The Today Show" when Cruise criticized actress Brooke Shields for advocating anti-depressant medicine she was using for post-partum depression. He later apologized to Shields, but critics blamed Scientology because of its strict rule of not treating illnesses with drugs.
Beyond that, there is also one of Hubbard's ideologies which consist of "The Space Opera." It states that humans are thetans ("immortal spiritual beings") inhabited by alien spirits that are presently trapped in "meat bodies" and have innumerable past lives that existed in extra-terrestrial cultures prior to their arrival to planet Earth.
"It's a new religion. It's not as old like most religions," said Doug E. Fresh. "People don't know enough about it, so they come up with all types of bad things about it. The media has beaten it down and they never came in and checked it out."
Despite the media's censure, the religion, which was founded by L. Ron Hubbard in 1953, has more than 7,700 Scientology churches, eight million members, and is located in more than 164 countries. Scientology has infiltrated the masses at an exponential rate. In less than a century Hollywood movers and shakers such as John Travolta, Lisa Marie Presley, and Kirstie Alley have all become Scientology members.
While the percentage of Black celebrities associated with the religion is virtually nonexistent, musical and cultural icons such as Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, MC Lyte, actor Haywood Nelson (better known as Dwayne Nelson from the 70s television show, "What 's Happening!") and the late great Isaac Hayes, are Scientologists.
"Scientology addresses the spirit, not simply the body or mind, and works from the premise that man is far more than a product of his or her genes," said John Carmichael, president of the Church of Scientology of New York. "I like to think that the Black community is less likely to have a blind faith in the media, but they should know that Scientology is easy to understand, and easy to find out about for yourself."
In an effort to increase their visibility within the Black community The Church of Scientology has two centers, one in Inglewood, CA and one in Manhattan's Harlem neighborhood located between East 122nd and 123rd Streets. The Harlem church opened its doors in 2001 and currently has 15 staff members and a little more than 60 active members. And with help from the International Association of Scientologists, the Church of Scientology in Harlem purchased buildings on renowned 125th Street, making it one of the largest churches in the U.S. for the organization–a six-story building about 55,000 square feet with a community center, two doors down, at 16,000 square feet.
"Harlem, from Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and eventually Stevie Wonder and Hip Hop, has been an international cultural beacon," said Carmichael. "Besides residents of the neighborhood, the Church of Scientology of Harlem will also provide an especially congenial atmosphere for Scientologists in the Bronx and in Brooklyn, who already make up a large part of the Scientologists of African descent, as well as more recent arrivals from Africa and the Caribbean."
The Church of Scientology in Harlem was started by two African-American women, the late mission holderThelma Mitchum, who passed away TK months ago at the age of TK, and its current president, Verlene Cheeseboro, 64. In 1999, Cheeseboro, a Harlem resident, created a tutorial program, The Hollywood and Education Literacy Program Harlem (H.E.L.P. Harlem), for the young children of her neighborhood because "Harlem is one of the most underserved and poorly educated areas." However, she was unable to find any educational resources that provided tools for adequate learning. A former co-worker at the New York State Department of Corrections introduced her to Scientology. She searched out the materials, studied the technology, and began using it in her programs.
"Our children are not being educated in Harlem, or New York City," says Cheeseboro. "They are at the bottom of performance level. With Scientology, our children can get a great education and salvation. There are already children around the world using the tools and have seen tremendous effects of the technology. It helps them to become a literate person."
Also, according to Carmichael, Scientology is currently serving the Black community with programs from teaching two million children in the Johannesburg suburb of Soweto to study, "something which had been denied to them by the Apartheid rulers." The Criminon program works with ex-prisoners of all races to honesty, self-respect, to help reduce recidivism and lead a productive lives. And their drug rehab program, Narconon. The largest such non-governmental program in the world, similarly deals with a plague which degrades its target without regard for skin color.
"We are taking all the vital steps to bring about a true renaissance in Harlem through programs that help with the problems we have been told needed solving," said Cheeseboro. The problems she's referring to are thigh illiteracy rates and the community's drug infestation. The church currently provides programs that consist of a "Say No to Drugs" campaign; Youth for Human Rights and The Way To Happiness which teaches young people and adults to stay away from gang violence, and to respect other people.
Behind the mysticism associated with Scientology, one of its basic principles focuses on language and communication. It teaches that many of the breakdowns in a person's life are attributed to their misunderstanding of communication, especially in word usage.
"In Scientology you learn to make sure you understand the meaning of words," Doug E. Fresh said. "You don't read something and not know what it means. If you don't understand something you won't pay attention to it. You should understand what you are reading. "
One of the biggest misconception about Scientology is that you can't be a Christian. "I grew up as a Baptist and I love me some gospel music," says Cheeseboro. "I am still a Baptist. You can be any religion– Muslim, Christian, Protestant–and study Scientology."
Still with so much negativity surrounding Scientology from alleged brain-washing, financial misappropriations, and intimidation of members the religion continues to move forward in seeking out Black members. "Scientology is not a White religion. It is not just for White people," says Doug E. Fresh. "Scientology is not written with disrespect toward God. It doesn't worship something that is evil. It is scientific, mathematical, and spiritual. The Black community has to check it out and see what's there. I'm not saying it's for everyone, but you have to take a look. You may be amazed at what you get."