July 24th, 2008
07:45 PM ET

Finding Faith

Program Note: In the next installment of CNN's Black in America series, Soledad O'Brien examines the successes, struggles and complex issues faced by black men, women and families, 40 years after the death of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Watch encore presentation Saturday & Sunday, 8 p.m. ET

We devote several days on the blog to smart insight and commentary related to the special.

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Rev. Akono Ekundayo
Preacher, Atlanta Union Mission

Editor's note: Rev. Akono Ekundayo is a 1968 graduate of Little Rock Central High School, which was desegregated years earlier with the help from the Arkansas National Guard. When his guidance counselor told him he would be better suited as a garbage man than a college student, he joined the Air Force. Shipped off to Vietnam, he discovered heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. Upon returning Akono turned to crime to get money. This led him to rob a bank, and go on the run. He was eventually caught, went to jail, served long term and returned to the streets selling crack after he got out. He became addicted to drugs and alcohol, and it robbed him of everything. He had a failed marriage and a lost relationship with his daughter. After a few stints in and out of rehab he found faith. Akono is now a preacher working at the Atlanta Union Mission in Georgia. He also councils black men struggling to get back on their feet and helps them find jobs. He shares his thoughts with the blog:

My story starts with an issue of hopelessness, the loss of a father, the disconnection of family ties, the social and societal attitudes of that time, and the general belief that God was against me.

Hope is one of the greatest needs in the individual and families of our day. Someone has said that if you have lost hope, you have lost everything, and far too many individuals have lost their hope. They are not seeking transformation; they are seeking survival. Drugs and alcohol allows one to survive, if it's only for a few moments. The pain of unresolved issues can be dampened by a hit, a puff or a drink. I survived for twenty-nine some odd years because I believed there was no hope.

Until a recovering addict (a CME preacher) who had taken the opportunity to change his thoughts about himself and God told me, "I never had to live that way again if I chose not to!" It was NOT the first time I heard those comments (especially after seven treatment centers), but it was the first time I took him sincerely. The rebirth of hope happens in conversion and transformation. Many people are not believing in God for a better tomorrow, they just hope there is a tomorrow.

Conversion speaks of one coming to the understanding that a power greater than yourself is able to change the view of their landscape. Conversion is not an outward appearance but an inward reflection about the true meaning of life. One begins to understand that life is not on our terms. It is truly in the hands of compassionate God.

In conversion I had stop looking at God as a mean and spiteful deity who only wanted to send me to HELL, but realize actually God is a loving and nurturing Father who operates behind the scene to bring about his child's best interest. I remembered all the comments made by the haters, all the opportunities to dead in negative situations, all of the out of body experiences related to overdoses, and yet I am still here. Was God after my destruction? Conversion led me to see that my setback was a setup for VICTORY!

That revelation led to transformation. I had to stop letting people, places and things define who I am. I began to believe in what I read, that I am more than a conqueror. The more I believed in the God in me, the more positive life became, the more positive life became, the more HOPE returned. The more I understood that God loved me and was working to bring lasting joy and transformation. I began to see the miracle that this behind the scenes God was working to bring about. I have no need to conform to the world, I have a need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.

I am not where I want to be (yet), but I am where I use to be and that is JOY!

Filed under: Black in America
soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. William Courtland, Waterford, Ontario

    It is true, the environment around us will change our physical nature to make the person, the body, more comfortable in that local or to protect itself, but that only changes the 'I am" of self; but, when we work for a community of many, one of common goals and belief's, that 'we' those many of respects can change the environment and so bring a new alteration to their selves, those selves now live on the same planet, one earth; now and at this present time the environment to many is found on a global scale and the 'we' required to make that next change is not large enough due to these petty separations provided by labels which are taken out of the proper context of the english language.

    Our environment changes us, we in community change our environment, and now the many societies are confronted with a global change and a global civilization is required to conquor.

    July 25, 2008 at 1:04 am |
  2. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    James Dylan...............

    I do understand your position..................pick up a book by Eckhart Tolle and open it to any page.......anywhere. I speak of something other than religion. It doesn't take long in a Tolle book for you to Awaken to something I cannot explain. I can only point you to it. If you have no religion already, you are half way there.............

    July 25, 2008 at 12:45 am |
  3. William Courtland, Waterford, Ontario

    Is it so hard to promote this idea of 'race' as a simple mistake of English, as race the difference between Cats and Dogs...

    Endemic adaptation is a science for medical professionals likened to that of genius or genetic decease, and when it is brought up with the idea of making the point of the difference with cultural bias by those without a medical intent it only creates tension...

    No matter your skin color you can learn any language, no matter your religion the emotions and even the empathy still carries through, no matter one's nationhood the world heritage sites are the heritage and history of everyone...

    This issue of skin color is an old issue... but if you think that you are different you will act different and so be treated different.

    These words are black and white on the page... but what color am I?

    July 25, 2008 at 12:29 am |
  4. William Jackson

    I overlooked Bob's comment from Dover and while I do not exalt the Reverend as a hero in the traditional sense, I do see his lifestyle change a positive for not only him, but the community he resides in. What was his contributions while using to the community? Nothing as he was a parasite sucking the spirit and life out of the community as he nodded away. His transformation provides hope for the still struggliing addict that there is a chance to change. There is nothing worse when a man or woman's despair is so great that he/she sees no ray of hope. The addict cannot possibly look down at anyone, but offer sympathy and understanding and can offer that addict that ray of hope that he/she may not see at all for the remainder of the day. This is one reason why AA and Na is so pwerful, because it gives that new , recent detoxed individual support and a direction back to the living. That crack addict is not harm to the community when he/she is high, but when that high subsides and the money runs dry to purchase drugs, The compulsion and drive to do anything to get enough to get the drugs. That translates to homes broken into, peopel acting like a stick up kid, and becoming someone to be fearful of.
    So in my opinion his cleaning up means a safer community.

    July 25, 2008 at 12:16 am |
  5. Tasha Dallas TX

    It will always be someone to knock you down and try to step in the way of God working. This show depicted everyday people, not putting anyone in the spotlight and trying to make them into a hero. Even though its a series titled Black America it is something that everyone should be able to relate to.

    I praise any person that has made a tremendous change from the negative situations they were in. Why should this man not be seen as a role model, or as a "good person"? Because he did fall victim to the worldly things, because it took him sometime to see the path that God had set forth for him. Why not take his story and see the deeper meaning. It was to show that even though we fall short we can pick ourselves back up and turn our lives around.

    Instead of finding problems with things and people see the truth underlying meaning to what has been said or done. Commend him for his honesty. Look at the good this man is doing. Helping ex-cons find jobs, giving back from what he has taken...

    Stop the bitterness. That alone leads to destruction.

    July 24, 2008 at 11:37 pm |
  6. William Jackson

    No doubt I applaud the Reverend for changing his life, It takes a great deal of courage to change voluntarily. Humans for years have stuck with the same script regadless of the consequences, It is that minute or hour that one finally sees the light and determines it is time. The sad part is the time lost while going through his transformation. Nevertheless, to change is the goal and his is to be commended.

    July 24, 2008 at 11:31 pm |
  7. bob in Dover, DE

    I really hate when I see someone like this being exalted as a hero.

    This man is not a hero...

    Just like anyone of us he can seek forgiveness from man and God but there are too many good people out there to ever call this man a hero just because he cleaned his life up and began to live respectfully.

    You can be a hero for many reasons small or large but not just because you live your life right.

    And I guess what I am saying is I don't have a problem with this guy.....
    I do have a problem with the people that exalt him to hero status.

    July 24, 2008 at 10:59 pm |
  8. James Dylan

    I am a 32 year old son of alcoholic and heroin addicted parents. Two years ago my father, a devout Christian especially during his many stints in prison, overdosed and died. My mother recently celebrated her 20th year clean and sober, and is now a counselor for addicts; after graduating from college with a great deal of help from the government. I've seen first hand both paths of which drugs can lead. My mother, never having a belief in a higher power, needed and did come to the conclusion of a God.
    Conventional wisdom would tell some that I would venture to that fork in the road my parents came to. I did not, nor will I. Deep down, in thought, I always felt free. And what free man ever needed a savior? In those few weak moments in my life that I looked towards faith, I only felt imprisonment. Those thoughts of something standing above me, no matter what their reasoning may be, I do not like. I do not like to hope either; to go into thought and then action is much more efficient.
    At age 22 I went to visit my father during one of his stints in prison. It had been many years since we last spoke. Over the course of the week I was in town, our several visits, every discussion fell to talks about God. Nothing could be understood between us as we could not talk as a man and man should. But I understood that is what he needed at the time; I felt no need to be selfish. I knew he was to far gone to ever know who I was, grown to be; whether he was on the street or behind bars.
    In a recent discussion with my mother she expressed her regret that she did not raise me with more faith. This offended me so I asked her a few questions. Prior to age four, my earliest memories, have you ever needed to tell me how to behave? Have you ever seen me be unjustly rude or impolite? Have I ever engaged in a behavior of consequence, mistakes, of which I did not find a my own way out? Her answer was no. I went on; I understand that you need to believe in a higher power, but I do not. Some people have to be told what to do and some don't. You needed to be told what to do. You lacked vision and now you need to teach it to others who lack vision. I love and respect you, you should do the same and don't repeat your regret to me again. It isn't for me, it is for you. I know she doesn't agree with me, but she understands me a little better.
    Not only drugs and alcohol has taken my parents from me, but faith and a belief in God has too. My sorrow comes not from a lack of parental guidance, I found mentors when I needed them and tossed them when I didn't, but that we will never be able to speak human to human; beyond God. I guess what I'm trying to say is the path from drugs to faith is, to me, only a trading of vices. Do not misinterpret this; I'm am not diminishing peoples needs, but saying that this process is not the final action needed. There are many more to go.

    July 24, 2008 at 10:21 pm |
  9. Kent Fitzsimmons,Kewanee, IL

    When you realize you don't need to pick up the glass to have that drink it is life changing. I know...........I am a recovering alcoholic. A former bar owner. Imagine that. After reading Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now I realized that it is the addiction that was controlling my destiny. With the addiction in check I control my own destiny. Your whole world becomes positive and when you realize all you have is Now......... you don't worry about the past or really the future. All you have is today...............I choose life................

    July 24, 2008 at 8:13 pm |