Permission to be Black: My Journey with Jay-Z and Jesus

Reviewed by:

G. Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Permission to be Black: My Journey with Jay-Z and Jesus


A.D. Thomason


InterVarsity Press

Publication Date:

February 23, 2021




184 pages


“I am surprised you are still alive.”

A.D. Thomason wasn’t expecting his therapist to say that. Coming from a large African-American family in Detroit, with an absent father and various other traumas, Thomason was very familiar with pain. Like many African-American men, he had been taught to keep all those things in, that “we don’t talk about these things.” With more therapy, he came to understand his own pain and find ways to heal from it. He describes what that journey looked like, and his discovery that he didn’t have to keep his problems bottled up or dissociate from his past by buying into a majority American culture ideal that denied his ethnic roots. As he tells his story, Thomason gives readers “Cheat Codes,” summarizing the lessons he learned that led to new freedom.

The insights that Thomason gives come from many subjects. He talks about the need to talk about past pain in order to become reconciled to it. He considers the struggle for African-American men to build a sense of identity that honors their ethnic roots without following unhealthy patterns (such as the tendency to siphon off anger through violence or substance abuse). He works in some insights from medicine and neuroscience, about how pain and trauma literally affect people’s bodies. He tops it off by noting how it’s easy for minorities to see Jesus as a symbol of Western Christian oppression, but in fact Jesus was a minority himself: we often forget that Jesus was a Middle-Eastern man discriminated against for coming from a backwater town, and was also part of a country oppressed by Roman invaders.

Theologians interested in New Testament culture and trauma therapists have talked about all these ideas in some form over the years. Generally though, these ideas circulate in academic discussions or upper-class families with access to counselors and other expensive services. As an African-American man growing up in inner-city Detroit, Thomason didn’t have those resources and didn’t discover these insights until later in life. He helps readers coming from a similar background to understand the ideas, re-contextualizing the ideas for a new audience.

His use of spoken-word poetry at the end of each chapter adds another level to this re-contextualization: he’s not just explaining ideas to people, he’s capturing the themes on a poetic level. This is no cut-and-dried academic discussion. This is a clarion call for healing and new life on an individual and communal level.

A very brave book.


Rating (1 to 5 stars)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Suggested Audience

African-American Christians seeking ways to overcome trauma and develop a sense of racial and ethnic identity which has roots, as well as finding a sense of identity in Christ.

Christian Impact

Thomason emphasizes the need to recognize one’s pain in order to heal from it, a principle that fits into the Judeo-Christian view of mental health and of humanity’s brokenness. Throughout the book, he emphasizes that ultimately healing is found in Jesus, and helps minority readers get past disillusionment with Christian

Permission to Be Black: My Journey with Jay-Z and Jesus


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