By Melissa Fossum
By Lauren Wise
By New Times
By Amanda Savage
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Troy Farah
By New Times
For Professor Griff, knowledge is the strongest weapon in the human arsenal, though in the naivete of youth (he refuses to reveal his age), he has been inclined to regurgitate the ideas of his heroes, particularly Louis Farrakhan. And that is at the root of his recent problems. Behind the desk in his new office at Luke Records in northeast Miami, Griff takes a cassette tape from one of several plastic milk crates filled with them. It's a speech by the Nation of Islam's Abdul Allah Muhammad, delivered November 17, 1985. The title typed on the tape's label reads, "Will the Real Jews Please Stand Up." From the verbiage on that tape came the name of Griff's group, the Last Asiatic Disciples, because Asia represents the "whole world." Also from that tape--as well as from various "elders," street acquaintances and other sources--Griff received what he calls "a lopsided view of the situation. I take this stuff in, and it affects me." In an ironic echo of the words Sam Rogatinsky heard from the youngster at the Holocaust Memorial, Griff adds, "I'm taking it from a tape by a man who is smarter, more articulate, better informed than I am. Don't put it all on me. And you know, I haven't run across too many Jews willing to talk it out." Rogatinsky himself changed that.
AS THE MIAMI BEACH photo session concluded, a revealing reversal of roles occurred. Rogatinsky the student became a professor, and Griff the professor became a student. "If you have a question about Jewish history," Rogatinsky told Griff, "call me. If I don't know the answer, I'll find out who does for you." Griff in turn promised to fax a list of questions to Rogatinsky's organization. Then they jumped into Rogatinsky's green 1985 Volvo and drove the short distance to the Holocaust Memorial at Dade Boulevard and Meridian Avenue.
Rogatinsky acted as guide. "I explained to him what the pictures of the Holocaust were, about the human medical experiments," Rogatinsky said later. "I took him progressively through the memorial and into that tunnel to the statue. In the tunnel there's a skylight with the word `Jude' on it. I explained they put that on badges and would make Jews wear them so they could pick them out on the street. We went through the tunnel and I showed him the statue. He didn't know about the tattooed numbers branded on their arms. He didn't know about that. I explained that this is fairly recent, only forty or fifty years ago. Griff kept saying, `This is critical.'"
The experience, Professor Griff said, was enlightening. "I saw things I wasn't aware of even after talking to my Jewish friends in New York," he admitted. "It was my first time experiencing anything like that. Black kids don't know these things. I study, and I didn't know about some of these things, so the black kids without education definitely don't know about them.
"I had mixed emotions--both sad and angry," Griff continued. "It made me think! If that happens to them, if six million people can have that happen to them, imagine the 250 million blacks. It could happen to them, too. I mentioned to Sam that I bet a lot of Jewish people don't come here, because I know that if I was Jewish, I couldn't take seeing this. And he told me that, yes, that for some Jews it was too painful."
The following day, Griff reflected further on his encounter with Sam, the Holocaust Memorial and his own notorious words of a year ago. "I'm just sad about the whole incident," he said in reference to the Washington Times interview. "I'm not even going to go back and single out the quotes I made. That's nothing compared to what I saw yesterday. Now I'm more angry about the whole shebang, to be honest with you. If I knew what I know now, I never would have uttered those words. I would have stayed away from the whole subject."
But how would he reconcile his new historical perspective with his allegiance to the Nation of Islam? Suppose Louis Farrakhan himself called after reading these words and insisted that Griff had been taken in by some clever Jewish trick? "I don't think that would ever happen," said Griff. "He wouldn't say that. Now, someone in the Nation would probably say that, and I would ask them to prove it. The thing is, this wickedness is not sanctioned on either side. The difference in religions is up to each individual. The Nation was built on truth and righteousness, and it doesn't mock human suffering. So I can empathize with Jews and sympathize with blacks at the same time.
"One thing about me is I'm not that kind of hollow person," he continued. "You can't figure me out in one or two conversations. I'm no politician and I'm no Chuck D. I don't talk in circles, I talk directly. If you think I was joking or kidding or putting up a front when I went to the memorial with the gentleman, well, we'll see. My views change with time, and my views about this have changed. This could be a process of me maturing."