All About Arthur: Remembering Arthur Freedman
There are thousands of people who have participated in the work of the National Hispanic Institute over the years, whose contributions are appreciated. But there are only a few who have helped shape the organization’s mission from the beginning. When you lose one of these giants, those left behind are often without words to describe the emptiness and despair of that individual’s critical presence in their lives.
Such was the feeling we at NHI had upon learning we’d lost Dr. Arthur Freedman this past week. My personal friendship with Arthur went back to 1966, when we met in Houston, both working on community-based anti-poverty initiatives. He was 28; I was 25. He was on a contract to engage the organization I was working with on team-building and sensitivity training. I consider myself lucky to have become one of his students. Our friendship was instantaneous and lasted 56 years.
Arthur became a constant companion to me, saw my four children as his niece and nephews, and referred to my parents as “Mama” and “Papa.” He would spend nights at our home, and expected to see us when our NHI travel plans took us to Chicago, where he once lived, or Washington D.C., the last place he called home.
It remains difficult for me to realize that “Arturo” and I shared 56 years of conversation. They were on topics usually related to race and gender relations, Latino community views and practices, the impact of poverty on society, and the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
He was a clinical psychologist by title and in his private practice. He was also a Ph.D., a noted expert on organizational development and management at the World Institute for Action Learning, Arthur also taught at Johns Hopkins University and American University. He studied at Boston University, and received a PhD from the University of Chicago in Personality and Clinical Psychology At NHI, however, he was simply Art, a personal friend who loved the work of the organization and was profoundly moved by its community mission.
In all the time that he visited us, trained NHI education faculty, or inserted his views and opinions on policy, he never sought compensation or requested special recognition. He only wanted to know that he was part of our efforts to evolve and play a meaningful and contributing role to the community NHI served.
Though this NHI brother will now be absent in our lives, he will long be remembered for his presence in our work. Personally, I have a fixed image of a Russian Jew who constantly had a cigarette in his hand and a penetrating look in his eyes.
He rarely made conclusive statements about anything in his approach to training and professional development. He was more apt to raise questions that led to more questions, and stirred more engagement and exchanges. He did use comparisons, studies, even life experiences of various sorts to shed light on particular topics under discussion. Rarely, however, did he do it to posture himself as knowing more. It was typically for the learner to gain further insight into their own opinions and views.
To Arthur, it was far more important to help other people learn for themselves rather than from him. This was classic Arthur at work, and his influence was incorporated into NHI’s training philosophy and practices.
In fact, it was Arthur who was fascinated and at times concerned about NHI’s Third Reality concepts, in how they applied to everyday practices. It was well into the early 2000s when my ideas and Arthur’s idea of me as his “little brother” came into play. He was the older, more experienced, better-trained professional; I was the learner-in-waiting.
We never grew apart during this period of our relationship, but our encounters were more heated in intensity. My good friend had a classic reformist view of the nation’s mainstream, invariably agreeing to its weaknesses and faults, especially in race and gender relations and also including economic and political inequities. Whatever the conversation, I could always expect him to raise a question that in time became embedded in my head: “So what do you or NHI expect to do about it?”
What Arthur was suggesting in his questions was for me to figure out how best to navigate the “system” or how best to make changes and adjustments in the system to better serve my needs and expectations. My argument with Arthur was that neither alternative would ever work, because it would be like betting against the house. You might win a few times in the process, but the house invariably controlled both the process and the rules that governed the game, and those rules that could be changed at any moment.
During one of our more heated discussions in Chicago, I proposed that perhaps the Latino community should consider divorcing the American mainstream politically, socially, economically, and even culturally, and work towards a separate reality altogether, an idea that eventually became know as a Third Space or Third Reality.
Our discussion at the time became so heated that Arthur started to twist my arm playfully as we crossed the street. “To you,” I stated, “I may be seen as your little brother. To me, however, I’m Ernesto Nieto, with my own preferred views and beliefs of the world, not Arthur’s student. And if you really wish to help, do so based on our preferred views, beliefs, and search for meaning.”
At that moment, our chemistry changed for good. We would continue to be brothers and lifelong friends, but no longer as big and little brothers, but instead as mature and independent adults who deeply cared for one another and had their own independent journeys to fulfill.
Conversations between us were never brief: They were always long, detailed, and challenging to our minds. Whenever Arthur visited with us at NHI in Maxwell, staffers loved to be around him, gaining the benefits of his wisdom and professional experience. None of the staff or members of NHI’s extended family really knew much about his extensive background, his college teaching credentials, or his writings. To them, Art was merely one of Ernesto’s best friends, someone ready to help fill in the blanks.
He was moved when we awarded him NHI’s highest recognition, the Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing his years of work to help build NHI.
Yes, Art, I will miss you, and many more of us will miss your wisdom and your constant questions. But know that your presence in the organization will be there for the long haul, as long as those around remember your influence on their work and in their lives. Gloria and I will sense the emptiness of you not being with us at home, our talks that could go on forever, and all the good times we spent together over the years. My grown children will miss their uncle, and yes, just for this time, I will be how you always saw me, your “little brother.” … e