Exile and Prison-The Hidden Panther Legacy:Appreciating Assata @ 70!
October marked the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party. Salutes and tributes were to be had in many places. Many of those gatherings were anchored by a new film on the Party by Stanley Nelson, his ‘Vanguard of the Revolution:The Black Panthers,’ a film that made fresh use of archival footage and made the story appeal to a new generation.
Nelson should also be given credit for making it very available to elder Panthers as they proudly came together to tell their bold stories themselves as only they can do.
However, it was not without criticism. To be sure, many within those circles were not just critical of that incredible story still being confined to the personalities who launched it onto the world’s senses from its Oakland beginning, and not including broader representations of that legacy. It was after all a national organization that dared to have international outreach in a violently hostile environment, and the price that many paid to dare to ‘walk that walk’ was and is a heavy one that still goes underacknowledged. That dimension is especially painful to many because people have been killed and have been in prison for decades. So many felt that this incredible milestone was an opportunity to bring fresh attention to Panther political prisoners, many in prison now for over 40 years! Unfortunately, just like the film, those Panthers, those sacrifices, were reduced to footnotes of many of those gatherings just as they were in the film.
July 16th saw a gathering in Newark go in another direction entirely.
It marked the70th anniversary of the birth of exiled Panther Assata Shakur. It took place in New Jersey where there is active 2 million dollar bounty for her capture. It spotlighted her comrades still in prison and the rarely discussed plight of exile and its underacknowledged pains and challenges.
It was a beautiful, moving intergenerational program. From Panther elders, Atno Smith, who presented an amazing powerpoint on Panther history in New Jersey, and Kim Holder, who joined the Party when he was only 12 years old and had the task of taking Assata, then a new Panther, into the field, although she was several years older than he was, to labor veteran Larry Adams, vice chair of the People’s Organization for Progress and the Black Left Unity Coalition, who reminded everyone of the paramount importance of the Cuban Revolution, to a young Trenton based Black Lives Matter rep Shana Langley reading Assata’s forgotten Ode To My Mother, capturing Assata’s pain of losing her mother in exile, to teenager Ama Gora, who presented an endearing dance tribute to Assata performed to Assata’s poem Affirmation, it was participatory and multidimensional.
The centerpiece of it all came from Shakur’s only child, Kakuya Shakur, who rarely talks about her mother in public. Kakuya, a Chicago-based writer and mother of three, Assata’s only grandchildren, prepared a humbling heartwarming birthday video card to her mother that addressed the rarely heard pain of exile. She called birthdays “bittersweets.”
“Birthdays are anniversaries of separation, of loss, of pain,” she explained.
She said that they come with “the imprint, the mark, of years that have passed without being able to share stories, without relationships having a chance to evolve, without communication, without physical touch.”
She said that there is “this cruel history of persecution and oppression of Black people that you are acutely aware of, that your loved one endured and still endures.”
She told how painful it is to her “because there is no acknowledgement that the resistance movements of the 1960s and 1970s were logical responses to injustice.”
Yet true to her Panther heritage, she summed it all up by helping everyone see its ‘bigger picture’ when she said “I think that my mother, my father and their comrades, the long list of activists from that generation, represent the hope of conviction, that there always will be those that have the courage to resist the status quo, to sacrifice their own immediate freedom for the greater struggle for the freedom of others.
“It’s a hope that extends beyond my mother, beyond my father, beyond the frailities of their human bodies,” she said selflessly.
(Kakuya’s statement follows).
Kakuya was backed up by her sister Ksisay Sadiki, a talented filmmaker who is very much a part of real efforts to push for the freedom of Panthers like their brave father Kamau Sadiki, who was railroaded to prison for refusing to cooperate with the government wanting to use him to help capture Assata.
Although a proven professional and a multi-talented presenter, Sadiki felt the need to apologize for her nervousness, as she indeed was shaking during her remarks which only sharpened the traumatic reality of not only what her parents have had to endure, but what she, her sister and other Panther ‘cubs’ have had to also endure because of their parents’ commitment before she asserted pointedly.
“How dare they ask him to set up the woman who birthed their child.”
“My dad gives me so much strength,” she proudly told everyone.
Staying on the theme of her father’s strength, she ‘big pictured’ her challenge with her father’s own words to her.
“I don’t regret anything I have done.
“I’m going to hold it down for my people.”
Incredibly and not coincidently, Sadiki was sent to prison by the same judge, Stephanie Manis, who oversaw the railroading of Imam Jamil Al-Amin, the former H. Rap Brown just several years prior in ‘new South’ Atlanta.
The gathering also included Panther cubs Russell Shoatz III, Theresa Shoatz and Sharon Shoatz, children of Panther political prisoner Russell ‘Maroon’ Shoatz. Russell and Sharon, both vegan chefs, baked a cake for the affair and use the culinary arts to bring awareness to their father’s case and to the plight of political prisoners.
Dhoruba Bin Wahad, Shakur’s leader in the NY chapter who also endured 19 years in prison, called in from a conference Pennsylvania.
Sundiata Acoli, Assata’s co-defendant, called in from prison! Acoli has been in prison for 44 years. An incredible human being, he is now 80 years old and was told by the NJ Parole Board that he can be reconsidered for Parole in 15 years!
Organizers vowed to increase support for him, including launching a drive to get 45 clergy to come out for his release! He was treated to a drum solo from Onaje Muid and a thunderous round of applause!
Artist and former political prisoner Ojore Lutalo presented an original graphic art piece to Ksisay and shared several others.
Young area artist “Mink” Harden presented a moving portraiture of Assata and wearable art in the form of gorgeous earrings capturing Assata and Sundiata’s fallen comrade Zayd Malik Shakur!
For more information on these political prisoner support efforts, contact the NJ Black Panther Party Commemoration Committee at 973 202 0745 and at firstname.lastname@example.org…
Statement by Kakuya Shakur, daughter of Assata Shakur,
for her mother’s 70th birthday*
So its two days before my mother’s birthday, and I celebrate, first and foremost, that she survived. And the weight of those words, all that she has survived, has been heavy…
For the family, that it has always been bittersweets.
Birthdays are anniversaries of separation, of loss, of pain. There is always the imprint, the mark, of years that have passed without being able to share stories, without relationships having a chance to evolve, without communication, without physical touch. There is her heroism of her life that we, her family, celebrate and honor in silence everyday, but that’s uncelebrated in the public arena.
So there’s always this inherent contradiction of living in a nation that claims to be the leader of the free world, and yet there’s cruel history of persecution and oppression of Black people that you are acutely aware of, that your loved one endured and still endures. So you kind of feel like you live in this dual existence, and I think, as a Black American, that’s why to me our history feels so unsettled and so painful because there is no acknowledgement that the resistance movements of the 1960s and 1970s were logical responses to injustice and there is no public mourning for a generation of passionate humanitarians and revolutionaries like my mother and like my father who were intentionally suppressed, framed, jailed and even murdered for refusing to submit quietly to injustice.
But with the bitter, there is also the sweets. I think that for many, my mother, for many, is a symbol of humanity being resilient and triumphant. The simple humanity of acknowledging that it is wrong for this country to disregard Black lives, that it is wrong for amends to never to have been made for a people who have been historically oppressed, for a people to be marginalized in under resourced neighborhoods, under resourced schools, health care systems and for these cycles to continue to repeat themselves even to this day.
So I think that my mother, my father and their comrades, the long list of activists from that generation, represent the hope of conviction, that there always will be those that have the courage to resist the status quo, to sacrifice their own immediate freedom for the greater struggle for the freedom of others.
So it’s a hope that is sometimes daunting, but it is very much alive. It’s a hope that extends beyond my mother, beyond my father, beyond the frailities of their human bodies, and it’s a hope that this generation feeds on the laughter of their children and their grandchildren, who are loud, feisty, and still here.
So on my mother’s birthday, I say ‘Thank you for your sacrifice, and I hope that, on this day, that you are not alone. I hope that you can feel the love from family and friends…extended family reaching out to you from a far, and I hope that you know that there is not one second that you’ve forgotten and I hope that you know that there is not one day that your daughter has not felt your presence and isn’t reaching out to you.
‘So, I just want to let you know that I love you and I want to say “Happy Birthday!”…
*Statement made on July 14th, 2017…Two days before Assata Shakur’s 70th birthday. It was presented in a moving tribute to her held in Newark on July 16th….