Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I believe in the Sweat of Love and the Fire of Truth

It's Black History Month.  I've been inspired by the facebook posts of my friends, posting images and stories of important African Americans in their history and in their lives.  So today I'm going to tell you about a Black woman who changed my life.  I'm not going to tell you about someone I know.  I'm going to tell you about Assata Shakur and how how my life was changed when I read her autobiography.

I thought I was going to study photography when I went to college.  In my first semester I took an African American history class and realized how much I had been lied to in my history education.  This began a rather naive search for "the truth" of history.  It was in a class on the relationship between the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power movement that I read the autobiography of Assata Shakur.  This book changed my life.

Assata Olugbabla Shakur, who's name means "She who Struggles" "For the People" and "The Thankful" is a leader in the struggle for Black liberation in the United States.  She has dedicated years of her life to radical resistance to racism in the US.  For her action, she was targeted by the US government's campaign against people of color, COINTELPRO.  The dramatic part of the story of her life is that she was arrested in a shootout with the NJ police.  She was later convicted of shooting a police officer and sentenced to many years in prison.  She was injured during this shootout and medical evidence shows that she could not have committed the crime she was convicted of.  However, this evidence was not allowed in her trial. 

Years later, she was liberated in a "commando style raid" upon the prison facility where she was being held.  Not much is known about this raid.  She managed to leave the United States where she lives with her family, "free with political asylum in Cuba".

Common, a kick ass hip hop artist, wrote a song about her.  You can listen here.

It wasn't the dramatic story of escape that touched me so deeply about this woman.  It was her words about the lived experience of black people in the United States that moved me.  As a white woman who grew up in Virginia, I am no stranger to racism.  I have witnessed it and seen it impact black and white people that I love.  The thing about her book, for me it was a wake up call.  It was a call to action. Her words, her poetry, both gave me hope and helped me to see, just a glimpse, of how much there is to be done. 

Assata Shakur is controversial.  She's a radical.  She's a truth teller and she's a prophet.

She changed my life.  She opened my eyes.  She woke me up.

Maybe she'll change your life too.  True to the values of black liberation, a copy of her book is available for free download here.

There have been many nights that I have opened up her book and read a passage aloud to myself to reconnect with the sacred spirit of justice, the spirit of liberation.


This Black History month I honor Assata Shakur.  
I say thank you, thankful one.  
Thank you for your struggle for the people.  
Thank you for the ways that you inspire me to fight against racism.  
Thank you for your wisdom and your poetry.  

The divine speaks through you elder sister.

By Assata Shakur

I believe in living. I believe in the spectrum
of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine
in windmills and waterfalls,
tricycles and rocking chairs.
And I believe that seeds grow into sprouts,
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.

I believe in life.
And I have seen the death parade
march through the torso of the earth,
sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
and seen the bloodthirsty maggots
prayed to and saluted.

I have seen the kind become the blind
and the blind become the bind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
and breathed the stench of indifference.

I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if I know anything at all,
it's that a wall is just a wall
and nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.

I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
and in the fire of truth.

And I believe that a lost ship,
steered by tired, seasick sailors,
Can still be guided home
to port.