“Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories…”
~ Amilcar Cabral
Dear Dr. Mutulu Shakur
I pray this note finds you well, and serves as a source of light & inspiration to embolden your spirit, and provide you with the necessary strength to endure your unjust imprisonment as we continue to fight for your freedom. I’m writing you this letter, publicly, because in a weird way, I feel it will improve the likelihood of you receiving it. This is a letter that I’ve put-off writing for sometime now, and if permitted to speak candidly, I would have to be honest and say that I’ve done so out of fear.
It’s been on my heart, for at least the past few years, to send you a letter of encouragement, but due to my active involvement as an organizer, I felt that doing so would only put a target on my back. While I can’t say that I no longer feel that way, events leading up to this present moment (02/22/2020) have led me to the conclusion that, whether I write you or not, as a Black Man in America, there’ll always be a target on my back, and cowardice only prolongs the inevitable.
This was not a decision (i.e. the decision to pen this letter) that I arrived at without some dissonance. Last May, I was invited to take part in a Unity Round Table, at Howard University, put on by the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America. While attending this event, I happened to be seated next to a very quiet woman, who didn’t say much the entire evening. During one of the breaks, she and I struck up a conversation, and I was surprised to learn that she was your childhood “sister,” Sister Madeline. I immediately asked her, “how is Mutulu?,” and she replied, “staying strong,” but would need our support if we wanted to bring you home.
We exchanged numbers, and I told her that I would do all in my power to contribute to the efforts to bring home our political prisoners. About 3 days later, I received a text message from her, informing me that all communications to you had been “cut off.”
I wasn’t surprised to hear this, because I’ve been told by plenty of movement vets, that our political prisoners, such as Mumia Abu Jamal, often have their external communications intercepted, and or confiscated as contraband. Nevertheless, I reached out to Sister Nkechi Taifa, by phone, and asked her how should I proceed if I still wanted to send you a letter of encouragement. She advised me to send the letter, and after expressing my “concerns” to her about the risk of being targeted, she told me It was my decision, but we shouldn’t be frightened into abandoning our people, and leaving them behind enemy lines.
As I’m sure you’ve gathered by now, I chose not to send the letter. I felt the risks were too high, and I would be of very little use to the movement, by painting a red target on my back for the government
What moved me from this position?
The risks associated with fighting for the liberation of our people, are risks that every Afrikan man, woman, and child, are intimately familiar with:
- Malcolm X; 39
- Martin Luther King Jr; 39
- Maurice Bishop; 39
- Walter Rodney; 38
- Medgar Evers; 36
- Dedan Kimathi; 36
- Patrice Lumumba; 35
- Charlemagne Masséna Péralte; 33
- Steve Biko; 30
“The first lesson a revolutionary must learn is that he is a doomed man.”
~ Dr. Huey P. Newton
Those who choose to resist the global system of white minority rule, are met with death or imprisonment. Those are the table stakes for folks who choose to play at this “game.”
These risks are not at all lost on me. I am not in search of death, martyrdom, and or imprisonment. Death, however, is certain — our only choice in the matter is if we’ll die fighting, or sitting passively, waiting to be killed? I won’t act as if I arrived at some sort of “messianic” epiphany. However, I do believe I’ve reached a point of acceptance, where I’ve learned to let go of the false sense of control we as humans feel we have over our own lives.
As I sat yesterday, meditating on what Malcolm X’s last day on this earth might've been like, the most prominent thought in my head was — “I’m only 3 years away from the age he was when he was assassinated.” This thought really gripped me, because all I could think about was my children, and the thought of them not having me around. But then immediately after thinking this, I was overcome by an even more frightening thought: “What kind of meaning will my life have, if I live in constant fear of losing it?”
And this is where I did have an epiphany:
To live in a constant state of fear, is not to live it at all. How can we live a meaningful life if our entire existence is caged in a prison?
This one thought brought me to perhaps my most profound realization — As a Black man in this country, we’re all living in prison, so why should we let which side of the gates we’re on prevent us from communicating with each other?
Stripped of my false sense of freedom and security, I felt free to write this letter. If I had but one opportunity for my words to reach your ear, what would I want them to say? After thinking long and hard on this question, I settled on the following — I thought it best to speak to you about:
- The current condition of our people;
- The new terrain in which we fight; and
- Americas continued attempts to mask her ongoing human rights violations, with window-dressing reforms.
The current condition of our people
America has returned to the days of naked violence, without fear of reprisal. Black people in this country are being murdered in their living rooms; murdered in police custody; murdered on avenues; murdered at gas stations; murdered while sitting in their cars; and murdered while playing video games with their adolescent nephews.
Economically, we’re moving steadily closer to the point of starvation, and have no means of protection against the eventual threat of extermination.
Socially, the close-knitness that once existed in our communities, has given way to isolation and alienation, and suicide rates are on the rise among our youth.
In spite of all of this, as the old saying goes, “where there is oppression, there will be resistance” — and the single most significant source of that resistance, remains the Black woman. Having become a student of struggle, I have learned how vital a role the Black woman plays in the resistance of a nation. My own personal experiences have shown me, that Black women with race consciousness, are the only thing keeping the fight for liberation alive.
There’s a pureness to the race conscious, nationalist woman, that gives her a since of clarity and fearlessness that is often missing in many of the men, who have abandoned revolutionary struggle, in favor of gradual reforms, and incremental pain reduction through the ballot. I’ve noticed how these women attempt to nurture the flame of resistance, in any son who even shows an inkling of a willingness to fight.
Take for example, Mama Pam Afrika. When I first met her, after just one conversation, she told me that she had a book for me that she wanted me to read. What book was this, an Unlikely Warrior, by baba Herman Ferguson.
After reading the book, I completely understood why she wanted me to read it.
Same with Mama Bayyinah Bello. I had the chance to speak with her briefly, before she gave her recent lecture in Philly. After the lecture, I stuck around for the book signing, and her message to me was no different than Mama Pam’s:
“Omowale, Assume your strength and build the power to defend your people!”
And last, but certainly not least, my own spiritual mother, Dr. Ama Mazama. She has taught me, more so than any other woman, the need to embrace a life of fearlessness; and when I asked her if she would consider giving me a name, “fearless,” was the name she thought most appropriate.
As stated at the beginning of this letter, I most certainly was not “fearless,” when she gave me this name. However, I recognize in her naming me such, it was her way of nurturing the seeds of resistance, that would allow me to one day grow into the name.
I share these experiences to show that although things may appear bleak, all is not lost. Just as it took Nana Winnie Mandela, to keep the fire of liberation burning in South Africa, it will be the race conscious woman in North America, and her army of fearless sons, that will open up the gates to free our political prisoners.
The new terrain in which we fight
In the 34 years since your arrest and unlawful imprisonment, the Black Liberation Movement, in America, has been completely retarded by the continued counterintelligence efforts of the State. Our organizational, and institutional apparatus, that was developed to work towards the aims of liberation, has almost been completely destroyed, with the exception of a few remaining fragments that still exist at the grassroots level. Mass confusion and mass surveillance has been the constant theme of the last 3 decades; and the latter was increased 100-fold under white America’s, first “Black” President.
The roots of mass confusion, can be traced back to points 4 & 5 of COINTELPRO’s — long range goals for destroying Black Nationalism. These efforts to wage ideological war on Black youth have bore their greatest fruit, as seeds of division. To identify as a Pan Afrikan Nationalist, or Revolutionary Black Nationalist, today, is to embrace a political scarlet letter, be written-off as a quack, and have your worldview completely invalidated. This government spawned, anti-nationalist movement has grown so strong in the age of social media, that folks who couldn’t identify a nationalist text, if Black Nationalism was written on the cover, are fully-equipped with anti-nationalist sloganeering, being spread through hashtags, and sassy tweets:
- We are not a monolith!
- We are not our ancestors!
- None of us are free, until all of us are free
- Black men are the white people of the Black Community
- Black men don’t want freedom they want power
Anti-nationalist sentiments are perhaps the strongest in the college-indoctrinated, “intersectional movement,” where the hate for nationalism, comes only second to the hate for heterosexual black men.
To be fair, intersectional activists, of the Black Lives Matter movement did embrace Mama Assata Shakur’s, Black Nationalist Manifesto — To My People — as a rallying cry for the movement, but they disregarded her entire 1,400 word address with the exception of the last 32 words in the letter:
“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
As Nationalist, movement builders, we have been completely isolated from our sources of support, and can hope for no respite from the Black professional working class, bourgeois academics, or young students on campus. To add insult to injury, white America’s Black elected officials, have helped to pass legislation that supports adjudicating us as domestic terrorists. To embrace nationalism in such an environment means either 1 of 2 things: 1.) you love your people, more than you love yourself, or 2.) You’re completely out of your mind.
I know I’m not crazy, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the white world uses the “crazy” label, as a diagnosis for Black people who want their freedom.
“Only the strong go crazy, the weak just go along.” — Assata Shakur
They literally labeled our ancestors “drapetomaniacs” for dreaming of life beyond the plantation, and having the audacity to chase those dreams.
It’s no different today. I recently stumbled across the declassified FBI files for Dr. John Henrik Clarke, and I found it interesting to see the categories used by the United States government to justify keeping tabs on their “citizens.” Of particular interest, was category 5a, because it literally gave the FBI the legal authority to investigate any black person in America who has ever expressed an interest in dismantling the systems of oppression that govern their lives.
Such ideas (i.e. dismantling oppression) are considered irrational, and are clearly suicidal, given the human rights track record of the United States of America.
Bare in mind that these declassified FBI files are from 1965. Modern-day organizers are confronted with a ballooning, and militarized, police state — and the terrain for resistance can be equated to standing at the shore with a mop trying to prevent the tide from coming in. Giving these conditions, our only hope as Afriakn people in this country, is to work feverishly towards building a base of power, capable of withstanding the inevitable collapse of the capitalist system, and the totalitarian State that will rise in its ashes.
It is from this unified base that we may continue the struggle to free all political prisoners. However, the ultimate success of our campaign will depend on our ability to reenergize the development of nationalist organizations, as the period of neo-liberal decadence rapidly comes to an end.
The movement for window dressing reforms: “What’s Free?”
“…to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.”
~ Assata Shakur
For the past 65 years, the United States of America has avoided answering for its continued crimes against humanity, through the strategic use of “window-dressing” reforms, and handpicked “Negro” ambassadors. The use of Black entertainers to protect America’s image against foreign accusations of human rights violations, was a strategy devised by the Eisenhower administration during the Cold War.
When we examine the modern day Criminal Justice Reform movement, it readily exposes itself as another attempt by America, to cover its long trail of human rights abuses. The movement, as currently constructed, was birthed in the early 2000’s by the Brookings Institute, and was meant to serve as a Democratic Party, policy carrot, during the 2004 election. As fate would have it, this initial push for criminal justice reform was drowned out by the sound of the nations war drums, and wouldn’t be picked up again for more than a decade.
During Barack Obama’s 2nd term in office, the issue of Criminal Justice Reform was put back on the table to serve as a policy baton, for succession planning. Rapper Jay Z, having replaced Reverend Al Sharpton as Black America’s #1 surrogate for the Democratic Party, was at the forefront of the newly revived, Brookings Institute, reform discussions. Serving as Barack Obama’s Chief Hip Hop Ambassador, Jay Z was given unprecedented access to the Democratic Party’s media outlets, to lead the public discussion on the need for reform.
Jay Z, like Eisenhower's “Jazz Ambassadors” before him, has very little awareness of how his hard won goodwill within the Black Community, is being mined for the political gold needed to finance the Democratic Party’s domestic and foreign agenda. On the local level, neo-liberal, criminal justice reform was needed as the center piece for Hillary — My Prisoners at the Governor’s Mansion were so happy — Clinton’s 2016 policy platform.
It was strategic enough, as a policy, to ingratiate Hillary Clinton with the Black community — by presenting it as something she was “doing for us” — while at the same time it could be pitched as non-race-specific policy, to avoid alienating the Democratic Party’s, racist, white voter base.
On an international level, it was the strategic cover America needed to drown out the continued claims of human rights violations, as evidenced by the disproportionate number of Black men, and growing number of Black women, being held in America’s political concentration camps.
Enters Meek Mill
The November 2017 sentencing of rapper Robert “Meek Mill” Williams, was the catalyst needed to galvanize Jay Z, the State, and the Democratic Party’s billionaire donor-base, around a single issue: PROBATION REFORM.
The lunacy of Meek Mills arrest and imprisonment, was so outlandish that overnight it made international headlines, positioning Meek as America’s new, most iconic “Political Prisoner” — The former being, Mumia Abu Jamal.
Meek’s arrest was political gold for the Democratic Party’s reform agenda, because it provided a grassroots movement, that appeared organic enough, to move full steam ahead with neoliberal criminal justice reform. Meek’s release also symbolized just how this new “reform” movement, would be used to drown out advocacy efforts on behalf of Political prisoners.
Just as Obama’s rise to the presidency, forever deafened the cries for justice by African Americans, Meek Mills ascendancy as America’s most iconic political prisoner, has aided in silencing the cry for justice by the Afrikans that have been held captive, since before Meek was born.
Meek’s Cinderella debut, and helicopter ride to the Sixers game, completely overshadowed, Mumia Abu Jamal, who on that same day, was finally back in court for his long awaited hearing to have his case reopened.
Articles you may find interesting: How “Bipartisan Criminal Justice Reform” Institutionalizes a Right-Wing, Neoliberal Agenda
But even beyond Mumia, the great tragedy, and injustice of this corporate-owned reform movement, is that it has allowed American policy makers to spin a narrative that U.S. Mass Incarceration is somehow the result of a “broken system,” and not the direct result of neoliberal policies intended to deal with the threat of Black radicalism.
Note: The screenshot below is from Meek’s appearance on CNBC, during his welcome home tour where he made stops at all the Democratic Party’s national media outlets. The gentleman you see on the screen is Glenn Hutchins, co-chairman of the Brookings Institute. I’ve linked his bio below, and I hope you will read it — Glenn Hutchins Bio
The sad irony here, is that two Black men who are the products of America’s fear of creating a new generation of George Jacksons and Fred Hamptons — Meek Mill & Jay Z — are both having their ignorance weaponized against the same group of political prisoners, who were the impetus for the neoliberal era of Mass Incarceration in America.
In the video below, Dr. Mutulu Shakur, discusses how in the year 1969, the Black Liberation Movement suffered more than 45 political assassinations, including Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, and 785 arrests, largely on trumped-up conspiracy charges.
That any Black man in America would be willing to entertain a discussion on Prison reform, that doesn’t involve the release of these political prisoners, and the pardon of those still in exile (e.g. Mama Assata Shakur) is the deepest of tragedies.
But even with my deep feelings of betrayal, I still continue to hope that our Brothers Meek Mill & Jay Z, will experience a legitimate awakening, as they had no control over the manufacturing of their consciousness, which has ultimately shaped their character.
In the wake of the generation of George Jacksons and Fred Hamptons, America sort to provide itself with an army of Jay Zs and Meek Mills, from which they could handpick the winners and losers. The consciousness of this new generation of black male youth has been manufactured to embrace hyper capitalism, and rugged individualism. Thoughts of collective struggle, don’t have a chance of entering such a mind, without the light of a proper political education.
“As a slave, the social phenomenon that engages my whole consciousness is, of course, revolution.”
~ George Jackson
This lack of proper analysis, is one of the reasons why Jay Z can name drop scholars like Ruthie Gilmore, to score criminal justice points, but wouldn’t be caught whispering the names of any of our political prisoners, in earshot of his corporate sponsors.
This inability for Jay Z to wrestle with his own contradictions, makes him the perfect running back on behalf of the State. Sometimes I ask myself, “does he realize how he’s being used to run interference, or is he blinded by the prestige and corporate deals that come with being useful?”
In no case was this more evident than his “Obama approved” trip to Cuba in 2014. Six-months ahead of Obama publicly announcing, that he was easing restrictions on travel to Cuba, Obama skillfully uses his Hip Hop diplomacy to signal a change is US policy with Cuba, the same way Nixon used Ping-pong diplomacy, to signal a change in foreign policy with China.
What was despicable about Jay Z allowing himself to be maneuvered in the interest of US foreign policy, was the Obama Administration also added Assata Shakur to the FBI's most wanted list, and placed an additional one-million dollar bounty on her head, as part of this process.
To date, Jay Z has never come out an condemned the Obama Administration, or America, who he assisted with changing their Cold War policy towards Cuba, even as they doubled-down on their Cold War policy towards Assata.
To be fair, I genuinely believe, that both Meek Mill and Jay Z feel they are doing the right thing.
The challenge I have with them, is they’ve both shown just how willing they are, to abandon the struggle of their people, when it aligns with their economic interests.
During his visit to the Breakfast Club to discuss “standing up for reform,” Meek Mill was asked by one of the hosts (at the 18:18 mark), if he’s concerned with his activism around prison reform “f*cking with those peoples money?”
All y'all gotta do is give me a warning, I’ll get out y'all way. I aint here to sacrifice my life for everybody… I’m here to sacrifice my life for my family and my son…
This one statement by the famed freedom fighter, sums up the consciousness of an entire generation — where the movement builders of yesterday, have been replaced by the brand builders of today. This notion that I will fight for my people, as long as it comes with corporate endorsements, speaking fees, a one-way ticket to the island of Black excellence — and no resistance from my oppressor, is the prevailing consciousness of our generation.
This cancerous mindset, as well as the aforementioned reasons, is what led me to write this open letter to you (Dr. Shakur). Marcus Garvey once said, “What you do today that is worthwhile, inspires others to act at some future time.” It is my hope that by writing this open letter, it will inspire others to examine and confront their own fears, as I have done my own.
Only time will tell if the island of Black excellence, can be transformed into an edifice of maroon resistance, or if it’ll remain America’s decadent colonization scheme, for it’s newly manumitted slaves — who falsely believe that the chains of mental enslavement can be broken with dollars.
“The ends you serve that are selfish will take you no further than yourself but the ends you serve that are for all, in common, will take you into eternity.”
~ Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey