I thought it would be enlightening to shine the light on Ms. Assata Shakur for those who may not be hip to this political figure from the black community. Aside from being hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur’s god-mother, Assata was so many things. From a student activist to becoming a Black Panther, she left a huge mark on not only American history, but black history as well.
Previously known as Joanne Deborah Bryon, she changed her name to “Assata Shakur” as young woman who began to develop political consciousness and a stronger connection to her African roots. Assata means “she who struggles” and Shakur means “the thankful.” While attending Manhattan Community College, Assata became a student activist that was active in sit-ins, protesting racial injustices, as well as antiwar demonstrations. The death of Martin Luther King Jr. activated her rage for the black community and love tenfold causing her to embrace the militant Black Power movement and her rejection of nonviolence.
Following MLK’s death, Assata relocated to Oakland, California where she then joined the notorious Black Panther Party. While history books and European bred history tries to mark the Black Panther Party as a terrorist group, they were merely a group whose sole purpose was to protect African-American neighbors and neighborhoods from police brutality. The only thing that separated them from other civil rights groups was that they fought back. Literally.
Assata had an active hand in the Black Panther Party by helping organize community education programs, demonstrations, and political rallies. She also helped orchestrate the Free Breakfast Program for the children in the Harlem community and oversaw the planning of a free clinic and community outreach. As you can see, Assata Shakur was really all about helping protect her people at all costs and ensuring that they were in a position set up for success.
Trouble arose for Assata when she became a prime target of the FBI. This caused her to go into hiding and join the Black Liberation army which acted as network of former Black Panther members who were trying to escape unjust criminal charges. Shortly after being on the FBI’S Most Wanted List, Assata and others were targeted by the police during a routine highway traffic stop. Police drew their guns for what was supposed to be a faulty tail light stop and a shoot out ensued where a state trooper and Zayd Malik Shakur were both killed. Though forensic evidence backed her claims of not being involved in the deadly shoot out, Assatta was was placed in a federal men’s prison where she was placed in solitary confinement, given poor medical attention for her wounds and pregnancy, and suffered from physical abuse. It is because of Assatta’s placement in a men’s federal prison that it is no longer supposed to be allowed today, but as a political prisoner she was subject to even more abuse and unjust treatment because she chose to stand for her beliefs. Many of Assata’s supporters believed that her imprisonment was set up for her to be an example from the government to warn other radical political activists who sought to create change. Years after being transported from prison to prison, Assata Shakur eventually escaped from prison, fleeing to Cuba where she is currently residing safe and sound in asylum.
As African-American women, we should admire Assata’s strength, courage, and bravery. When you believe in something, it is important to stand up no matter how hard the task may be. If we become afraid to use our voices, afraid to live our truths, or afraid to create change in our communities because of the consequences of being a melanin woman with a voice, then we only hurt the generations of girls that will rise after us. We have to have the courage to speak up about the things that effect us all because it is our duty to the world.
Written by VIP Club Member: Charlie Nichols @groovyc