Thinking of Assata

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Thinking of Assata
by Laura Wise (Guest Contributor)
{image via Omiroo Gallery: Oakland, CA}

A few years ago, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was at a major turning point in my life. I had been laid off from what I thought was my dream job. Everything that I thought I wanted out of life was being challenged. So in the midst of my newfound, unwanted, freedom I took on greater responsibility in my local church to keep me busy and my mind occupied. As a result, a few months later, this revived passion for stewardship in the church (which was honestly brought on by unemployment) provided a life changing opportunity.

I was invited to attend a conference in Greensboro, North Carolina concerning the growing prison industrial complex in the United States, specifically concerning Black’s and Latino’s. Having been working in the fashion industry for the previous 2 years, this concept was foreign to me. Thinking back, it shouldn’t have been but that’s water under the bridge at this point. In those 4 days of the conference I was thrown head first (no safety net) into a world of the radical injustices, past and present, occurring in our country.

I wasn’t completely na├»ve of course; I know my history. I watch the news. My problem was that I wasn’t connecting these issues to my own life. Seeing that I’m a black woman living in America, how could I not see that because black men are the largest group of incarcerated people in this country that yes, it does affect me? My eyes were closed. I was failing to realize that all social problems in America, in the world, are my problems too. It is personal; It does affect me.

Fast forward... The conference is coming to a close. There was another young adult there who I had been wanting to speak to, but up until this point, time didn’t allow it. I found myself caught up in a rush of emotions that were new to me. I wanted to get another young adults perspective on why this work mattered to him - mattered at all. He told me his story. He told me that he read a book that changed everything when he started his own journey down the road to working for justice. He told me he had an extra copy of the book and would run home to get it for me. I was amazed at how open he was, not to mention his generosity and willingness to let a relatively complete stranger have such a prized possession. At this point I was on pins and needles. The conference had wrapped up and I would be heading to the airport soon. I thought, would he forget about the book he promised me? Would he make it back in time? He did in fact make it back in time, just before my group headed for the airport. He handed me the book – “Assata: An Autobiography”. I knew the story, but admittedly only through song; Common’s A Song for Assata from his fourth studio album released in 2000, Like Water for Chocolate.

I graciously accepted the book and promised I would return it one day, and I fully plan on keeping that promise. I only met him that one time, but I vividly remember our conversation. I consider him one of the many angels God has sent to me throughout my lifetime. He shared a story with me that changed his life, which in turn changed mine. It was the force that started the motion within my own journey to fighting injustice.

I reflect on this now because of the recent resurfacing of Assata Shakur’s case in the media. The FBI has recently placed her on the list of most wanted terrorists. Ms. Shakur is the first woman to ever appear on this list. I only wonder why? Why after 40 years, after Ms. Shakur has been living under political asylum in Cuba since 1984. The bounty on Ms. Shakur’s head has been doubled. Why now has the government decided that this case is again high priority?

Shakur’s story came to me when I needed it, and now it means something to me. It is synonymous with my personal understanding of the fight for justice – in the US and around the world. Her story taught me more about my own history as a black person in the United States through the lens of her affiliation and fight for true freedom with the Black Panther Party. Whether she committed the crime she is accused of committing or not is not the point of this reflection. It’s about what her story represents to me; struggle. The broad struggle - of race, gender, socioeconomics, marriage equality, etc. As well as the struggles of understanding privilege dynamics, understanding that we all are our sister’s keeper... the list goes on.

Those things that once upon a time I didn’t pay attention to, I now do. This is not a story about taking a side, merely an explanation of one girls journey to living in this wonderfully created world with her eyes wide open.

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