Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Black Youth Learning About Assata & Constructing Hope

Through the experience of attending teach-ins about the political persecution and exile of Assata Shakur, I gained further insight about children's ability to understand and communicate the realities of their social world.

As we've seen in the news, read on the internet, and hopefully talked about in our social circles, Assata Shakur was recently added to the curious Most Wanted Terrorist list and had an increased bounty of $2 million placed on her head by the FBI under President Obama's administration. I attended a teach-in for children from the Gary Freedom School presented by members of the Central District Organizing Project (CDOP), a grass-roots community group in Gary, IN. Events like these where hosted all over the country and in other countries to commemorate the spirit of fight-back, community, and knowledge in the face of injustice.

Questions discussed at the teach-in included:
- what is the advantage of labeling a Black woman in her 60s a most wanted terrorist?
- what can we do with $2 million dollars in our communities?
- after learning about Assata's activities to promote humane treatment for Blacks and the response from the government, does that affect you speaking out when you see something wrong? If so, how?
- had you ever hear of Assata Shakur? If no, why do you think this isn't taught? What are your feelings after leaning about her?
- how can we bring public attention to important issues?
- how do you inspire people to organize around these issues in their communities?

"Eyes of the Rainbow: Assata Shakur Documentary" 
by filmmaker Gloria Rolando

It was amazing to see how aware even the smaller children were of their surroundings.  Kids as young a 5 years old voiced their fear of police violence and of violence from other children. Older kids shared stories of family members being victimized by local police in ways like race-based profiling, having property destroyed, and intimidation.  They talked about how it felt when they were denied service at TGI Friday's after prom with chaperones, an issue currently being organized for by the most recent families to be discriminated against.

When addressing how Assata was shown in pictures like mugshots, in handcuffs, and escorted by the police, the kids knew right away the biased image they were being fed.  The organizers purposefully covered the walls with pictures of Assata smiling, laughing, relaxing, hugging her daughter, among people, and the children were very vocal about noticing the difference. Some might have thought a few children present were too young for the graphic descriptions of shootings, murder, and beatings that Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army members faced.  However, they were not too young to be affected by the continuing fear imposed by police occupations of their neighborhoods or the violence that comes with living in poverty.

In a book called Bad Boys: Public Schools and the Making of Black Masculinity by Ann Arnett Ferguson, elementary and middle school aged boys show an amazing ability to navigate their race, gender, and social class spaces.  They show an understanding of expectations and responsibilities and act accordingly.  They act out when they perceive that adults have violated their own rules, rules they are expected to follow.  They also know the consequences of life and death in their environment and express a desire to thrive and prosper.  These boys can do all of this because they are not sheltered from real life, from suffering, from abuses by authority figures, and they see how their parents are affected as well.

The children at the teach-in about Assata Shakur were in much the same situation. Whether they were older or younger they know the rules are somewhat different for them.  Through learning about police & government abuse of this one woman and her compatriots, and her ability to escape her binds to go on to teach and inspire people all over the world, they learn that their situations are not hopeless.  The gathering ended with a plan for action to build awareness and pride among their friends and to take part in active resistance against expectations for them to fail.  Through building knowledge they were able to construct hope, which was the real goal in learning about Assata.

1 comment:

  1. Great post soror! I remember reading about Assata during my African American Studies course. She is truly a revolutionary woman!