In Celebration of Assata

Protestors recite Assata's
Protestors recite Assata’s “Duty to Fight” chant as they rally for the reparations ordinance for survivors of police torture in Chicago – a battle which was won in May. (Photo: Brit Schulte)

As many of you know, today is the birthday of freedom fighter Assata Shakur. It is also notably the birthday of another freedom fighter: Ida B. Wells. Like many of you, I draw inspiration from these powerful women, and as those of you who follow my writing know, I try to carry Assata’s words with me in both my organizing and my efforts to show my community the love that it deserves.

This day holds special significance for me this year, as I have had the privilege, over the course of what has been nearly a year, of watching young Black organizers claim victories and reach new heights in their work. Working closely with some of these young people has brought me more hope and joy than I could have imagined, and I love them dearly for all that they do.

(Photo: Kelly Hayes)
(Photo: Kelly Hayes)

This is also a day when I am reflecting on my gratitude for the powerful women of color who have taught me, and who continue to teach me, how to build and how to live. To Mariame, Esther and others, I extend my love and thanks to you for helping me find a way to build forward, in spite of my anger and pain. I will always endeavor to live up to the values and wisdom you have imparted. I know the road ahead is a difficult one, but your words and your love have given me the strength to face what’s yet to come, and I love you for that.

(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)
(Photo: Sarah Jane Rhee)

I hope that those who can will join me in celebrating this day by supporting an important project that has been created in Assata’s name. Assata’s Daughters is described by its creators as a “grassroots, intergenerational collective of radical Black women who love and support each other.” Amongst other projects, this group aims to create a troupe of sorts for young Black girls, providing a sacred space in which they can learn self love and celebrate their history and their Blackness. As one of the group’s founders, my friend Page May, has said, “I believe young Black women need more spaces that center their struggles, questions, and ideas.”

As a non-black person of color, I hope that our communities both rally around efforts like this one, and learn from it, such that we might create more sacred spaces where young people from marginalized communities can connect and grow.

Assata’s Daughter’s is a beautiful and important project, and it needs your support to thrive. So I hope you will give if you can.

Jakya Hobbs, the youngest recipient of this year's Women to Celebrate award, speaks out against police brutality. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)
Jakya Hobbs, a member of Assata’s Daughters and the youngest recipient of this year’s Women to Celebrate award, speaks out against police brutality. (Photo: Kelly Hayes)

In addition to making a contribution to this group, I will also celebrate Assata today by reflecting on all that she brings to our movements. I will celebrate the people who I have stood with, hand in hand, as we have echoed her words at the end of our trainings and actions. I will cherish the people in my life who take care of one another in the knowledge that Assata gave us – that we must love and protect one another. I will celebrate my friends that, like me, get out of bed in the morning with a sense of hope, even in dark times, because they know that together, we can build beyond the darkness of this system.

I will celebrate my mentors, because without them, I would not know what it means to build forward.

In closing, I will leave you a poem that’s words have been echoed many times on this page, and that’s lines are in my heart each day.

i believe in living

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 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 grass.
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.

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