During the initial lecture that I deliver to my freshman survey course, although intended for freshmen there are invariably upperclassmen enrolled who have put off taking their mandatory history requirements until the end of their undergraduate experience, I purposely attempt to not only pique their interest in the subject, particularly as most people dread History, but also to gauge their historical knowledge. This little exercise allows me to gauge where the gaps in knowledge are that besiege this latest crop of African-American students. By the time, I reach the Black Power Era, I can see in their faces that they are overwhelmed by the topics that I am going to cover during this semester and many of them are more than likely seeking some type of escape, physical or technological, from the room.
When I enter my overview of the volatile 1960s and turn my focus to the “Black radicalism” that was a trademark of the period, I make it a point to touch upon several of the notable figures in the movement. I ask the students if they know any of the following figures. Huey P. Newton? Eldridge Cleaver? George Jackson? Fred Hampton? It is not until I say, Assata Shakur that a few hands jet into the sky eager to answer the question; it is as if they have been waiting for this moment to show that they do know something about African-American history. In a scene that makes me feel as if I am living the same day over and over again, I watch some non-descript student announce to the class, “Assata Shakur is Tupac Shakur’s momma.” I just shake my head no. They have confused their Shakur’s, Afeni is Tupac’s mother, Assata is a Black Revolutionary exiled in Cuba.
This situation has occurred so frequently that it has caused me to ponder exactly what does it mean that this latest generation of learners has absolutely no idea who Assata Shakur is. It means that the current educational system leaves much to be desired in regards to teaching our children anything about African-American history or culture; let alone a significant class of revolutionary figures that have resisted white world supremacy at every turn: David Walker, Bishop Henry McNeil Turner, Absalom Jones, Frederick Douglass, Maria Stewart, Angela Davis, Huey P. Newton, Karl Hampton, Fred Hampton, and the list goes on and on.
My repeated experience of engaging students who absolutely no idea of whom the aforementioned revolutionary figures are leads me to one conclusion, the current educational system has very little, if any, intrinsic worth for Black lives. It is in many aspects, completely irrelevant.
Make no mistake about it, the process of inquiry, learning, intellectual curiosity, and learning are critical to the development of self-identity, politicization, and the generation of priorities: social, political, and economic. It is this realization that forces me to use Assata Shakur’s story, Assata, in my courses to this day. Assata is a classic example of someone who has not only resisted oppression, but also been forced to pay a hefty price for her commitment to the liberation of Black people around the globe; she is currently exiled in Cuba.
The question that I have wrestled with in regards to not only Assata, but also the litany of other Black revolutionaries who white school systems have purposely refused to integrate into an irrelevant curriculum is quite simply who will teach our people, adults and children, about the alluded to figures if the teachers are not sharing this information; I honestly doubt if even a small percentage of teachers, regardless of race, know much about Black history, let alone Black revolutionaries.
So the question remains, who will teach our people about Assata Shakur? The only reasonable answer to such a query is that we must commit ourselves to developing our own independent educational entity that supplement today’s largely ineffective school system, particularly when it is measured by the teaching of anything positive about African-Americans past, present, or future.
I believe that it is time for our people to begin serious Saturday Schools aimed at uplifting the mentality of our entire community and pointing them toward a path that leads to the liberation and salvation of the Black nation. The only other choice is to continue to be exploited economically, remain politically inefficient, and ostracized socially; a place that we have occupied for far too long.
James Thomas Jones III