Tag Archives: Assata

Reclaiming a Fading Legacy: Why I Make My Students Read Assata aka Counterbalancing an Irrelevant American Educational System that has Failed Black People

During my initial lecture in my freshman survey course, a course that invariably includes upperclassmen who have avoided addressing mandatory history requirements, I purposely attempt to pique their interest in the subject matter as a preemptive strike against the malaise that the subject matter of history generates in their minds. If nothing else, this introductory moment allows me to gauge their understanding of African-American history.

When I address the volatile identity politic driven 1960s, my area of expertise I might add, I highlight several notable Black Powerites by asking those assembled in front of me if they know anything about Huey P. Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, George Jackson, Fred Hampton, or Carl Hampton? Puzzled and bewildered looks appear on the faces of my young charges. Without fail, it is not until I reference the name Assata Shakur that the hands of a few students who are eager to share that they know who this revolutionary sister is confidently raised. For most, this is their moment, the one opportunity to prove to me that they do know something about African-American history; unfortunately, it is a moment that will definitively prove how little they do know. Invariably, some non-descript student eagerly announces to their classmates that “Assata Shakur is Tupac Shakur’s momma.” I just shake my head and sigh as once again, my students have confused their Shakur’s. In one swoop, this particular student has erased the legacies of both Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s mother, and Assata Shakur, our revolutionary sister who remains exiled in Cuba. Experience has taught me that this is a common misstep among my students.

The above mistake occurs so frequently that it has caused me to ponder the following question; what does it mean that the vast majority of my students do not know about Assata Shakur. What does this troubling historical illiteracy say about black educators, the American educational system, and the black community?

One does not need to be a pessimist to reach the conclusion that the fact that African-American children have no real understanding of Black History means that the American educational system has no utility to Black America. Dare I say that sizable portions of this antiquated and non-representative institution have no utility whatsoever when measured against a much-needed effort to liberate Black America socially, politically, culturally, and economically.

I fervently believe that the process of inquiry and intellectual curiosity are critical components of the development of self-identity, politicization, and the generation of priorities for Black America. Such conclusions force me to use Assata Shakur’s story, Assata, in my courses on a repeated basis as it is a succinct articulation of the cost African-American revolutionaries have paid for their commitment to liberate their people around the globe.

I am confident that you understand that as a black educator, I consistently wrestle with matters of education and the development of a relevant education on a consistent basis. I am not ashamed to share that the alluded to moments of reflection engender a slight depression. The alluded to depression is a direct extension of the realization that the irrelevant curriculum that teachers, regardless of race/ethnicity, are forced to teach has created bountiful crops of African-Americans who are not only guided by a pervasive ignorance regarding African-American history, but also are quick to attack anyone that raises issues such as Race, racial inequality, prejudice, discrimination, or racism. Their complicity with their own oppression has been manufactured in American school houses.

In the end, the question of who will teach our people about the heroic struggle persons of African descent have undergone around the globe remains. The only reasonable answer to this query is that enlightened African-Americans must recommit themselves to educating our people “by any means necessary.” In many ways, we have no other choice if we are to survive. Failure to take definitive action in this matter ensures that we will continue our tradition of being economically exploited, socially inappropriate, and politically inept; places that I hope you would agree we have occupied for far too long.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race, and Culture, 2017

NO!!!! ASSATA IS NOT TUPAC’S MOM: Yet Another Example of How the American Educational System Fails Our People

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 Eldridgelatest 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 Huey and Bobbymovement. 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 assata 2over 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 Assatawhite 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 Assata 3generation 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