May 09, 2013 - Issue 516 Assata Shakur’s Shining Light - Represent Our Resistance By Dr. Lenore J. Daniels, PhD, BC Editorial Board

Assata Shakur, aka JoAnne Chesimard:
“I Saw Your Light/And It Was Shining”

The FBI's systematic surveillance of and attacks on Black groups and individuals were orchestrated by its counterintelligence program (COINTEPRO), which was directed specifically against what the FBI termed 'Black nationalist hate groups.' COINTELPRO's first targets were Martin Luther King and thousands of less prominent civil rights activists. 

- Lennox S. Hinds, attorney, Assata: An Autobiography

There was a bullet in my chest (it's still there); an injured lung with fluid in it, a broken clavicle, and a paralyzed arm with undetermined     damage to the nerves. I kept asking if i would be able to use my hand again. One or two doctors said, flatly, no. The others said, 'Maybe yes, maybe no.'

Anyway, i was gonna live. 

- Assata: An Autobiography

I didn't know what a fool they had made out of me until i grew up and started to read real history.

- Assata: An Autobiography

One of the most memorial teaching experiences I had in the last ten years came the summer of 2008 in Philadelphia. I devised a course for an Upward Bound program, and I believe the course featured chapters from the works of Black women, including memoirs and autobiographies. Because of the “budget” restraints, I made a copy of the first chapter of Assata: An Autobiography.

In previous years, readings of and discussions on Assata Shakur's  autobiography with my college students always went well and generated, on the part of students, further inquiry on Assata, for sure, and COINTELPRO. With my high school students, I was hoping to just generate an interest in reading.

I planned to do my best to introduce Assata and discuss what lead to her exile in Cuba. 

These high school students, mostly Black, from economically poor working class neighborhoods in Philadelphia had not been introduced to such a figure, let along a representation of resistance by Black people living in “Amerikkka.” 

Would they turn away and grab hold onto their iPods and cell phones for dear life? 

The students were appalled to read of the narrative and physical violence committed against this young Black woman. I should mention that most of the students in this class were girls/women.

How could this happen?

Here in the U.S.?

This happened to a Black woman?

    Suddenly, the door flew open and i felt myself being dragged out onto the pavement. Pushed and punched, a foot upside the head, a kick in the stomach. Police were everywhere. One had a gun to my head...
    'Ya find the gun?' they kept asking each other. Later, one of them asked another, 'Should we put'er in the car?'
    'Naw. Let'er lay in the gutter were she belongs. Just get'er out the way.'

Their voices stopped asking out loud: how could this happen? They looked at one another and then stare down at the pages in front of them. Each was listening to their own voices; each seeing... All these students needed to do was to think. To see, once again, the brother, father, uncle, or the former classmates or neighbors, all young like themselves, all Black, living their youth away in prison cells or existing among the dead. They only had to think and recall the days and nights of hearing police sirens, seeing the police run with guns chasing and firing.
Assata reached these high school students. Her words tapped into the body of knowledge each carried within them. There was no need to push and pull. Their experiences, their knowledge made the collective memory of our history in “Amerikkka” as palpable as the desks, chairs, walls, and windows in that classroom. 

Schools in amerika are interested in brainwashing people with amerikanism, giving them a little bit of education, and training them in skills needed to fill the positions the capitalist system requires. As long as we expect amerika's schools to educate us, we will remain ignorant.

Now, these students were awake!

At the end of that class session, the students demanded--”we gotta have...”--that the program purchase the book. They wanted to read this summer, now, the whole book!

They left class talking among themselves about Assata Shakur.

You have done it again, I thought, as I left class that day. You are teaching young people you have never seen, but who see you and see themselves...

...despite, as you write, that “first step” in which the enforcers of the system's law attempt to destroy the Black community from within by isolating “revolutionaries from the masses of people, making us horrible and hideous monsters so that our people will hate us.”

It did not work this time!

The next morning on campus, I stopped by the Upward Bound office to request that the director purchase copies of Assata: An Autobiography, and before I could say a word, he, a young Black man himself, stopped me. The students had come to him, so the order was already in!

Assata's autobiography arrived and for the next week, students organized themselves around the book.
One student loved the poetry and read out loud the poems over the course of that week. 

    For Rema Olugbala—Youngblood

    They think they killed you...
    But i saw you yesterday,
    standing with your hands in your pockets
    waiting for the real deal to go down...

    They think they killed you.
    But i saw you yesterday.
    All them youngbloods
    musta gave you a transfusion.
    All that strong blood.
    All that rich blood
    flowing through your veins
    toward tomorrow.


    I love you mommy
    cause you are beautiful,
    and it am life that springs from you:
    part tree, part weed, part flower.

    My roots run deep.
    I have been nourished well.  
    (from “TO MY MOMMA”)

Some students “reported” on the proceedings of the kangaroo court while others selected their favorite passages to read out loud in class. And dramatization? I learned to seat myself everyday at a student desk along the wall to watch these students shining so brightly. Everyone wanted more - what was it like in the 1970s? What was COINTELPRO?

Pairs of students held discussions followed by these pairings presenting their take to the class. Elbows shoved. Hands waved books sporting annotation and bookmarks!
Any Black person in amerika, if they are honest with themselves, have gt to come to the conclusion that they don't know what it feels like to be free. We aren't free politically, economically, or socially.

This is what education should look like, feel like.

The schools we go to are reflections of the society that created them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free. 


And the 65 year old grandmother, Assata Shakur - they are afraid of her. They are afraid of her power to shine light on the nightmare that envelopes the world in the repressive, terrifying atmosphere of greed and inequity, torture and war.

    They can see in your eyes
    a thousand nightmares
    that they have made come true.

Forty years since the crime Assata Shakur could not have committed and the FBI, on behalf of the capitalist, has plastered New Jersey with billboards announcing a financial reward for her capture.  Friday, May 3, 2013, “Angela Davis and Assata Shakur's Lawyer Denounce FBI's Adding of Exiled Activist to Terrorists List,” transcript, Democracy Now! Interview). 

The young JoAnne Chesimard whose political awakening would be labeled “mad,” “crazy,” and now, 40 years later, a terrifying nightmare, reveals the desperation of the U.S. Empire's capitalist/corporate rulers to stamp out the light in the eyes of dissenters. (More about Assata Shakur available at

But trumpets will sound: “'I was, I am, I shall be'” (Rosa Luxemburg, “Speeches and Letters on the War and Revolution,” The Rosa Luxemburg Reader).

    Through the lies and the sell-outs.
    The mistakes and the madness.
    Through pain and hunger and frustration,
    We carried on.

    Carried on the tradition.
    Carried a strong tradition.
    Carried a proud tradition.

    Carried a Black tradition.

    Pass it down to the children.
    Pass it down.
    Carry it on.
    Carry it on now.
    Carry it on

    (from Assata Shakur, “The Tradition”) Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Click here to contact Dr. Daniels.