“The schools we go to are reflections of the society that created them. Nobody is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.”
As black history month is coming to an end, racial discrimination worldwide is still very alive and real – this is something that does not conclude over a series of weeks of additional information about black historic idols. Though it highlights their progressive efforts in change, it is vital to remain hyperaware of the issues from a personal, political to a global sense, and the first step is understanding, learning, and educating ourselves.
Assata Shakur believed in the significance of education. More importantly, the dismantling of cis, western centricity within the education system, to empower marginalised communities and minority groups to change the perspectives of their communities, as well as others who curated these archaic ideologies perpetuated by predominantly elder, western, men. Shakur’s autobiography focuses on the impact of political education on students.
Assata Shakur was a prominent figure in the 1970s liberation army movement. She was given a life sentence in 1977 for Murder, however, her defence had argued medical evidence suggested her innocence. Two years later she escaped Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, NJ. She later emerged in Cuba in which she was then granted political asylum. She has lived there ever since despite numerous attempts by the U.S. Government to have her returned. She has been on the FBI’s Most Wanted terrorist list since 2013 as Joanne Deborah Chesimard with a reward of one million dollars for any information leading to her arrest. She was also the first woman to be added to this list.
Shakur later wrote in her autobiography, that teachers seemed surprised when she answered a question in class as if not expecting black people to be intelligent and engaged. She said she was taught a sugar-coated version of history that ignored the oppression suffered by people of color, especially in the United States. In her autobiography, she wrote: "I didn’t know what a fool they had made out of me until I grew up and started to read real history"
She later attended a school where her passion for political and social beliefs influenced others. To this day, her involvement in many political activities, civil rights protests, and sit-ins is known worldwide. Shakur released an autobiography that is not cited in relation to critical legal studies and critical race theory. In 1993, she published a second book, Still Black, Still Strong, with Dhoruba bin Wahad and Mumia Abu-Jamal.
If politics and social activism is something that has piqued your interest, especially during these times of social media, where discourse is at the tip of your fingertips, learning the experiences of political “influencers” during their time, with their autobiographic recollections is a place to start. Her impact goes beyond that of activism of her time, but it is seen within contemporary music culture, with numerous musicians dedicating songs to her, and about her – from 2Pac’s “Words of Wisdom" released in 1991, to Jay-Z’s "Open Letter Part II" in 2013.
The power of words and actions coincides hand in hand – education is a starting point. Shakur embodies that knowledge is power.
For more information on Assata Shakur, you can find "Assata Shakur: An Autobiography" in most bookstores or online.
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