Assata Olugbala Shakur (of the given name JoAnne Byron and married name JoAnne Chesimard) was shot and tortured by New Jersey State Troopers and unjustly imprisoned before the FBI labeled her one of America’s Most Wanted Terrorists in the early 1970s. I didn’t learn anything about Assata when I was in school (similar to that of Fred Hampton), which is a travesty since she is a brilliant organizer, writer, and revolutionary with the Black Liberation Army. Assata’s autobiography is impeccably written with such intricate details that I felt inserted into each scene on which she reminisced. The book begins with a recitation poem she calls “Affirmation:”
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 blind
in one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
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 any thing 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
Throughout the autobiography, Assata rotates between flashbacks and the present day. The first chapter opens in a frantic state during the shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike where she along with her friends and fellow freedom fighters Zayd Malik Shakur and Sundiata Acoli were ambushed by State Troopers in a chaotic mess that left Zayd and Trooper Werner Foerster dead and Assata and Trooper James Harper badly wounded. The shootout was just the catalyst for the FBI’s lengthy fake case they amassed against Assata over the years (as they had targeted her and other Black leaders like Hampton, Huey P. Newton, Angela Davis, and Malcolm X) through their Counterintelligence Program or COINTELPRO. Assata devastatingly describes the horrors she faced in jail, trial, incarceration in a men’s prison, separation from the baby she birthed while imprisoned, and every day until she thankfully escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey in 1979 and found asylum in Cuba (where she resides today). Assata is extraordinarily brave, smart, courageous, passionate, and full of life and love for her people. I’m thankful that even though the FBI and the failed states of America tried to execute her, Assata is alive and well today and willing to share her life’s story with the rest of us.
It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.