October 23, 2003
It was a day that marked the true represssion that would alter the course of one of our beloved brother Geronimo Pratt, but truly known as Geronimo Ji Jaga. I only heard glimpeses and fleeting words concerning that Black Panther Party, because in the first half of my young life my family lived a life of what we call bourgoise, neatly mowned lawns, little perfect houses, two car garages, the whole nine yards. I grew up in the sixties, but not old enough to know how to articulate the political situation that was raging across America. I think, or should I say I know, that they sheltered my brother and myself from the radicalism that was being waged. At that time one of the Kennedy’s was assassinated as well as Dr. Martin Luther King and of course Black Prince - Malcolm Little, better known as El hagg Malik El Shabayy. With the first couple of assassinating I vaguely remember, because my parents were kind of sad and being a kid we picked up on those things, but not enough as I’ve stated to internalize nor articulate. In those days I remember some kids, who were older than I, who had mentioned something about the Black Panther Party doing something for the neighborhood. Later we found out, it was the breakfast program, which public schools hadn’t implemented yet, which will be delved into later. Years later upon meeting this icon would forever have a lasting impression on my mind.
In 1991 I arrived at CCI, California Correctional Institution, which was fairly a new concentration camp, recently built in the mid to late eighties. Well, as I got settled in my new environment and ran into a guy that I knew from streets of Bakersfield, so as usual we were talking and he mentioned Geronimo’s name and I’m like where, here in this prison, my friend, yep. I said, “Man, I’ve read a lot of literature about that brother.” He asked me, if I wanted to meet him and I told him, “My friend, no, not right now.” I wanted to check him out to see, if his political stance was still unwavering. As they say “observation is the best teacher”. And so I went about my business, but always kept my eye on him. Now, I have to mention, that though my quest in meeting Ji Jaga a few brothers always found something negative to say about him, which I disliked, because they never said anything malicious to his face, plus they didn’t have the credibility to discredit Ji Jaga. I hate to say this, but negros are so funky, when it comes to given respect, when respect was due. Those that were displaying this criminal mentality were of the ilk of former gang members, who thought, that reading a few books would erase, what they were really about. Now, before I entered that concentration camp I had studied rapaciously on the struggle here and throughout the diaspora. I have read anything from “chains and images of psychological slavery” by Dr. Niam Akbac to “wretched of the earth” by Frany Fanon. I have read so much that it’s truly indelible in my mind and heart. So, in other words I had long changed my mentality from that of lumper proliteriate to a revolutionary mentality. So those, who saw fit to try and taint Ji Jaga’s character feel short, because in the end I asked them, what had they done or even attempted to do for the people? And, so with no articulation of a format in which they could stand on they had to leave it alone. I’ve never told Geronimo this, because they didn’t matter. And friends we became. I continued to watch and learn, because not only was he gracious, he was a people’s person no matter what color you were. He wasn’t so angry that he couldn’t love his fellow man. For those who had little or nothing he would assist. But you still had those, who take meekness for weakness, but he was so above that in his knowledge. He engaged any and everyone from conversation to sport and play. He tought me how to play Scrabble. *smile* Still I hadn’t formally met Ji Jaga, because in a way that baffled me. He approached me and he introduced himself and I told him, “Brotha, I truly know who you are and it’s a pleasure to meet you.” To those, who possessed the third eye I was known to them as Mfalme and that’s how I introduced myself. This was the beginning of me furthering my knowledge as to the struggle here and the knowledge of self concerning our great African heritage. I’d ask him about certain books and what he thought. You see people on the street would send him books and he would critique them and give his analysis. I finally moved to the building, he was in, because I was assigned to work there and as it turned out we were in the same section my cell was directly below his and there I was taught, who the real Geronimo Ji Jaga Pratt was. I sat at this man’s door for countless hours absorbing and hearing with excitement all that he had been through and who he had become. Every book that he received I read in a lot of cases before he read them. We had gotten close. He told me some of the going ons in the inner circle of the Panther Party, who did what and how it was done. Some of what I know, I won’t divulge out of respect for Ji Jaga. He also told me how he was approached as to his assistance to the people. But, let us go back to his humble beginnings.
He is originally from Louisiana, where he was growing up. At that time our elders had a lot to do with a boy becoming a man. I asked him many times, if he did have a choice in the direction, that he took. His response was an emphatic “NO!”. He stated that the deacons of his childhood told him what and how he would conduct himself. I remember telling him: “It takes a village to raise a child, an old African proverb”. And we both agreed, that the extended family arose out of this saying. I remember the days. *smile* But his path was chosen wisely. As I sat by the door learning about the man, I asked him, what did he do before the struggle became him. With his answer I was amazed, because not only was he a political prisoner and prisoner of war, he was a soldier for this country – army para military. This information really made me proud of this “idol”. I have seen this man in full Army regalian just like you average American. He told me about their practice jumps out of the captor in full Army fatiques and weapons. I was truly amazed at how this man’s path had been laid for him. I reiterate, that the elders were a formidable foe to try and negotiate your future. This was my take on it anyway. He explained to me that the elders had given him an explanation as to why his course was set. I asked why. He said, where he could have a skill to offer the people. Believe me to have the opportunity to meet a Panther is an honor. So the information that I was receiving was first hand and not the rigamarole of third party hand me down. You have to understand that I read everything I could about the struggle and the organization that was involved, which included United Slave Movement, of course, the Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. There are many who were fighting the same cause, but I’ll relegate my statements to these three as accurately as I can. We talked about so much and yet I had so many questions. It was like being a kid in a candy store. Your attention is drawn in every direction, because all the candy was good to the eye as well as the palate.I grilled him for hours on a day until I felt I was full for that session. I think he enjoyed it, because he never said anything to the contrary and for that matter I think a lot of envy was geared toward him because of who he was, what he represented and how he conducted himself. He never gave me a reason to feel anything but love for him. You see, I had the honor to talk to his wife, who’s name is Askaki and I talked to his son and daughter. I had the honor to speak to his oldest daughter’s mother Njece, who was really a sister, who respected Ji Jaga. These conversations over the phone were to me like I was probing a celebrity. This is why I developed a love for this brotha, who gave of himself unconditionally. I tell you again, I was like a sponge sucking and soaking up water, but in this case it was the inner workings of a man’s mind: What he felt, how he felt and his position on the going ons of these United States of America. He was passionate in what he believed, in which was the justice for the desenfranchised, those who couldn’t articulate their political positions. He knew, when and what to say and the right way to say it. Once I asked him about the two Panther members, who were killed at UCLA during a rally, in which the United Slave Movement had participated also. I’ll refrain from naming names again out of respect for Ji Jaga. I’ll tell you this, that one of the brothas that was killed effected him more than he wanted to let on, but I understood. This mishap only happened, because in those days he would explain to me with the furnishings of documents, that the Federal Bureau of Investigations had devised a plan to disrupt any and all political organizations that was fighting for freedom. This directive was called Cointel-Pro-Counter-Intelligence-Program. Its mission was to disrupt, destroy, pit one against the other. Then he had become a target for Counter Intelligence. Remember, the man was part of Uncle Sam. So to let him divulge the knowledge, he would be vital to their survival. Suffice it to say behind the actions of the government he was framed. They framed him of a murder, double murder, that he was over 300 miles from, but the real cause of this was because of his political views. I’m leaping forward a little, but stepping back, because I want you to really see this situation through my eyes and plus I’m coming off the cuff. If you ever read the spook that sat by the door, this is how I felt, but in this case it was one African engaging another African. I wanted to know all or most of it anyhow, but I didn’t want him to be tired of me. A lot of times he would be typing and his mail would come, which was so much, it was unbelievable. He would tell the officers to give it to me, you should have seen the smile on my face. I read letters addressed to him from all walks of life, young and old, black, white, all nationalities. I was truly amazed. I used to ask him, “G-mo, how do you answer all this mail?” He simply said, “I answer all I can, but for those, who don’t get a response, he simply calls or sends postcards. This man received bags of mail everyday. I mean everyday. 20 to 30 a day. Once I was reading some of his mail Ju-Pac Shakur had written him, that was his god-son, and I told him and he actually told me to write him. I was gracious, but I declined stating that Ju-Pac wants to hear from you. Now I have second thoughts, because I’m very sharp and in the struggle for the minds and Ju-Pac was definetely sharp, because his mother Afeni was a Black Panther. One time he received this book from someone, that was on his defence team, which were many: Danny Glover, Cree Sumner, Katheleen Cleaver, Muja,….it’s so many, I can’t even name half of them. I actually talked to Muja. She is from northern California. Her husband produced the movie called “Sarafina”, starring Whoopi Goldberg. This man was surrounded by so many people, who were fighting for his freedom, because they knew, that the frame was set. Back to the book. This book was called “A Taste of Power” by Elaine Brown. Now after he read and criticized this book, he had a bad taste in his mouth. He let me read it and then we had a conversation. I asked him, “what was wrong with the book, G-mo?” “She misrepresented herself like she was within the nucleus of the Party. Plus”, he said and I quote “This book was locked by the CIA.” Mind you this was the only book Elaine Brown wrote and she waited until the 90s to write, so he put a black ball on the book and let those that needed to know, what’s happening with the book. He also said, this Elaine, she was attracted to those, who had rank in the Party. She was nowhere near like the likes of Asata Shakur or Katheleen Cleaver. As a matter of fact, he said, Katheleen wanted to chastise Elaine for mis-representing that book. Of course, Miss Brown is in Europe somewhere. He was sent this other book called “This Side of Glory” by David Hilliard. He read and criticized that book and of course, I read it after him. Another conversation followed and he gave David good marks and praised his book. Actually he criticized another one called “X The Judas Factor” and I forgot, who it was by but it talked about, who had most to gain by El Hagg Malik El Shalayy or Malcolm X – his assasination. This book entailed a lot of information. Before the 90s this information was classified and until the freedom of information act was passed. For I’ll not discuss that here, because I’ll do it in an injustice, if I didn’t represent it correct. Although I had a few years to be in Geronimo’s company, I truly learned a lot. This was an experience that I’ll never forget and one that I’ll treasure. To me he is an icon just as Nelson Mandela, because it took him to 27 years to get free. In all the turmoil, that he went through, he stuck to his principles and never wavered as to his rage towards the system. Justice is what he stood for and he practiced it everyday that I knew him. His knowledge was phenomenal, but his graciousness stood tall as the Kilamanjero. My love for the man has only deepened over the years. Because under fire from the government and from those, who remain stuck with the criminal mentality, his courage never veered and that in of itself is the strength of our soldiers. I’m glad, he is with his family, because he deserves it. And to those, who missed the opportunity to really embrace the man, is truly your loss, because he practices humanity first and for most before he practices being a black man!! Geronimo Ji Jaga, this is for you. I know, I didn’t get it all, but yet this was a small taste of glory. I thank you black man for being you and allowing me into that most sacred part of your life. To those, who read this, I deeply appreciated this man for what he stood for. And I appreciate you, the audience, for allowing me to enter your thoughts for a while. I leave you with these words – Killa moja Kufundisha Moja – Each one teach one!
And to G, stay free!
Sincerely, Thaddeus Hamilton, Mfalme
© Copyright 2003 Thaddeus Hamilton, A.K.A. Mfalme
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Thaddeus Hamilton, Mfalme