Mumia’s 60th birthday re-energizes the struggle to free him

WW photo: Joseph Piette

WW photo: Joseph Piette

Philadelphia — Three days of events organized to accelerate the struggle to bring political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal home kicked off on April 24 in Philadelphia with a standing-room-only dinner in honor of Mumia, who turned 60 years old that day.  The evening program, held at Opportunity Inc., was dedicated to the Amiri Baraka family and the Black arts movement.

A highlight of the dinner was the appearance of freed political prisoner and activist lawyer Lynne Stewart, who received a standing ovation as she entered the hall.  Entertainment was provided by spoken word artists, including Jamarr Hall, Lamont Steptoe, Marvin X, Ewuare Osayande and Abiodun Oyewole of the Last Poets — all accompanied by jazz artist Alfie Pollitt.

The program included a fashion show presentation by Wesley Wilson Bey, recorded messages from Angela Davis and Mama Charlotte O’Neal, and audio greetings from Mumia.  Gabriel Bryant and Shesheena Bray, with the Campaign to Bring Mumia Home, co-chaired the event. Cornel West closed the program, urging those attending to keep up the struggle.

On April 25, “Books & Beats Free Mumia Edition” was held at the Black Angel Café in Germantown, featuring local Philadelphia poets and a special appearance by Fred Hampton Jr., whose father was a Black Panther leader killed by the Chicago police on Dec. 4, 1969.

Sons and Daughters of the Revolution March

The next morning, April 26, hundreds of people, including many children, gathered outside the former Black Panther Party headquarters on Cecil B. Moore Avenue for a rousing rally.  Mumia joined the BPP in Philadelphia at age 15.

Among those who spoke were young activists dedicated to picking up the struggle today. A delegation from St. Denis, France, where a street was named in honor of Abu-Jamal in 2006, participated in the rally.

Celebration of Life

The “Sons and Daughters of the Revolution” march kicked off after the rally, winding its way through a heavily gentrified North Philadelphia to the historic Church of the Advocate, where a Celebration of Life — Constitutional protest through the arts — was underway.

The program featured speakers and entertainers at an outdoor stage and numerous workshops inside the church.  Panels covered topics including combating gentrification; attacks on educators who defy mainstream ideology; community policing; prisoners and political prisoners; the school-to-prison pipeline; and the role of movement lawyers.

Entertainers included Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, Jasiri X, Taina Asili, the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble, Rebel Díaz and Dice Raw of the Roots.  A special presentation was given to provide updates on Mumia’s case and the work of the campaign.

Just weeks before the Celebration of Life took place, Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams announced the creation of a new Conviction Review Unit to investigate disputed homicide convictions that have legitimate claims of new evidence and where defendants have declared their innocence.  If there is any case that fits these criteria it’s Abu-Jamal’s.

In his recorded remarks to the Celebration of Life, Mumia began by thanking people like Pam Africa “for being the spark for making it happen. Our freedom movement has lasted longer than many contemporary movements.  It has fought against monstrous odds, against lies, slander, threats and state terrorism.  Yet it’s still here, still pungent, still moving.  So for real this is a celebration of more than life — it’s a celebration of struggle.”