The love for and solidarity with Mumia Abu-Jamal could hardly be contained in the auditorium of the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center on Sunday, April 28, as activists gathered to celebrate Mumia’s 70th birthday. S.H.A.P.E. stands for Self-Help for African People through Education. 

Bunchy Crear, leading Black Panther in Oakland, California, and Houston, speaking at Mumia Abu-Jamal birthday observance, Houston, April 28, 2024. WW Photo: Gloria Rubac

What began as a relatively small circle continued to grow. More chairs were brought in as people kept arriving. The crowd of Mumia supporters reflected the city of Houston, one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. 

From the Brown Berets to the Black Panther Party to the National Black United Front, from the Nation of Islam to Workers World Party, from Pacifica radio journalists to the Party for Socialism and Liberation, from formerly incarcerated folks to anti-death penalty activists — Houston was in the house for Mumia!

Moving remarks began with Minister Abdul Haleem Muhammad speaking about why we must support Mumia: “We fought to stop the execution of Shaka Sankofa in 2000. Shaka was a revolutionary just as Mumia [is], and Pennsylvania wants to silence Mumia, as Texas had to silence Shaka. Both men represent us, and so it is our duty to fight for them.” He witnessed the legal lynching of Sankofa in 2000 as his spiritual adviser.

Bunchy Crear, a leading Black Panther in Oakland, California, and Houston, said that like Mumia, he was still a Panther — it is a life-long identity. Danielle Allen, host of The Prison Show on Houston’s Pacifica radio station, reported on the terror that prisoners live under. Willie Rodriguez, a leader of the Southeast Texas Brown Berets, thanked everyone for coming out and sharing their knowledge of Mumia’s history. He announced the Berets’ event planned for Cinco de Mayo (May 5).

Pam Perillo’s testimony of coming within two days of being executed by Texas was heart-wrenching. She survived 10 years on death row and two execution dates before her sentence was commuted to life. She explained that she then served almost 10 more years before being paroled. Now out, she has become an activist. 

Perillo said: “I left part of my heart back on death row, and I will never, ever forget the women I spent all those years with and left behind. I want to stop the death penalty for them and for everyone forever! Perillo signed and sold copies of her book, “Salvation on Death Row: The Pamela Perillo Story,” co-written with author John Thorngren.

‘We will forever fight for your freedom’

Sister Mama Sonya, a celebrated local spoken word artist, did a piece she wrote especially for Mumia’s birthday. It ends with these lines: “we will forever fight until your freedom is won. … every year! every month! every day! every hour! every second! with every breath!!”

Everyone then read one of Mumia’s commentaries produced by PrisonRadio.org. It was exhilarating to hear his relevant words, even those from years past. 

After sharing a huge birthday cake that Perillo brought and scrumptious homemade banana nut bread made by Leo, people left with a Mumia button, a bright yellow T-shirt from the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement – and renewed energy for the struggles ahead.  

In a room filled with people of so many nationalities, genders, ages, sexualities and religions (or lack thereof), this writer notes that we spent hours together, united in our hatred of this racist, capitalist system that allows an innocent man, Mumia, to barely survive, that imprisons millions and incarcerates so many political prisoners. We are united in our commitment to continue the struggle until Mumia, Leonard Peltier and all political prisoners are free, and we can dismantle this oppressive system brick by brick and wall by wall. Everyone was optimistic that we will FREE ‘EM ALL!

Gloria Rubac is a long-time Houston activist working with the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement to abolish the death penalty, police, prisons and capitalism.

Gloria Rubac

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Gloria Rubac

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