What Assata Means to Me – The Feminist Wire

What Assata Means to Me

By Amira Davis 

The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., was, for me, a politicizing moment. It was then I realized, you could die for being Black. I was 11 years old at the time. I became increasingly  militant through my junior high school years so that by the time I entered high school and took a Black History class, a profile picture I had drawn of Angela Davis was the symbol to which I would awake, a focal point for my evolving ontological, axiological, methodological, and epistemological approach. By 16, I was reading from the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense’s political education reading list: Che Guevara, Karl Marx, Bobby Seale, among others, along with arts poets of the Black Arts Movement Sonia Sanchez, Mari Evans, Don L. Lee, LeRoi Jones, and Erica Huggins. I had a teenage crush on George Jackson, who made love to me with his words. I had heard of Assata and other political prisoners, but until recently, her experiences and philosophy didn’t stand out. In college, I became involved in Kwame Toure’s All-African People’s Revolutionary Party and began what has become my life work as an artist and critical pedagogue. It wasn’t until I taught a class on Black social movements and used Assata’s autobiography that I became familiar with her radical thought.

In reading her life, her charges against the dominant culture, and her poetic ruminations, I felt I had come full circle, attempting to radicalize students as I had been radicalized, in a semi-rural, central Illinois predominantly white research instititution (PWRI). Inasmuch as her critique of power and structures and the pedagogy of her being as a heuristic for liberatory praxis was still relevant in the ongoing struggle, the co-optation of my students’ young minds with reality TV, gadgets, and consumerism was evident. I attempted again recently with a classroom of students from more middle-class backgrounds at a Research One institution when her bounty was increased. Yet, despite a semester of engagement with the trajectory of Black life in America and daily reminders of the need for active engagement to challenge neoliberalism, the loss of liberties, re-enslavement through incarceration and debt, the collapse of social networks through the funding of perpetual wars, and the destruction of the planet, only a few of over 40 students understood. It is for those few that I continue to follow in the path of sister-women-mother-warriors like Assata for the benefit of those who most surely will come after us when, in our turn, we will become the shoulders upon which young feet will rest.


AminaDr. Amira Davis is an artist and educator in Illinois.