This week news came out that thirteen students at Florida A&M University (FAMU) would be charged with the death of "Marching 100" drum major Robert Champion. The 26-yr old was beaten during a band hazing ritual, and ultimately passed due to shock and severe internal bleeding from repeated blunt force trauma. As I read the Abu-Jamal/Hill text, I was saddened by the literal Classroom and Cell circumstance that these students now face in the name of upholding a "tradition" that was never intended to include this level of violence. The words of Abu-Jamal and Hill were particularly piercing as they discussed Black masculinity and the "performances" that it entails. Hill in particular noted the troublesome connection between a detachment from emotion, which many Black men are taught to have, and the normalizing effect it has on our views of violence. When you add to that a particularly strong brand of homophobia that exists within many Black communities, you have the recipe for how a young man's life could be ended on a charter bus outside a football game. I have seen the same escalation in violence among many of the Historically Black Greek Letter Organizations (HBGLOs), and it is particularly troubling because none of these organizations was founded upon principles of self-destruction. In fact, all of the fraternities, sororities and their surrogates were created upon ideals of uplift and community service. The FAMU case is just one example of how the conversations that Abu-Jamal and Hill were having play out in the larger world. This is a key reason that this work is so important, and can serve as a catalyst for continued examination of key issues within Black communities across the nation so that healing strategies may be developed.
My reading of this text comes at a key juncture in my life where I have a rare moment to really reflect on who I am, and how I want to continue to develop. One of my main theoretical undertakings during my doctoral studies was the issue of racial identity, how it continually morphs, and how the development process is fluid. In this rare reflection moment, I face questions of how to parent, how to structure my career in a way that fits my marriage, how to use my accrued cultural capital to address gross inequities that exist in our society, and how to continue taking what I understand from a life that is centrally Black and male to foster meaningful personal relationships that are built on a shared humanity, one that transcends race, ethnicity, class, gender, and other labels. This book was instructive because in Abu-Jamal you have a cultural and historical "oldhead" who can speak to issues of Revolutionary Black Leadership, Black Politics, and the Prison Industrial Complex in a very real, un-romanticized way so that the portrait in your mind is less abstract and more real. In Professor Hill, I have a peer who has clear insights on issues of the day, yet is struggling with many of the same issues as I am, so it is easy to place myself within the the "conversation" going on between them. While not exhaustive on any given topic, the text serves as a viable appetizer for further satiation of the appetite for knowledge, and insight into where Black people have been in this country and where they need to go.