Panther Baby

( 8 )

Overview


In the 1960s he exhorted students at Columbia University to burn their college to the ground. Today he’s chair of their School of the Arts film division. Jamal Joseph’s personal odyssey—from the streets of Harlem to Riker’s Island and Leavenworth to the halls of Columbia—is as gripping as it is inspiring.Eddie Joseph was a high school honor student, slated to graduate early and begin college. But this was the late 1960s in Bronx’s black ghetto, and fifteen-year-old Eddie was introduced to the tenets of the Black...
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Overview


In the 1960s he exhorted students at Columbia University to burn their college to the ground. Today he’s chair of their School of the Arts film division. Jamal Joseph’s personal odyssey—from the streets of Harlem to Riker’s Island and Leavenworth to the halls of Columbia—is as gripping as it is inspiring.Eddie Joseph was a high school honor student, slated to graduate early and begin college. But this was the late 1960s in Bronx’s black ghetto, and fifteen-year-old Eddie was introduced to the tenets of the Black Panther Party, which was just gaining a national foothold. By sixteen, his devotion to the cause landed him in prison on the infamous Rikers Island—charged with conspiracy as one of the Panther 21 in one of the most emblematic criminal cases of the sixties. When exonerated, Eddie—now called Jamal—became the youngest spokesperson and leader of the Panthers’ New York chapter.He joined the “revolutionary underground,” later landing back in prison. Sentenced to more than twelve years in Leavenworth, he earned three degrees there and found a new calling. He is now chair of Columbia University’s School of the Arts film division—the very school he exhorted students to burn down during one of his most famous speeches as a Panther.In raw, powerful prose, Jamal Joseph helps us understand what it meant to be a soldier inside the militant Black Panther movement. He recounts a harrowing, sometimes deadly imprisonment as he charts his path to manhood in a book filled with equal parts rage, despair, and hope.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This spirited, well-honed account of cutting his teeth as a member of the Black Panthers brings Joseph back to his youth, a painful time in late-1960s America. Abandoned by his unwed Cuban mother and brought up by an elderly Southern black couple in the North Bronx, Joseph (born “Eddie”) grew up to be light-skinned, conscientious, and an accelerated student who learned early on the deprivations of blacks in white society. From becoming radicalized at the African-American Camp Minisink, in New York State, in the summer of 1968, Joseph gravitated toward the militancy of the Black Panthers, founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, activists impatient with the stalled civil rights movement and ready to grasp freedom and economic destiny for poor black communities in a more compelling manner. Immersed in grassroots community-action programs, to the detriment of his high school studies, Joseph, now renamed Jamal, was steeped in the political education of the Panthers. This included weapons training for armed struggle; being arrested as part of the netted Panther 21 for allegedly planning to “go to war with the government” (Lumumba and Afeni Shakur were leaders, and they were defended by William Kunstler), and serving 11 months among hardened criminals at the age of 16. Joseph’s memoir focuses on this intensely compressed period, when hopes were high for “revolution in our lifetime” and a reckless, street-fueled violence smoldered, yet the schism in Panther leadership undermined the cause. Joseph’s clear-eyed casting back reveals the streamlined, fluid quality of a fine storyteller. (Feb.)
Kirkus Reviews
Joseph (Tupac Shakur Legacy, 2006) offers an inspiring, unapologetic account of his transformation from armed revolutionary to revolutionary artist. In the late 1960s, the young, gifted author was inevitably drawn to the Black Panthers. Amid the dangerous life in the Bronx ghetto, he writes, "nobody was badder than the Panthers." Their usual apparel--black berets, black leather jackets and guns--portrayed a romantic image of a group serious about revolution during a time under "a revolutionary magic spell where anything seemed possible and victory over the oppressor was assured." Soon the Panthers became Joseph's whole life. Beyond the image, he learned, they were a group of men and women thoughtful in their ideology and dedicated to serving the community through schools and breakfast programs. Internecine power struggles, fueled by government infiltration and violence, broke the Panthers apart, however, and Joseph found himself going underground and finally to prison. He remained there for the next 20 years or so, a man-child coming of age behind bars. In prison, he discovered art and began to write poetry and plays, and he formed a theater group of prisoners who performed his plays about the life around them. Quickly becoming an established artist and drawn to academia, Joseph used these credentials to help found Harlem's IMPACT Repertory Theatre, where thousands of young people experience music, drama, dance and film. Improbably, this led Joseph--and, he insists, IMPACT--to an Academy Award nomination for Best Song. Though the author's commitment to revolutionary ends remained intact, the means to that end had changed. Not all will find Joseph's politics compelling, but readers will draw inspiration from his story of struggle and transformation.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616201296
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 2/7/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 329,636
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author


Orphan, activist, subversive, urban guerrilla, the FBI’s most wanted fugitive, drug addict, drug counselor, convict, writer, poet, filmmaker, father, professor, youth advocate, and Oscar nominee Jamal Joseph lives with his wife and family in New York City.
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Read an Excerpt

Panther Baby

A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention
By Jamal Joseph

ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL

Copyright © 2012 Jamal Joseph
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-56512-950-4


Chapter One

The Path to Manhood

Good. Now do it blindfolded."

I looked down at the gleaming M16 assault rifle I was holding and then up at the three Black Panther officers standing over me. I was fifteen years old, sitting in the middle of the floor in a Panther safe house. A .45-caliber pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun and an M1 carbine were laid out in front of me. My mouth was dry, and nervous sweat ran down my back. The Panthers had told me that my life and the life of my fellow Panthers were on the line. Error equals death. I looked up at Yedwa, my weapons instructor, and I spaced out. He had a shoulder holster with a .357 Magnum, a black beret, goatee, muscular physique, and a mad gleam in his eye that denoted he was a crazy brother, more commonly known as a crazy nigger (a wild-assed black man who would say anything, do anything, and who courted death with a smile).

The ghetto had a ranking system when it came to manhood. You could be a punk, hard, bad, or crazy. Being a soft dude meant that you were a goody-goody who was scared to fight. Punk dudes got no respect and often got their "ass shook and their lunch money took." Hard dudes were fighters, but not like bad niggers, who would be swinging, cutting, and shooting while the hard dudes would be in heightened stages of argument. The bad niggers got all the respect. But to truly be a legend, you had to be a crazy nigger, meaning you had to give up on the possibility of a normal future and accept that any moment, any place, was a good time to die.

This manhood ranking system was connected to the idea of protecting your property, which was referred to as "mine" or "yours" as in, "I've got to protect mine" or "You gotta get yours." This was part of the code of honor we learned from the older guys. Since we were all poor, "mine" or "yours" didn't mean real estate, bank accounts, or stocks. It was more like a bike, sneakers, a girl, your mother's honor, or a couple of square feet on a street corner. What you claimed and how far you would go to protect "mine" or "yours" determined your manhood ranking.

In 1968 nobody was badder than the Panthers. They took the manhood rating to another level. Not only were they willing to fight and die for "theirs," they were also willing to lay down their lives for every man, woman, and child in the black community whether they knew them personally or not. Plus there were no boundaries to their craziness. They were willing to take on the police, the army, the government, every-damn-body.

And here I was, an orphan, a church boy, and an honor student with an M16 on my lap, pursuing the path to manhood.

"Brother, did you hear me?" Yedwa barked. "I said do it blindfolded."

I snapped out of my daze, pulled a bandanna out of my jean pocket, and tied it around my eyes. Katara, an eighteen-year-old Panther, helped me adjust the blindfold so I couldn't see. Then I began to disassemble the M16 by touch, laying the pieces in a line so I could grope for them when it was time to put the rifle back together.

I could hear Yedwa's voice through my personal darkness. "If the pigs attack at night, they ain't waitin' for you to turn on a light to get your shit together. In fact, if you turn on a light, they're going to use it to lock and unload on your ass."

"Right on, brother," said another Panther voice. I dropped the gun bolt on the floor. It clattered loudly.

"Concentrate, young brother," Yedwa ordered. "Concentrate."

Five minutes later I had put the M16 back together. I pulled the bandanna from my eyes. It was soaked with sweat. Yedwa took the rifle from me and with the precision of a combat veteran ejected the clip, cleared the chamber, and checked the weapon. Then he passed it around to the other Panthers. Finally he motioned for me to stand. "You took four minutes and thirty seconds. That means your ass would have been dead three and a half minutes ago. Practice so you can get your speed up." With that he turned and put the rifle and the other weapons in a duffel bag. Then he put the duffel bag in a closet.

Katara put a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a bottle of wine on the coffee table. Yedwa put a John Coltrane album on the stereo. Sadik, the other Panther, grabbed one of the large pillows near the window and pulled it over to the table. I sat on the couch next to Yedwa. We all grabbed some chicken and started greasin' and sippin' wine from paper cups. The brothers talked about jazz, revolutionary lovemaking (that's where the man and woman scream, "Power to the people" instead of "Give it to me"), and bourgeois Negroes who have to be "offed" before the revolution comes.

Mainly, I listened. I had only been a Panther for about three months and I hadn't really found my place or my groove yet. Besides, I didn't want to say the wrong thing or make the wrong joke and be thought of as a counterrevolutionary. That was far worse than being called a punk, and I heard that the consequences were much more severe. It was safer to eat my chicken and nod my head profoundly, as if I were "a deep brother."

Sadik asked if we were off duty. Yedwa answered, "Yeah," and headed into the bedroom.

Sadik smiled and said, "Well, it's time to talk to Brother Roogie." That was his code name for reefer. He produced a joint and lit it, then passed it to me. I took a hit and started coughing my lungs out.

Yedwa came back in the room and took the joint away. "Watch it, brother," he said. "In fact, you shouldn't even be doing that shit. What are you, fifteen?"

"Sixteen and a half," I lied, trying to keep a straight face. By then I was floating, buzzed from the weed.

Yedwa turned on the black-and-white TV and adjusted the rabbit ears. The wine and the weed had my head feeling light, and my attention drifted from the conversation to the TV and to the posters of Che Guevara, Malcolm X, and Eldridge Cleaver that were taped to the wall. Che's eyes seemed to be looking right at me, following me as I reached for another piece of chicken. Was he trying to send me a secret revolutionary message from the beyond? I tried to play it cool as I shifted positions to see if Che was still checking me out. He was.

Suddenly Yedwa began cursing out the television. Richard Nixon was on the screen talking about the war in Vietnam.

"Quit oinking," Yedwa shouted. "You're a lying fucking pig."

The rest of us started laughing, but Yedwa was incensed. He reached under the cushion of the couch, pulled out a .38, aimed at the television, and pulled the trigger. The shot sounded like a large gun cap, not like the boom you hear in the movies. My ears started ringing as I stared at the gaping hole in the Zenith picture tube.

"Damn, Yedwa. You blasted the tube," Sadik observed as he jumped to his feet.

"Motherfucking propaganda box," Yedwa replied with a snarl that turned into a laugh. We all started to laugh until Sadik saw a flashing light pass by the window of the third- floor apartment.

"The pigs!" he yelled as he double-checked by peeking through the curtain.

"Must have heard the shot," Katara said.

Yedwa retrieved the duffel bag and passed out the weapons.

I wound up with the same M16 I had been trained with. We tipped over the couch. Yedwa motioned for Katara and me to duck behind it and to take aim at the front door. Yedwa and Sadik took up posts by the front window. No one talked. The only sounds were John Coltrane's sax and our hearts pounding at the anticipation of the police raid. Stress flared in my body. I wondered what it would be like to take a life, how it would feel to have bullets rip through my body. My stomach pitched like it was being brushed from the inside with the hot, molten wings of butterflies flapping. My bowels churned like I was going to shit in my pants. But I couldn't go out like that, not in front of these brothers. I took a deep breath to calm myself and looked over at Che. He was looking at the door too.

All right then, this was it. I would go out like a revolutionary, surrounded by chicken bones, a wounded TV, and a possessed poster of Che. I gripped the M16 tighter and waited for a battering ram or a tank to blow the door off the hinges. Then there were footsteps, a pause, and the jingling of keys as someone entered the next apartment. Time passed. Three minutes. Ten? Finally Yedwa turned from the window. "They split," he said, "Guess they were messing with someone in another building." We tried to act cocky as we put the apartment back together, but I wondered if everyone was secretly as glad as I was that we didn't have to shoot it out.

Yedwa came over and patted me on the back. "You moved like you were ready, young brother," he said, smiling. "You got a lotta heart."

I beamed for a moment, then pulled my revolutionary composure together. "Thank you, brother," I replied, trying to drop my adolescent voice an octave. But I did feel good inside. I had been near battle and I had made a good impression on a Panther officer, the crazy nigger Yedwa. His hand on my shoulder felt like the wing of an eagle about to guide his favorite offspring into flight. Yedwa invited me to sit for some more wine and a store-bought apple pie. I nodded my thanks but instead reached for my coat, saying I had to check on Noonie, my adoptive grandmother. The truth was I was dangerously close to pushing my eight o'clock curfew. It was, after all, a school night.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Panther Baby by Jamal Joseph Copyright © 2012 by Jamal Joseph. Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2012

    Pantherstar

    Nusery! This den was also very large with large soft nests for queen and kits. It is protected with thorns and brambles inside, on the wall, and outside on the cave wall. The wall inside is sometimes used for scratching itchy back.~Pantherstar

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 26, 2011

    An amazing story about the power of goodness possible in a human being.

    Tender book about tough times.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 12, 2014

    Nazi

    Okay, l'm here.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2014

    Zane :i got locked out nazi

    <_>

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2014

    Loved this book

    Amazing details!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2013

    Panther

    I live in hideaway tx. Well tyler tx. Close to Dallas. Gtg. Bbl. Has to get an iphone 5

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 11, 2012

    Fernblossom

    Im locked out!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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