Happy Tuesday good people.
Tomorrow, September 13th would have been the 69th Birthday of Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt, also known as Geronimo Ji-Jiga.
I know some of you are like, “Ain’t that the Black Panther dude?” While others are like wait, “Ain’t that Tupac’s god-daddy?”
However it’s more likely that most of you don’t know who this brother is at all.
And that bothers me. It bothers me that the men and women who worked for our freedom and liberation are unknown to most of us and our children.
To be honest, I myself had no real knowledge of this brother’s life, legacy and fight as both a Black Panther and as a political prisoner here in America.
And when I was tasked to write about him, I did what any smart millennial would, I consulted YouTube.
There I found the Geronimo Pratt & Rice/Poindexter documentary. David Rice and Edward Poindexter were former Black Panthers. Listen, it’s almost an hour long, but you should make it your business to watch it.
69 years ago, Pratt was born in Morgan City, Louisiana. It was 7 years before the Civil Rights Movement would begin. In an interview with Democracy Now, in 1997, Pratt describes his early childhood:
GERONIMO JI-JAGA PRATT: Well, I grew up in segregation, and we had to deal with the terror from the Klan violence and, you know, other forms of ignorance from those peoples. But growing up in that kind of environment instilled in me a pride of — or a sense of nationalism, that we can govern ourselves, and we can protect ourselves, and we didn’t need to be with anyone who didn’t want to be with us.
I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up during such times, having to be hyper vigilant about yourself and your environment.
Pratt, like a lot of our young men and women, left one war zone and entered into another, the military.
He served two tours in Vietnam and was a highly decorated soldier earning a Bronze Star, Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts for his bravery.
He was a patriot. Which made me wonder, how does that type of man become a political prisoner?
Pratt explains in the same Democracy now interview: When I came back, it was shortly after Martin Luther King was assassinated, so the Black nation was more or less at one now with the — just being fed up. And everyone was saying, “Look, we have to do something.” So us young militant types were employed quite extensively throughout the nation.
I’m sure he believed, If they would kill peaceful ass King, then they would surely kill any of them. This affirmed his commitment to militant activism and to his recruitment into the The Black Panther Party.
Before we go on, let’s address who the they are.
COINTELPRO saw to the dismantling of most of these “Communist Groups.” The narratives created by their illegal tactics added to the tale of exaggerated Black criminality that helped to condemn our brothers in the movement.
But you know what? I’m gonna leave COINTELPRO for another day. J. Edgar Hoover and his evil White supremacist organization deserve an entire post, dedicated to the ways they destroyed the movement for Black liberation.
White supremacy is too real y’all.
Maybe because Wypipo and especially the White government believes that if you are ProBlack you are looking to destroy all things White. When in actuality you’re just looking to destroy White Supremacy.
But back to Pratt. When he left the army, he went on to study political science at UCLA and like most of us he become politically conscious and active on his college campus. It was the early seventies and a Black consciousness was spreading like wildfire. Elmer Pratt became Geronimo Ji-Jaga. He assumed the name Geronimo after the famed Apache chief and leader of the resistance (of Whiteness) and took Ji-Jaga from the name of a tribe in central Africa.
Once he joined the Panthers, he quickly became the Minister of Defense, training other Panthers for the eventual urban war that the United States government would pursue against them.
As soon as Pratt made his ascension through the ranks of the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party, the Feds made it their mission to “neutralize” him and his following. They used White violence in the form of “eyewitness” testimony, snitches and paid informants.
You can read about all of this and more in Pratt’s book Last Man Standing: The Tragedy and Triumph of Geronimo Pratt by Jack Olsen.
It was after college when I began to learn about political prisoners such as:
And so I wonder, why our curricula does not include the realities and the histories of these people?
That was one of them rhetorical answer jawns as my high school mentees would say. We all know the answers people.
Sb: A jawn is a the millennial replacement for all nouns. A significant other is a jawn. An object can be a jawn. A group of things are a group of jawns. Essentially a substitute for the word joint. Are you following me?
If you’ve been reading CREAD for awhile then you know we talk about the Panthers….often. From Fred Hampton to Assata Shakur and from Angela Davis to Mama C to Badass George Jackson. We talk about our sheros and heros of the movement, because it is vital that we know the tactics used against them to protect us as we continue the good fight towards Black liberation.
I have been captivated by Pratt’s story. His fight for the liberation of our people and for his own liberation, fighting a crime he didn’t commit. This tale hits home because where I’m from, when you go to jail, the saying is “out of sight out of mind.” They forget you and all you are about when you are incarcerated for even a few years so to do 27 years and never lose your conviction to live and be free.
Well that’s amazing, because I know so many men who get eaten up by the penal system.
I feign to take this story back to the young men in my mentoring group. I want to see how they respond and connect Pratt’s story to their own lives and the lives of those they love.
When I was just a fan and reader of CREAD, I always wondered how could I take the information I was ingesting and actually apply it to my everyday life. I was reading about all of this Blackness, all of these influential diasporic figures that I had never known of in depth, or at all. All of these movements that I’d never known existed.
I was like WHOA! And so I took the information back to my family, my mentees, my community and even my dudes on the block.
Now I know I only gave you a 24 hour heads up on Pratt but I’m hopeful you will acknowledge him in your classrooms tomorrow. It would be dope to engage your students in a Q&A about Pratt or the Panthers. This way, we can start to make Black History American History.
In teaching the story of Pratt’s life, we begin the slow process of ensuring that our children know that Black history is bigger than just discussing Slavery. It’s about discussing the beauty of our people and all of our accomplishments.
Pratt’s conviction for murder was vacated in 1997. He had spent 27 years in prison for a crime that American government created for him. After winning a 4.5 Million settlement with the assistance of Johnnie Cochran, Pratt went on to speak and advocate for Black people and for the release of other Black political prisoners still in bondage in America today.
He died in Tanzania in 2011.
We at CREAD have made a commitment to support you as you work to shift your practices and curricula in such a way that it pays homage to the histories and historical figures of all of our ethnically diverse students and find ways of responding to and affirming the cultural heritage of those who we teach.
We know this is not easy work. We encourage you (and ourselves) to:
Be bold and courageous this school year. We must stay steadfast in order to capture the hearts and minds of our youth.
Be honest enough and welcome what we don’t know, but be committed to learning. None of us are experts in everything alone but together we know so much more.
Be accepting of discomfort. Most of your students feel this way their whole academic lives.
Be willing to do any and everything in your power to guarantee that your students receive the type of education that will leave them more aware of who they are and what they are capable of.
Hold it down good people!