Former Black Panther member turned author, Jamal Joseph, is hoping to mobilize a generation to find their love for community and humanity in his latest release, PANTHER BABY: A Life of Rebellion & Reinvention.
The 59-year-old author has a unique story. At a very young age he was rocked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and joined the NYC chapter of the Black Panther Party at 15, he was imprisoned on Riker’s Island for being part of the “Panther 21” at 16, and now is the chair of Columbia University’s School of the Arts film division.
“Right after Dr. King was killed I was angry and outraged, like many Black teens were, and wanted to join the most militant organization on this scene. The energy of the Black Panthers just knocked me out, so I found my way to a [Black Panther] office in Brooklyn,” remembered Jamal. “I went with two of my friends, because there was a lot of misconceptions and fear around the Black Panther party. My older friends told me they would give you a gun and you had to kill a white guy to prove yourself.”
But, what his friends forget to tell him was – they were just kidding.
“I went into the meeting and jumped up saying ‘give me a gun I’m ready to go now’,” laughed Jamal. “They called me into the office and the brother reached down – I thought he was getting a gun to give me but he handed me a stack of books. I asked, ‘I thought you were going to arm me’ he looked at me and said ‘young brother I just did.’”
That moment foreshadowed the most significant lessons Jamal would ever learn from the Black Panthers and set the tone and vision for his book. He was taught that the Black Panthers was about a class struggle for all colors not just Black-Americans and from that day forward he knew that it would be about education and “having an undying love for the people – mind, body and soul.”
“For many years people have told me that I have a fascinating story and I should write a book, but what really inspires me [to write] is when I speak at colleges around the country and young people ask ‘what was it like?’” confessed Jamal. “So I wanted to write a story that appealed to them. It’s written from the voice of a young man trying to figure out how to be a man.”
Jamal believes that love for family and community is the key to keep kids on the straight and narrow. He says teenagers get love from gang members in the community and they gravitate to that because there is a disconnect between their families and true friends.
“I hope [this book] creates a discussion amongst young people to understand what they can do with their lives now and amongst us, who have been through many struggles, to believe that things could be better and we can help,” said Jamal.
PANTHER BABY: A Life of Rebellion & Reinvention can be purchased on amazon.com and at major book retailers.