panther baby

Panther Baby is an eloquent autobiography of Jamal Joseph, an original member of the famed Panther 21 group thrown into prison and later acquitted. Jamal was a youth in 1960’s Bronx, orphaned and living with his grandmother. He found strength, meaning and inspiration in the Black Panther movement.

Going behind the scenes into the daily routines of being a Panther is shared, including meetings, studying the ten points and learning about radical revolutionist theorists including Mao Tse-tung and Marx. Running soup kitchens and food pantries, breakfast programs for youth, keeping blocks free of the crack and drug epidemic and defending the community against racist police treatment were part of his experience.

Being accused of terrorist attacks, Jamal was rounded up in the middle of the night from his grandmother’s house to serve almost two years at Riker’s Island. Jamal used his time in prison to teach others about the oppression of the system, systemic racism, and the power to the people movement. He also taught martial arts and kept a strict code of conduct to keep spiritually grounded in prison.

Set free because of his youthful offender status, he worked tirelessly with greats such as Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, and Afeni Shakur. He spread the movement and worked for West and East coast alignment, which was difficult because of FBI infiltration and misinformation as part of COINTELPRO activities against the Black Panther Party.

Although the Panther 21 were finally acquitted, the repercussion of the priorities of the party left Jamal on the outskirts of society. He struggled with what he now understands as post-traumatic stress disorder after his fight for justice in the U.S. war against Black power. He was sent to Leavenworth prison, where he earned two college degrees and orchestrated radical prison theater. His works gained attention, and after serving his time he was able to become the first African-American chair of the Film program in the School of the Arts at Columbia University. He grows his family and continues to influence the community through IMPACT Repertory Theater as well as ongoing plays, writing and teaching. I am certain that many will gain insight from Jamal’s story and it is my hope that many will send this book to current prisoners of an unjust system, whether at Riker’s or elsewhere.