Activist Hampton speaks on black leadership issues

Joanna Dornfeld

An activist imprisoned a decade ago spoke to nearly 25 community members and University students Monday night at Blegen Hall about the importance of engaging people in the black power movement.

Fred Hampton Jr., flanked on either side by a Black Panther, spoke about his experiences in the Illinois prison system and how to organize black leadership today.

“I think he has a lot to offer people who are trying to organize about various issues,” said Joyce Bell, a sociology graduate student.

Hampton was sentenced to 18 years in prison after he was convicted in 1992 of aggravated arson for attempting to firebomb two Korean grocery stores in South Chicago.

Activists maintain Hampton was framed. In 2001, he applied for clemency based on total innocence, and the Illinois Prisoner Review Board granted the request, according to the Chicago-based International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement Web site.

Some activists maintain Hampton was singled out because his father was a leader of the Black Panther movement in the 1960s.

In 1969, Chicago police killed Fred Hampton Sr. in a raid of a Black Panther house.

Hampton said black leaders should remain in tune with the black community to address the issues important to its residents.

“You got to be constantly studying the people and make it work for the people,” Hampton said.

One example, he said, was the Black Panther Party’s Chicago free breakfast program of the 1960s. The Party created the program in direct response to community input about why children were doing poorly in school.

Hampton said power is the ability of black leaders to use natural communication tools to speak to the black community.

“You got to always keep your ear to the ground,” Hampton said.

The hip-hop music culture, he said, is a recent phenomenon that black community members can utilize to communicate with one another.

“You think the ruling class is going to tell you there is resistance?” Hampton asked the crowd.

Black leaders must also retain the ability to know what is normal and abnormal within the community, Hampton said.

“A lot of cats live in a bubble,” he said. “You can only dodge reality for so long.”

Leaders need to remain active in the black power movement, Hampton said.

Hampton’s appearance was his third stop on a weekend visit to the Twin Cities, sponsored by the Twin Cities Coalition to Defend Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Abu-Jamal, a former Pennsylvania journalist, was sentenced to death after being convicted of shooting a police officer. Many activists believe he was wrongly charged.

Joanna Dornfeld welcomes comments at [email protected]