This past Saturday, I was proud to be a recipient of the Fred Hampton Scholarship Fund Image Award. As I sat in Maywood in front of the Fred Hampton pool, located on Fred Hampton Way and marveled at the bust of Fred Hampton, what caught my attention the most were the dates. August 30, 1948 – December 4, 1969.
I did the math and then sat back astonished as the reality dawned on me. I have known what Fred Hampton did for years as part of the Black Panther Party. His name, along with Mark Clark, is legendary within the black community for his activism. His murder/execution is one of the biggest black marks on this city’s history. The fear and hatred that the white establishment showed toward him is made even more astonishing by the actions they took against him.
One has to ask oneself what kind of fear does a man who lived only 21 years, 3 months and 5 days impart to the majority community? When that community reacted, there weren’t any thoughts of trying to imprison him based on some trumped-up criminal charges, followed by a lengthy sentence. Rather, given the political atmosphere at the time, the only option was to sentence him to death.
Many of us, when we reach the age of 21, see it as the “start” of adulthood. So recognizing all that Fred Hampton managed to do during his short 21 years on Earth is amazing. It made me wonder just what our young people are doing today. How many of them are conscientious about the plight of their fellow human beings? With a staggering unemployment rate, where is the activism of young people – demanding jobs and opportunities? Where are the young people under the age of 25 who are involved in politics and social justice? Where are the 2011 versions of Fred Hampton?
One has to marvel at all the forces that came together to create an individual like Fred Hampton. He knew at an early age that the struggle for the equality of black people was going to be at the forefront of his agenda. I looked at the bust of Fred and wondered where are the 21-year-olds today who are seen as a threat to the establishment for reasons other than possible criminal behavior?
I was almost headed down the road of lambasting our young people for not being more like Fred when a different reality dawned on me. It was my generation – the Baby Boomers – who raised the children who aren’t conscientious. We gave our kids everything except an appreciation of our history and the struggles that, as a people, we had to endure. We sugar-coated so much stuff that now when we want our children to respond, they don’t. But it is not too late. All we have to do is to begin to talk with our children about our past.
And that past includes Fred Hampton – a revolutionary whose vision allowed him to see what others missed, a young man who will always be remembered for his iconic saying: “You can kill the revolutionary. But you cannot kill the revolution.”