As a people, we are often swift to immortalize a murdered leader. We are conditioned to search for a messiah.
In “Judas and the Black Messiah” we view the story of Chairman Fred Hampton Sr. and FBI informant William O’Neal’s infiltration of the Chicago Chapter of the Black Panther Party. We are offered a glimpse into the life of Chairman Fred Hampton—his brilliance, his passion, his fearlessness, his love for folx who are oppressed and his undying commitment for Black people.
We also see the great lengths that the U.S. government took to take down the Black Panther Party and its most notable and influential leaders. I am sure many of you reading this are aware of the FBI’s COINTELPRO program and J. Edgar Hoover’s lethal fascination in the rise of a “Black Messiah.” Hampton was on Hoover’s list, hence, the FBI’s campaign to permanently silence him.
We Are All Called, But Few Will Listen
We are all placed here to do work. We all have purpose, but many folx never actualize their role. Chairman Fred, did. Many revolutionaries before and after him, did. They recognized a call greater than themselves. They recognized that this could mean death—literally and/or figuratively. They recognized that when you are called forth, it could mean persecution.
The activism allure, however, can often lead to an influx of quasi-revolutionaries who do not, at first, recognize the costs attached. We now have trendy hashtags and catch phrases. We capture and show our activism behind screens. It’s cool to throw up a Black Power fist, wave RBG flags, or proclaim that Black Lives Matter. But when it’s not a trend a void is created when words of solidarity are not backed by actions.
We all know that it’s easier to be a William O’Neal than a Fred Hampton.
What Side Are You On?
One part of the tension in watching “Judas and the Black Messiah” is the humanizing of O’Neal—we are previewed to see how he was used and abused by the state. But we then see the choices he made, to both infiltrate the Party and ultimately aide in the assassination of Hampton. Although O’Neal was young (16), he was still old enough in my opinion, to know the effects of his choices.
The other part of the tension came when we were forced to self-reflect on how we would act in the same situation as O’Neal. It also agitates us to assess if we have any O’Neals amongst us. And while circumstances might not have led any of us to become a police snitch or an FBI informant; anytime you go against the people, you are an enemy to the people. As Audre Lorde reminds us: “Your silence will not protect you.”
My Ops Are Your Ops
But what makes an O’Neal? What does that look like? Does it start off looking like your homeboy who doesn’t honor street codes? Or your cousin who doesn’t take a stand or a position on anything? Is it your neighbor down the block who is quick to call the cops on kids playing in the street?
I know some of you are reading this like, “I ain’t no O’Neal…I ain’t that. I am for my people. I have answered my call.”
In that case, what will you do when the 12 are at your door? What about when the state is dressed up as your employer? Will you allow yourself to be bought? Will you allow your ego to get in the way of what the people need? Will you succumb to conformity and tell yourself that you are going to change the system from within?
Will you keep your integrity or will you fold? How far would you go to get free when you know your freedom is predicated on everyone being free? How much of your soul is invested in this liberation work?
What will you do when the sleepless nights come?
The night terrors?
When your relationships suffer?
How about the moments when it is hard to enjoy the simplicities of life because you’re always thinking about the ongoing fight? The times when you sit fixated on how your people struggle, how these systems continue to keep us bound. The seconds, minutes and hours that you’re embodied with constant rage. The seconds, minutes and hours when you’re embodied with hopelessness. Will you sustain?
Get Us Free
I pose these questions not just for you, but for myself, as well. As one who organizes, these thoughts, critiques and tension are for me to hold everyday. Part of the work is to remember the call. Remember why I am in this liberation fight at all. Assess what levels of sacrifice I truly intend to make now and in the future.
Once I accepted a calling on my life to get us free, it has guided me and cultivated me in the work I do and the ways in which I do it. Know that it looks different for each of us. Everybody ain’t called to be the next Fred Hampton, or the next beloved freedom fighting, badass revolutionary ancestor or elder that has come before us, many with their names lost to history.
However, we are all called, and we all have choice in how we respond to it. Chairman Fred spoke candidly about this revolutionary struggle. He called us to live, struggle and die with the people. If you don’t have that strong feeling—an allure that calls you to BE with the people authentically, then this ain’t for you. If it ain’t about freeing us all; if it ain’t about banging against any and all individuals and entities that keep us oppressed, that keep us bound both physically and mentally—then this ain’t for you.
When we do the work and live a life that doesn’t allow white supremacy, phobias, isms, payouts, proximity to celebrity, conversions, coercions, trends, waves, friends, foes, and any evil entities to deter us, then that is when the call has been answered.
When we make a commitment to get high off the people then we have answered the call. When we choose to seek liberation and freedom with and for the people then we have answered the call and in the words of Rev. Sekou: “we have already won.”