Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience, Expanded Edition

Death Blossoms: Reflections from a Prisoner of Conscience, Expanded Edition


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Profound meditations on life, death, freedom, family, and faith, written by radical Black journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, while he was awaiting his execution.

"Uncompromising, disturbing . . . Abu-Jamal's voice has the clarity and candor of a man whose impending death emboldens him to say what is on his mind without fear of consequence."— The Boston Globe

"A brilliant, lucid meditation on the moral obligation of political commitment by a deeply ethical—and deeply wronged—human being. Mumia should be freed, now."— Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. University Professor & Director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University

"A brilliant, powerful book by a prophetic writer . . . his language glows with an affirming flame."— Jonathan Kozol, author of Death at an Early Age and Rachel and Her Children

Journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal has been imprisoned since 1982 for the killing of a police officer, a crime he steadfastly maintained he did not commit. In 1996, after serving more than a decade on death row, and with the likelihood of execution looming, he began receiving regular visits from members of the Bruderhof spiritual community, a group of refugees from Hitler's Germany. Inspired by these encounters, Mumia began to write a series of personal essays reflecting on his search for spiritual meaning within a society plagued by materialism, hypocrisy, and violence. "Many people say it is insane to resist the system," writes Mumia, "but actually it is insane not to."

This expanded edition of Death Blossoms brings a classic, influential work back into print with a new introduction by Mumia, and includes the entire text of a groundbreaking report by Amnesty International detailing the legal improprieties and chronic injustices that marred his trial.

Praise for Death Blossoms, Expanded Edition :

"For years in my classrooms I have watched Death Blossoms do its luminous work. It has awakened the conscience of so many of my student readers. Once awakened, they begin to shoulder the disciplines of its revolutionary knowing, moral passion, historical precision and clarity of reason. No wonder repressive powers seek death for this prisoner of conscience. Alas for them, Mumia still lives. From streets to classrooms and back, Death Blossoms keeps opening up consciences, hearts, and minds for our revolutionary work."— Mark Lewis Taylor, Professor of Theology and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary, and author of The Theological and the Political: On the Weight of the World

"Targeted by the FBI's COINTELPRO for his revolutionary politics, imprisoned, and sentenced to death, Mumia found freedom in resistance. His reflections here—on race, spirituality, on struggle, and life—illuminate this path to freedom for us all."— Joshua Bloom, co-author with Waldo E. Martin Jr. of Black Against Empire: The History and Politics of the Black Panther Party

"In this revised edition of his groundbreaking work, Death Blossoms, convicted death row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal tackles hard and existential questions, searching for God and a greater meaning in a caged life that may be cut short if the state has its way and takes his life. As readers follow Mumia's journey through his poems, short essays, and longer musings, they will learn not only about this singular individual who has retained his humanity despite the ever present threat of execution, but also about themselves and our society: what we are willing to tolerate and who we are willing to cast aside. If there is any justice, Mumia will prevail in his battle for his life and for his freedom."— Lara Bazelon, author of Rectify: The Power of Restorative Justice After Wrongful Conviction

"Mumia Abu-Jamal has challenged us to see the prison at the center of a long history of US oppression, and he has inspired us to keep faith with ordinary struggles against injustice under the most terrible odds and circumstances. Written more than two decades ago, Death Blossoms helps us to see beyond prison walls; it is as timely and as necessary as the day it was published."— Nikhil Pal Singh, founding faculty director of the NYU Prison Education Program, author of Race and America's Long War

"For over three decades, the words of Mumia Abu-Jamal have been tools many young activists have used to connect the dots of empire, racism, and resistance. The welcome reissue of Death Blossoms is a chance to reconnect with Abu-Jamal's prophetic voice, one that needs to be heard now more than ever."— Hilary Moore and James Tracy, co-authors of No Fascist USA!, The John Brown Anti-Klan Committee and Lessons for Today's Movements

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780872867970
Publisher: City Lights Books
Publication date: 12/17/2019
Series: City Lights Open Media Series
Pages: 248
Sales rank: 1,176,230
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x (d)

About the Author

Mumia Abu-Jamal is an award-winning journalist, political activist, and author. In 1981, he was elected president of the Association of Black Journalists (Philadelphia chapter) and was a radio reporter for National Public Radio (NPR). As part of a team of reporters at WHYY, one of NPR’s premier stations, he won the prestigious Major Armstrong Award from Columbia University for excellence in broadcasting.

On December 9, 1981, Abu-Jamal was shot, arrested, and charged for killing a white police officer in Philadelphia. In 1982 he was convicted and sentenced to death in a trial that Amnesty International determined “clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings.” After he had spent over 28 years on Death Row, in 2011 Abu-Jamal’s death sentence was vacated when the Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of four federal judges who had declared his death sentence unconstitutional. He is now serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. Throughout his decades of imprisonment, most of which was spent in solitary confinement on Death Row, Abu-Jamal has steadfastly maintained his innocence.

Abu-Jamal obtained his GED in prison in July 1992; he earned his BA from Goddard College in January 1996; he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Law degree from the New College of California in May1996; and in 1999, he earned a Masters of Arts degree from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He is currently working on his Ph.D.

Abu-Jamal has produced radio commentaries with Prison Radio for decades, and has authored more than 10 books, including Death Blossoms, Live From Death Row, We Want Freedom, Jailhouse Lawyers, The Classroom and the Cell, Murder Incorporated, Writing on the Wall, and Have Black Lives Ever Mattered?

In late 2018, Abu-Jamal’s right to appeal was reinstated by a Philadelphia judge. The ongoing fight for his freedom continues

Cornel West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. He is Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University and holds the title of Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. He has also taught at Union Theological Seminary, Yale, Harvard, and the University of Paris. Cornel West graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard in three years and obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy at Princeton. His books include Race Matters, Democracy Matters, Brother West, and Black Prophetic Fire.

Julia Wright is the daughter of American author Richard Wright.

Read an Excerpt


Foreword by Cornel West

The passionate and prophetic voice of Mumia Abu- Jamal challenges us to wrestle with the most distinctive feature of present-day America: the relative erosion of the systems of caring and nurturing. This frightening reality, which renders more and more people unloved and unwanted, results primarily from several fundamen­tal processes. There are, for example, the forces of our unregulated capitalist market, which have yielded not only immoral levels of wealth inequality and economic insecurity but also personal isolation and psychic disori­entation. Then there is the legacy of white supremacy, which - in subtle and not-so-subtle ways - continues to produce new forms of geographical segregation, job ceilings, and social tension. We can also see how, in other arenas, oppressive ideologies and persisting bigot­ries (like patriarchy and homophobia) smother the possi­bility of healthy and humane relations among men and women. In short, our capitalist "civilization" is killing our minds, bodies, and souls in the name of the American Dream.

As one who has lived on the night-side of this dream - unjustly imprisoned for a crime he did not commit - Mumia Abu-Jamal speaks to us of the institutional injustice and spiritual impoverishment that permeates our culture. He reminds us of things most fellow citi­zens would rather deny, ignore, or evade. And, like the most powerful critics of our society-from Herman Melville, Theodore Dreiser, and Nathaniel West, to Ann Petry, Richard Wright, Toni Morrison, and Eugene O'Neill - he forces us to grapple with the most funda­mental question facing this country: what does it profit a nation to conquer the whole world and lose its soul?

After over fifteen years of nightmarish jail conditions, Mumia Abu-Jamal's soul is not only intact but still flourishing - just as the nation's soul withers. Will we ever listen to and learn from our bloodstained prophets?

Preface by Julia Wright

“Under a government that imprisons any man unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.”

Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

“Does the silk-worm expend her yellow labours for thee? For thee does she undo herself?”

Cyril Tourneur, c. 1575-1626

There are all sorts of silences-as many perhaps as there are textures to our sense of touch or shades of color to the eye. But I will always remember the ex­traordinary silence that fell over a Pittsburgh courtroom on October 13, 1995, when an African-American jour­nalist and world-known author walked in slow motion, his feet in chains, to present testimony in his own civil suit against his prison (SCI Greene) and Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections for violation of his human rights. His name-Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Ripples of silence froze in his shackled footsteps. As if on'a move waves could be stilled, this was a silence of total paradox: the volatile, scarcely hidden presence of loaded police weapons targeting the reined-in love of members of the family in the courtroom - men, women, and children who have been unable to touch him for

fourteen years. I was reminded of Coleridge's uncannily arrested sea: a spell cast against the forces of life. Hav­ing at last reached the stand in hi-tech noiselessness (America now produces silent chains for her prisoners' feet), a gentle giant spoke and was unbound by his own words.

The defense team for SCI Greene proceeded to interro­gate Mumia, asking him repeatedly whether he knew he was violating prison rules when he wrote his book Live From Death Row. "Yes," quietly. (A tremor through the silence.) Did he know he was violating the same rules when he accepted payment for articles, commen­taries, etc...? "Yes," in soft-spoken, vibrant tones. (The silence stirs.) Did he know that the current punishment for entering into "the illicit business of writing" behind bars was ninety days in the "hole" and a prison investi­gation justifying the monitoring of his mail and limited access to all categories of visitors including family, para­legals, spiritual counselors, the press? "Yes," patiently, wearily. (The silence vibrates but congeals again, oily and ominous.)

"Why then, if you knew, did you go ahead and write that book?"

"Because, whatever the cost to me, I knew I had to offer to the world a window into the souls of those who, like me, suffer barbaric conditions on America's death rows..."

American silence shattered like cheap glass. Judge Benson suspended the hearing...


THE BOOK YOU ARE about to read, Mumia's second "crime" since Live From Death Row, breaks through American silence yet again as its author shares with us his prison-brewed antidotes against bars of silence more deadly than the cold steel he touches every day.

In the recent HBO-Channel 4-Otmoor documentary Mumia Abu-Jamal: A Case for Reasonable Doubt?, Mumia finds words to tell us about the inhuman expe­rience of sensory isolation he has been exposed to for two-thirds of a generation:

Once someone closes that door, there is no sound. There is the sound of silence in your cell. There is the sound of an air-conditioner and the sound of silence, the sound you create in your own cell. The sense of isolation is all but total, because you're cut off even from the sonic pres­ence of people. Imagine going into your bath­room, locking the door behind you, and not leaving that bathroom, except for an hour or two [each day]...and staying in that bathroom for the rest of your natural life, with a date to die.

In Death Blossoms, Mumia's victories against such sen­sory deprivation are as many prizes he has wrested from prison. ("Prize" and "prison" share the same root meaning: "to seize.") However, he does not present us with ready-made, do-it-yourself, take-away prescrip­tions: that would be too simple. If a pattern of anti- carceral antidotes is to be found in the pages that follow, it is for us to learn how to detect them, just as Henry James believed that readers need to reach a certain stage of lucidity before they can make out the hidden "figure" in a writer's "carpet."

Nothing, Mumia lets us know, can begin without the word. Writing behind locked doors gives durable sound to prison silence, spiritual distance from a madding crowd of politicians and elected judges whose careers are built on the blood of others, creative dimension to the sound and fury of a world lost. In writing, there is a renewed bonding: unshackled hands grasping note­book, fingers touching pencil, pencil touching paper, paper touched by readers who are in turn touched by meaning. And something is badly needed to prevent the outside world from receding, to arrest the slowing- down of the metabolism of exchange with one's re­membered community. Do colors pale and falter with Plexiglas filtering? Is there a sepia-like transmutation due to the overexposure of much revisited memories?

Death Blossoms seems bathed in a shimmering translu- cency, as if remembered color 'n' sound are bleeding out of prison-reality, and this existential hemorrhage can be

stopped only by the "brilliant etching of writing upon the brain.”

CAN ALL THE CENTURIES of world philosophy even begin to visualize the dreams and nightmares of our death row inmates? The raw stuff of dreams draws on the immediacy of the sentient world - but when that world is suppressed, what happens to those dreaming processes which constitute one of the foundations of human sanity? Rollo May has written about that exis­tential pain at the heart of all human exile: the inability to go home. Homelessness, like noiselessness and lack of physical contact, is at the core of American "correc­tion." It is the experience of being at home or not, of being able to go home or not, that sustains the sense of self or begins to shatter it. And it is one of the amazing strengths of this book that Mumia has turned his mind into his home, showing us in the process how out-of-our-minds we may have become in the "open" society outside. Mumia's inner home is so limitless that when we exit this book, it is into our own materialistic, petty reality-cells that we enter, apparently of our own "free" will.

This is not classic autobiography or even "intellectual" biography. It is the narrative of an escape from prison into the liberated territory of the mind, a pacing not of the cage but of the psyche, a jogging not in the pen but in the open space Mumia calls "reaching beyond." We are privileged that he takes us with him on a liber­ating tour of his own freedom. Resolutely on'a move within his own spiritual quest, Mumia makes us under­stand that "free" men and women can imprison and arrest their own revolutions just as "inmates" can set free a boundless revolution of the mind. As Frantz Fanon, the late psychiatrist and freedom-fighter, wrote in his Wretched of the Earth, "Imperialism leaves behind germs of rot which we must clinically detect and remove from our land but from our minds as well."

Our minds are indeed bombarded with media hype and racial stereotypes. Who does not recall the Disneyland face of a womanchild tearfully describing (for prime­time consumption) the black "monster" who murdered her two small boys? Except that this killer turned out to be the figment of her own homicidal imagination...Yet how many Mumia Abu-Jamals were arrested or ha­rassed before the truth was duly established? Who does not remember a Boston-based Italian-American as he testified, convincingly, to witnessing the murder of his wife by a black "thug?" Except that this dark fiend turned out to be a projection straight out of the husband's criminal mind...But, meanwhile, how many Abu-Jamals? Who can forget a tear-streaked widow telling over and over again how the defendant (Mumia) smiled diabolically as the prosecution showed the jury

the blood-stained shirt of her policeman-husband? Except that the minutes of the trial prove that Judge Sabo had barred Mumia from the courtroom that day...And so the pattern repeats itself as we are told that a certain Wesley Cook, a.k.a. Mumia Abu-Jamal, killed a police officer who happened to be brutalizing his brother. But who is the real Mumia beyond these false, cold-blooded projections?

Death Blossoms is a personal and collective answer to this question, a generous and human song of inno­cence for all the unseen, voiceless men and women imprisoned by guilty stereotypes way before they set foot in a penitentiary.

Predictably, another "invisible man" haunts this case: he was seen running away from the scene of the shooting by at least three witnesses (Dessie Hightower, William Singletary, Veronica Jones), and all have since spoken up concerning the police intimidation they underwent simply for insisting that this man was not a figment of their black folks' imagination...

ALTHOUGH MUMIA'S LIFE-FORCES are sealed off and preyed upon by a carceral onslaught tantamount to hi-tech slavery, he distills in these pages the ultimate rebuttal of his imprisonment: mental and spiritual au­tarchy.

Death Blossoms displays a deceptively simple meshing of form and content. In fact, one of the most fascinating figures in Mumia's "carpet" is quite literally the carpet itself, the weaving of a web of words. Revealingly, to­wards the end of the book, Norman, an inmate, marvels at a spider's defiance of prison rules as it spins its web under his sink. Mumia, who soon discovers a spider of his own, weaves anecdote into antidote, and we begin to see that the book we hold in our hands is also a web spun out of the creative threads of a mind-made home; just as Anansi, the spider of ancient African folklore, is the source of a life-web unraveled from within.

As is uncannily the case with much of Mumia's writing, the psychological truth is also borne out scientifically. Randy Lewis, a molecular biologist who has been study­ing spiders' secrets for years, has recently written that "spider silk absorbs more energy before it breaks than any other material on earth." The writing in Death Blos­soms is as prison proof as the silk for vests, currently derived from imprisoned, anesthetized spiders, is bullet proof. And from his carceral lab, Mumia's word-threads reach through and beyond prison bars; they are symbols of the essential twine of bonding with those on the outside. Together they form a web which is an almost literal image for those "holes in the soul" he writes of. But the same web also healingly re-creates in prison the reality of "the whole connected web of nature" and holds us all together as a community in spite of the most brutal assaults. As he notes in reference to the bonds that unite his beloved brothers and sisters of MOVE even after numerous sinister, programmed at­tempts to destroy their community: "Using neither nails nor lumber, John Africa constructed from the fabric of the heart a tightly cohesive body."

Many of us will not emerge from this book unsnared, for to the extent that we cannot deny the knowledge of what we have read, we are faced with a vital ques­tion: Knowing what we know, having become wit­nesses, can we continue to live and let die?

DEATH BLOSSOMS raises the issue of the innocence of one man - any man - at the hands of an elitist soci­ety that manufactures and projects its guilt upon its citizens in order to enrich itself. I am reminded here of my father's character, Fred Daniels, in The Man Who Lived Underground. Pursued by the police for a crime he did not commit, Daniels is robbed of his innocence and escapes underground into the city's sewers to avoid capture. As he tries to survive in hiding by resort­ing to stealing, he takes to peering through cellar doors and invisibly watches others being robbed of their innocence as they are punished for his thefts. After an old watchman falsely accused on his account commits suicide, Daniels understands from the depths of his netherworld that we are all robbed of our innocence and are therefore all condemned to guilt. He emerges from the sewers with the urge to share this truth with the world:

If he could show them what he had seen, then they would feel what he had felt, and they in turn would show it to others, and those others would feel as they had felt, and soon everybody would be gov­erned by the same impulse of pity.

Similar threads of poignant hope and faith in justice run through Death Blossoms, making visible witnesses of us all. Veronica Jones, a hounded witness in Mumia's case, was moved by the same impulse when she recently came forward to set a false record straight, but she was arrested at the stand for sticking to the truth of what she saw - a man running away - and for courageously accepting the responsibility that goes with taking the truth out of the "underground"...

Our America, geographically so vast and rich, histori­cally so young and green, has traditionally preferred the materialism of space to the invisible threads time spins through her landscapes and the experience of her rest­less peoples. Mumia's writing reconnects us with a much-needed sense of continuity, with the history of our birth as a people on western shores through the Middle Passage, with our ensuing struggle down through time, ongoing, on'a move.

For Mumia, a wholistic struggle—the warp and woof of it—unfolds not only in terms of space-oriented interna­tionalism, but also through the transgenerational glue contained in the web parabole. It is sadly ironical, though, that such an appreciation of the spiritual es­sence of time should come from a death row inmate who lacks the material wealth that buys life-time in America. But Mumia, with characteristic selflessness, enjoins us to look beyond ourselves at the fragile blooms of our children, and help them "dwell in the house of tomorrow," where we may not be.

A BLOSSOM IS one of the life forms most bound up with the message of time. The fruit it becomes holds in its flesh the memory of the grand-bud that came be­fore it, and the foretaste of its passage through rot. According to the most haunting of blues, sung by the sister with the eternal magnolia in her hair, there were many "strange fruit" hanging from our southern trees. But do our landscapes remember? According to leg­end, death flowers (also called "mandragore") grew under innocent men who had swung high. These blooms held wondrous powers of fertility and con­tinuum in the hands of the damned of the earth.

As I was reading the manuscript of Death Blossoms, I received a deeply moving letter from Mumia recounting his grief at the violent death of Tupac Shakur - a Panther family child, a promising but unfulfilled cub nipped in the bud. "What loss!" Mumia writes. "The son of a Panther who never knew his mother’s glory; who called himself a 'thug;' who never realized his truest self, his truest power." Mumia's words will strike a deep chord in those of us who have had to teach our children to become mental guerrillas, and to thread their way through the grim statistics of their own mortality. "Ev­ery two hours, one of you dies of gunshot wounds," we force ourselves to teach them.

MUMIA'S INABILITY to touch the grandchildren born to him while on death row is, microcosmically, a double bind experienced by far too many in our decay­ing "communities:" the intergenerational connections of life are eroded, foreshortened at both ends of our life-spans. Targeted by the FBI as a child, Mumia cannot bond with his own children, or theirs-and all have been robbed. My father, Richard Wright, would have met my children and theirs, had he not died in his prime, in unelucidated circumstances. Our generations are torn asunder and brushed aside like cobwebs; they are cut off and isolated - as if on their own death row.

Over half a century after Native Son, Bigger—my paper brother-still haunts America, because in his premature death at the hands of the State, there was a foretaste of coming rot. Tupac? Another real-life native son in the long chain since decimation. We live and breathe this state of recurrent loss! We need to be able to find the right rites to mourn so many thousands gone, if only to prevent the next ones from going. Because those slain in childhood will have no children...

It is a healing strength of this book that Mumia, who lives at such mortal risk, can hand us the connective strands of a net to throw far over the great divide, towards generations of children we may never get to know or see or touch. But as he makes clear, we can love them ahead, preventively. And maybe this bond- net, flung far across time as a Love Supreme, will keep them from going too unfortified, too gentle into the bad night of renewed bondage.

Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mai and Wilde's Ballad of Reading Gaol are prime examples of forbidden works written and banned at the end of the nineteenth cen­tury, only to become universally loved in the twentieth.

And so here are Mumia Abu-Jamal’s Death Blossoms— timelessly.


By Mumia

NORMAN CALLED OVER, his voice heavy and strangely conspiratorial. "Hey, Mu. Ya bizzy, man?"

"Naw, Norm. I wuz jus doin' a little readin.' But wussup, man?"

"I been lookin' at this mama spider in my cell. She beautiful, man!"


"She tiny, but she so strong, man!"

"Uh huh..."

"An' ya know what's amazin'?"

"Whut's dat, Norm?"

"Think 'bout how she make her own home-her web - out of her own body!"

"That's amazin', man."

And indeed it was amazing, especially to Norman, a man encaged in utter isolation. Here he sat-would sit for the remainder of his days - in the antiseptic stillness of a supermaximum-security prison block, yet he was not entirely alone. With a quiet, unwitting bravado that defied the State's most stringent efforts to quarantine him, spiders had moved in and built webs in the dark corner under his sink. Now they shared his cell, and he spent hours watching them spin their miraculous silken thread.

Norman watched them give birth. He watched them stalk those few rare flies who entered his cell, only to be trapped. He watched them suck the life sap from their prey until nothing remained but dry husks. He watched them in a deep and reverent wonder, and his cell became a study.

Norman watched, and whenever something truly re­markable occurred, he quietly tapped on the wall. He'd begin in a deep stage-whisper: "Mu - Yo, Mu! Ya bizzy, man?"

I was rarely too busy to listen for fifteen or twenty min­utes, and it wasn't long before I found myself sharing his fascination and enthusiasm. And in time, lo and behold, a web scaffold appeared in my own sink-corner.

IN ANCIENT AFRICAN and West Indian folklore, the mother spider - Anansi - looms large. She is a wise and protective being who knows proverbs and possesses the gift of prophecy.

A famous Ghanian tale tells of a fire raging in a forest. As the beasts scamper for safety, an antelope feels a tickling sensation. A small dark spider has alighted on her ear. Before she can toss her head to flick it off, how­ever, the spider whispers, "It is I, Anansi. Take me with you -1 will repay you." The antelope, more concerned with its own survival than the minor inconvenience of a spider, agrees and runs on to safety, her path directed by Anansi.

Once she reaches safety, Anansi climbs off, thanking the antelope and promising her she won't be forgot­ten. Several seasons later, the antelope finds herself and her offspring threatened again, this time by hunt­ers. Her little one is too young to run, so she instructs it to drop to the ground and hide itself in the shrubbery. Then, leaping from the undergrowth, she distracts the hunters and leads them away from her baby. Arrows whiz through the air, but the antelope is too swift. Finally the hunters give up the chase and leave the forest.

Cautiously, she returns to find her young one, whose faint cry she hears but cannot place. Where is her baby? Try as she might, she can't find her.

Just then, Anansi lets herself down from a tree limb on her slim silken cord, and announces her presence. Whis­pering to the mother antelope, she directs her to a clump of shrubs where, hidden under a tightly-woven protective net, lies her baby. "I told you I wouldn't for­get you," Anansi reminds her.

FOR NORMAN, the target of a hunt no less deadly than that of an antelope in the jungle, Anansi was vital company. In a cell constructed to maximize human loneliness - a site designed to kill the mind - Anansi was a source of friendship and wonder. In a concrete tomb erected to smother men to death, she was a tiny, marvelous reflection of life. She brightened a man's day, and made it meaningful. Nature amid the unnatural.


IN JONATHAN KOZOL'S BOOK Amazing Grace, he demonstrates something of very positive significance: the power of a child's hope. The children whose stories he tells live in the worst possible conditions in the world - in drug-ridden slums - yet they still have an innate hope.

There is of course, a negative part to it that remains de­spite this hope, and that is the reality of the world around them. The children have hope, but they are not blind to the fact that they are often ignored, and sometimes even scorned, by the social order.

There's a little boy, David, in the book, who tells Kozol that he saw the mayor of New York City on TV, and he says, "I don't like him." Kozol asks, "Why do you say that?" And David says, "Because when I look in his eyes, all I see is coldness. He doesn't understand how poor people have to live." That is the way that most politicians in the system, actually most wealthy people, look at poor children. And the children see this; they sense this cold­ness coming from the people who literally control their circumstances - the conditions of the neighborhood, the state of their education.

Still, many of these children don't give up. Perhaps the best thing we can do for them is to nurture their hope - give them reason for new hopes, and feed the hope already within them so it can grow into something strong that will sustain them through life. Elie Wiesel says that the greatest evil in the world is not anger or hatred, but indifference. If that is true, then the opposite is also true: that the greatest love we can show our children is the attention we pay them, the time we take for them. Maybe we serve children best simply by notic­ing them.

Children do not only have an innate hope; they are hope. And more than that: they are our future. As Kahlil Gibran writes, they are like "living arrows sent forth" into infinity, and their souls "dwell in the house of to­morrow. .." They carry their hope with them to a future we can't see.

Children come to us fresh from the divine source, from what I call "Mama," from life itself, and they lead us to the same: to the God-force within creation. That is why none of us - no matter our race, creed, religion, or politics - can look at a child and not feel joy. We look at them, and something thrills us to the depth of our hearts. They are living miracles, and when we see them we know that there is a God, that life itself is a miracle. Children show us, with their innocence and clarity, the very face of God in human form.

Table of Contents

Introduction to 2019 edition by Mumia Abu-Jamal

Foreword by Cornel West

Preface by Julia Wright

A Write-up for Writing

Books and the State

Capital Punishment

Remembering Moser


The Search

Thoughts on the Divine

Night of Power

Material Life

Life's Religion

Isn't It Odd?

Spirit War





The Faith of Slaves


Salt of the Earth


Men of the Cloth

Hate's Unkind Counsel

Human Beings

The Spider

The Fall


The Creator

Father Hunger


Meeting with a Killer


Objectivity and the Media Violence

God-talk on Phase II

Meditations on the Cross

Holiday Thoughts

The Wisdom of John Africa

Untitled (poem)

More War for the Poor

Of Becoming

A Call to Action

Interview with Mumia

About the Author

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