Courtesy of Harmela Anteneh '23

In a recent event, Jalil Muntaqim spoke to students about his experiences fighting against racial inequality.

November 1, 2022

Black Panther 56th Commemoration: Jalil Muntaqim

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Stark against a black background, outlined in red stood the words “We Still Charge Genocide.” These words — never introduced or directly explained — provided the setting for Jalil Muntaqim’s two hour talk on the plight of the African-Americans, his fight for freedom as a Black Panther and what Cornell students can do to pursue systemic change in America.  

Muntaqim was welcomed October 27 in Klarman Hall for a commemoration of the Black Panther Party— hosted and put together by Brice Roundtree ’24; Prof.Russell Rickford, history; the Pan-African Students Association; the International Students Union; and the Department of American Studies — which marked the 56th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party in Oakland, California on October 15, 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton.

The audience of the talk was diverse, with Muntaqim speaking to students, professors and practicing law professionals.

In Muntaqim’s talk, he described how he grew up in Oakland and San Francisco, California and his being exposed to an influx of racial tension in California as a teen. These national tensions prompted him to speak out against racism, joining the Black Panther Party in his teen years.

When asked by Rickford how he was radicalized, Muntaqim said the aftermath of the assassination of Malcom X made him curious about the different parts of the 1960s struggle for civil rights.

“When Malcolm X was assassinated, a young white girl in my gradeschool ran up to me crying saying ‘They killed him, they killed him, Malcolm is dead’,” Muntaqim said. “I didn’t know who this was, so I went home and asked my mother….  She said, ‘We don’t care about no Malcolm, we support Martin [Luther King Jr.].’ …. That sent me off in my exploration to know about the many ways African-Americans went about fighting for freedom.”

He also went on to start the Jericho Movement in 1997 — a platform to bring attention to and advocate for the release of political prisoners and prisoners of war in the United States.

“These individuals were put in the incarceration system for their words and thoughts. Political prisoners, prisoners of war engage in rebellion, resistance against their state… is not allowed,” Muntaqim said. “They are incarcerated for fighting back. That is why I created the Jericho Movement, to highlight these issues.”

During his talk, he discussed his advocacy for “incarcerated workers” and the idea that the school to prison pipeline provides a considerable amount of the free labor used by corporations. 

In response to a question from Momodou Taal, grad, on the importance of class analysis in organizing against structural racism, Muntaqim said that he believes in a three phrase process of creating national independence.

“The first important phase is a class struggle for national unity,” Muntaqim said. “You have to engage in a class struggle, to develop any form of unity… This struggle has to be fought, so we can ultimately achieve national independence.”

In Muntaqim’s later years in prison he went on to gain a B.A. in sociology and B.S. in psychology. He said his desire to gain a higher education while in prison was not easy or preceded for prisoners in his position. 

That experience is part of what led him to work on bills to reform the criminal justice system, such as the End Compulsory Labor Act and the Fairness and Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act. He said he believes those bills will provide protections, including a minimum wage, for incarcerated workers. 

Responding to a question from Whitney Paul, a public defender, on how to best support and empower people entering the penal system, Muntaqim said that enabling people to pursue an education in prison and understand the politics of incarceration through groups like the NAACP or Project Build is crucial to their empowerment. 

“Tell them to go to school, get an education…. Learning will be the best way [they] can fight for their rights in prison.” Muntaqim said, “Being able to engage in the politics of the system will help them develop a voice and get involved in these [racial injustice] issues.”

When discussing the role of allies — those who support the fight for racial equity but are not black or African-American — Muntaqim emphasized their importance as necessary parts of the struggle for racial justice.

“A [Black Panther Party] friend that I knew was once presenting and a young white woman asked, ‘What can I do to help?’ He said, “Nothing, you can’t do anything for me…,” Muntaqim said. “He later admitted that was a mistake [on] his part…. There is something for everyone to fight for to [aid] in the freedom of black people because as long as black people aren’t free, no one is free.”

Near the end of the discussion, Carlene Mwaura, ’24, asked Muntaqim to address the concerns of all students currently fighting against racial injustices who feel like they have no impact. Muntaqim responded by describing the power of education and hope.

“Hope is an aspiration. You have to struggle to make sure that your hopes and aspirations become reality,” Muntaqim said. “With your education you can achieve the talent and training to become an emancipator, a revolutionist, an abolitionist. It may feel impossible, but you are a drop in a bucket and you have the power to make it overflow.”

Correction, Nov. 1, 10:45 p.m.: A previous version of this article inaccurately identified Brice Roundtree’s class year as 2023. Roundtree is a member of the Cornell Class of 2024