by Richard Stevens
I was born and raised in East Germantown, which is a poor community filled with crime and drug dealing…and also love. Love for your neighbor. Love for their kids. Love for yourself. I was filled with self-love, but I didn’t understand how to spread this love to other cultures to create unity. Because I was all about “if it’s not black…it’s not right.” In the school system, I was taught only one half of Malcom’s life; I learned nothing about his views post-Mecca. I was also taught that the Black Panther Party was a gun-toting, white-people-hating, cop-killing black nationalist group…and Dr. King…well, he’s one of the “good ones.”
In my early adulthood, I began to learn more about my culture through arts and literature. I began to understand the complexities of our leaders in the Black Culture. I learned that every freedom fighter’s boot doesn’t fit every freedom fighter’s foot.
Music is revolutionary. From music like Soul, Hip Hop, Jazz and R&B, I learned about the nuances of the issues that the Black Community faces every day.
KRS ONE (considered by some “the Teacher of Rap”), a prolific emcee from the Bronx, educated me about the over-policing that was happening in our neighborhood (with his records Black Cop and The Sound of The Police).
The record The Ghetto by Long Island emcee Rakim (considered by some “the God of Rap”) taught me that I could be a strong black man in the ghetto, that I was more than my circumstances, and that I came from a line of beautiful Africans who were Scientists, Philosophers, Doctors, Kings and Queens.
I discovered my love for Fred Hampton while participating in an Iron Age project called “The Howard Zinn’s Project: Voices Of The People’s History.” That was where I first heard his revolutionary monologue referring to the masses being poor. This monologue made me want to explore more about Fred Hampton. And what I discovered was that he was one the most infectious, motivating orators within the Black Panther Chicago Chapter. John Doyle, the Artistic Director of Iron Age Theatre, and I agreed that Iron Age needed a Black revolutionary as part of our one-person show stable. We both loved Fred’s monologue in the Howard Zinn project because it really captured the spirit of solidarity and activation towards change. So, we decided that Fred Hampton was the perfect Revolutionary to write about.
When I first started writing and researching, I was surprised about how Fred’s life and work was often unknown to people. I mean, even some of my Black pride comrades didn’t know of him. I kept thinking, “how? How can this man’s life be so unknown to others?”
As I continued to research, I started to find my answer. Because he was dangerous. His talk about class struggle…dangerous. His speech called “Unify or Die”…dangerous. His radical love for teaching, feeding and clothing Black children…dangerous. His success in unifying the gangs in Chicago underneath the umbrella group, The Rainbow Coalition…dangerous. His love for his culture, his blackness and proclaiming Black power, while at the same time expressing Yellow power to Yellow people, Brown power to Brown people and White power to White people…extremely dangerous. We felt that it was our duty as artists to bring these dangerous ideas to the present day, where necessary radical change is needed.
I began writing Fred Hampton’s story about two-and-a-half years ago. At that time, I really didn’t know how I would link his world to ours. Like I previously stated, I am a big lover of music. Tupac is one of my favorite artists, so I usually have his music playing in the background as I write or research. As I was researching Fred Hampton’s life, one of Tupac’s songs, called To My Unborn Child, got stuck in my head. In this song, Tupac writes a letter to his unborn son, explaining his ideas about the world and speaking his truth as he sees it. Tupac’s and Fred’s lives are similar in ways. They both spoke about revolution. They both had a connection with Black Panther ideas and values. They both spoke about changing the world for children. And they both were murdered at a young age.
Fred’s radical love for children resonated inside of me. I felt sadness at the thought of him having this profound love for children, but was robbed of ever loving his own because an evil, hateful, terroristic event took his life. He was murdered by the Cook County Police/FBI at 21, while he was lying in bed next to his pregnant girlfriend. With that in mind, I proceeded to create a love letter from him to his son. In the letter, he tells his son stories about his life, gives him life lessons, and commissions us, the people, to be agents of change.
Since that time, the show has been through many rewrites and workshops, and the conversations it has started are priceless. There are countless reasons why Fred’s message is needed now: healthcare costs a fortune and has become a luxury expense; education comes with a heavy price-tag; housing is unaffordable and displacement is on rise, as gentrification spreads; prisons are privatized and black and poor people are being fed into these prisons for profit; police brutality is rampant. There is evidence, at least monthly, of this brutality. We see it when we turn on the television and see Black folks murdered in the streets by “civil servants” who are there to “serve and protect.” We can feel the powerful stranglehold of Capitalism around our necks squeezing ever tighter.
Fred’s life moved with the “urgency of now.” His words are needed now more than ever.
I say peace be unto you… That’s if you’re willing to fight for it — Fred Hampton
Richard is the Assistant Artistic Director for Iron Age Theatre, a Company member with Theatre in the X as well as Curio Theatre in Philadelphia. He tries to be a social justice warrior for the oppressed by way of theatre and protest.
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