May 29, 2000

Transcript of speech made
by Mumia
Abu-Jamal
at Antioch College's commencement

Who do you admire?


From death row, this
is Mumia Abu-Jamal
Transcript of speech made by Mumia Abu-Jamal
at Antioch College's commencement Saturday.

My congratulations to you all here today. To the students graduating, to teachers exhaulting in their graduates, to administrators rejoicing in their professor's successes, to parents who secretly hope this is the beginning of their children's financial independence and an end to their bills, to you all at an extraordinary college —Antioch. I thank you for your gracious invitation and I hope these words have worth and meaning to you all.

I've thought long and hard about your proposed query about an individual's impact on the world. Against what passes or matters, I'll answer a question with a question. Who do you admire?

Of course, in any huge student body, as I hope this graduating class is, there is a wealth of perspectives, or should be. However, on any given list, if logical, the following figures will be found: Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, and W.E.B. DuBois.

Just a few folks, right? What are the common features of these people. Of course, they were all radicals or revolutionaries but that's not it. Add Paul Robeson to that list. Does that help? How about Angela Y. Davis. Some quick wits out there in the audience might well conclude, well, they're all communists. Close, but that's not quite it either.

For neither Malcolm X nor Ella Baker, to my knowledge, ever joined the party. And, though that I'm not certain, I don't think Paul Robeson was member of the CPUSA. When you look at these people, you find folks who committed class suicide, who turned their backs on the acquired class advantages and potential opportunities to give voice and supportive presence to the most oppressed sectors of their society.

  • Dr. Nelson Mandela, trained as a lawyer, then joined the armed wing of the ANC or African National Congress to further the African Liberation Movement in South Africa.
  • Malcolm X, with a stellar intellect, could surely have joined any profession that he set his mind to—he chose to work for the dispossessed of the Black nation.
  • Ella Baker, writer and organizer, worked in the Civil Rights Movement and in exposing the sexual exploitation of poor women who worked as domestics.
  • Dr. DuBois, despite his patrician-like bearing, was a genuine radical and iconoclast who was constantly betrayed by his class brethren for his radical opinions. He was purged from the NAACP.
  • Similarly, lawyer, athlete and actor
    Paul Robeson
    was vilified for his support of socialism and had his flourishing career broken like DuBois before him. Robeson had his passport illegally and unconstitutionally seized by the U.S. government for his anti-imperialist beliefs.
  • Angela Davis, as many of you no-doubt know, was chased across the nation, captured, chained, jailed and almost imprisoned for life for her support of the Black Liberation Movement.

We admire these people because, at critical junctures of their lives, they cast their lot with the oppressed, the poor, the worker, or those in the third world.

Now they didn't do this because it was popular, quite the contrary, it was quite dangerous for many of these people. All lived under constant government surveillance. Some lost their livelihoods. Others lost their lives. They joined, aided and/or formed the movements that they did because it was the right thing to do. Look at them. For there your answer lies.

Can one individual impact the world. Dr. Mandela lead a chained nation from apartheid to multiracial political democracy.

  • Malcolm X inspired the Black Nationalist Movement of the 1960s.
  • Ella Baker was a key organizer who helped the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee called SNCC survive.
  • W.E.B. Dubois was a founder of the NAACP and a leader of the Pan-Africanist Movement.
  • Paul Robeson's cultural and political contributions to people the world over were, and remain, immense.
  • And Dr. Angela Y. Davis' work furthered Black Liberation and Prisoner's Rights Movements of the 1970s. Have those lives had impact?

Their lives have expanded the very notion of what freedom means in the minds of millions. Although they are and were extraordinary individuals, they worked with movements that truly transformed consciousness and how we look at the world.

Their lives teach us all what it means to betray one's class, to contribute to the movements that have meaning, and to work on behalf of the oppressed.

You, at this commencement at Antioch, have the somewhat unique opportunity to prove that old axiom, that man is made for more than meat and life is more than bread. In an age where everything, even the human gene, is commodified, it can't be denied that we are all material beings.

Yet, aren't we also social beings? If we say we are, then we must ask, what is owed to one's class? What is owed to humanity? What is owed to life, itself? Think of the lives of those people you admire. Show your admiration for them by becoming them. For by so doing, you give birth to movements.

Thank you.

On the move!

Long live John Africa.

From death row, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal

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