Fine Arts Professor Writes
A Love Song for Mumia
By Nell Bradley
Published: Friday, January 30, 2004
The Hilltop, The student voice of Howad University
A Play "A Liberating Prayer: A Love Song for Mumia" (See below)
to be performed in Cramton Auditorium at Howard University
from January 28 to February 1.
The ticket price for general admission is $20 and $15 for students and seniors.
For more information contact the Cramton Auditorium box office by calling (202) 432-7328.
Last January, in the 3 a.m. District of Columbia darkness, activist, playwright and Howard professor Sybil Roberts prepared to partake in a journey of a lifetime. She was accompanied by her friend and fellow activist Sabrina Greene. Before their trip began they were given rigid instructions for time limit and a strict dress code. After four hours, they finally reached their destination: a large, wire-gated building with armed prison guards and several mourning families. They were in Waynesburg, PA on Progress Road, a street name that seemed peculiar to both Roberts and Greene. For the death-row inmates at this prison, there is no progress. There is only the inevitability of demise.
Roberts and Greene waited patiently to acquaint the reason for their voyage. When their names were called they walked into a long hallway accompanied by one prison guard. They were led into a room that was filled with long glass windows. One side was for the inmates and the other side for the visitors. Roberts and Greene glanced at the mourning families and the surprisingly young inmates. Towards the end of the hallway they saw a large framed man with long dreadlocks behind the glass window. He had been waving like a small child would to a parent to indicate that Roberts and Greene were his guests.
The two women sat down and introduced themselves. With a rich deep voice that Roberts described as melting chocolate, the death row prisoner said "Well, I'm Mumia".
Despite their surroundings the three laughed about the "chocolate comment," the state of the Black Panther Party and Howard University.
"In a transcendent way he is one of the most interesting leaders. His heart is incredibility large and it was such an honor to talk to somebody whose life is so large," Roberts said.
To Roberts, Mumia Abu-Jamal is an inspiring figure, but to the governmental society he is just another number who murdered a cop.
On Dec 9, 1981, Abu-Jamal was a freelance journalist and activist, driving around Philadelphia because of recent disputes of police harassment. When he saw a particular altercation between a storeowner and an officer on 13th and Locusts Streets he got out of his car and approached the situation. The police officer, Daniel Faulkner, was shot in the head with a 44-caliber gun. Mumia, carrying a 38-caliber, was shot in the chest. During his court case, it was alleged that he said "I shot that cop," while laying unconscious in the hospital.
His trial in 1982 was a nightmare. The judge, Albert Sabo, was a life member of the Fraternal Order of Police. Abu-Jamal could not afford a good attorney. Finally, three eyewitnesses testified against Abu-Jamal. They would later admit that they were threatened, and that their testimonies were coerced and false.
In addition, Arnold Beverly, whose appearance is similar to Mumia's, confessed to shooting the cop in a visual document.
" I heard that Faulkner was a problem for the mob and corrupt policemen because he interfered with the graft and payoffs made to allow illegal activity," Beverly said in the document
"Faulkner was shot in the back and then in the face before Jamal came on the scene. Jamal had nothing to do with the shooting...I shot Faulkner in the face at close range. Jamal was shot shortly afterwards," he added.
Although this evidence can be permissible in court, attorneys- at-law Kelly Stepno and Rickard Pfizenmayer believe that DNA evidence would best settle the case.
"DNA evidence is so conclusive...Although there is a difference in the guns, [Mumia] could have easily picked up the 44 caliber and shot the cop," Pfizenmayer said.
However, Sybil Roberts and millions of global supporters believe otherwise.
"He was convicted on circumstantial evidence, despite a confession by the actual and sworn testimony to the judge's on bias his appeals have been unsuccessful," Roberts said.
Roberts' love for Mumia's story provoked her to write "A Liberating Prayer: A Love Song for Mumia". The play uses life struggles of the imprisoned Mumia, but concentrates on an untraditional love story about a young woman, Sage. This is the second time the play has came to Howard University. Now in its eighth running, it has been performed in New York City, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The play will also accompany various poets and activists, including Mrs. Pam Africa, an outspoken leader of Move Inc. in Philadelphia.
The lead roles will be played by senior fine arts major Roxi Trapp-Dukes, and junior acting major Isaiah J. Johnson. Trapp-Dukes, who will play Sage, has many accolades at Howard University. She has performed in various dramatic and musical productions and been cited as a versatile actress in the Department of Theatre Arts. Johnson, who grew facial hair and fasted to play Mumia, has also been in several dramatic works in the DC area.
"Doing this play reminded me that performing or being an artist is not about entertainment; it's about spirituality," Johnson said.
"The role is very challenging and at the same time enlightening. I am delighted to fell that I am lending my artistic talent to a cause of global importance," said Trapp-Dukes.
The play will be held in Cramton Auditorium from January 28 to February 1. The ticket price for general admission is $20 and $15 for students and seniors. For more information contact the Cramton Auditorium box office by calling (202) 432-7328.
Roberts' goal is to save Mumia's life. Writing "A Liberating Prayer: A Love Song for Mumia" was one of many efforts at bringing about awareness about Abu-Jamal's life. . She and many of his supporters hope that one day Mumia will be liberated, that he will be able to see true progress.
"I want people to come in our efforts to save Mumia's life and hear his words and passionately understand what the struggle is about," Roberts said.