Fred Hampton and the footsteps he left behind

Fred Hampton recently re-entered the public’s minds after the film Judas and the Black Messiah began rumbling with Oscar buzz, yet the story behind the man is a tale worth much more than simple award-season buzz. 

Growing up a young Black boy I was searching for heroes, I’ll never forget the day I stumbled upon Fred Hampton, It was a voice that made sense to my ears, the vigor in his voice is one that is universal among our people, deep sadness is all one can feel realizing the same problems that a 19-year-old Fred Hampton from the 60s was fighting against are faced today.

Fred Hampton is long gone but the reapers of systemized racism are alive and well.   

The Black Panther Party was often demonized as a Black answer to the KKK, a hateful militia deadset on whipping out the good old values of Americana. The boogeyman under white society’s bed. 

What the Black Panther Party truly was, was an answer to a long-standing question. How long can injustice be served, how long could a dog be beaten without a bite? As shown in Oakland in 1966 the answer was 101 years.  

Hampton was the leader of the Illinois branch of the party, Hampton led the charge for real change in his community and beyond. Uniting the city’s gangs through the Rainbow Coalition, creating a school lunch program for disadvantaged kids across Chicago, and even battling sexism among his party. 

Hampton was truly one of a kind and just like all bright constellations, he disappeared far too quickly.  

Hampton was shot and died at the age of 21 on a cold December day in 1969 at the hands of the F.B.I. who deemed him too dangerous to live. Betrayed by William O’neal, a double agent in the party.  

Decades later his death would make no Black man flinch, for a Black man dying young is an unlucky roll of the dice. Drawing the short end of this cursed straw in the cup of systemic racism.

Hampton’s words ring across the valleys of Black consciousness every decade after his death. A young man from Chicago had no business being such a prolific leader, he had no business being a Marxist, he had no business uniting races and creeds and he had no business bleeding out in that shabby apartment as his unborn child dodged bullets in his mother’s stomach. 

Hampton’s killers received a nice raise, a pat on the back, and a photo-op. The saviors who brought down a militant Black man, one who dared to challenge the white supremacy that swallowed his surroundings. Oh, how often has this story been repeated over the decades since, with a different Black death?

He died a martyr, even today they sing his praises from the balconies of BLM rallies, his name fills the credits scenes of cinemas worldwide but that grave is lonely all the same, with the corpse of a revolutionary. 

From the tortured pen of Alexander Dumas or the poetry of Maya Angelou, Black history is written in a golden book of humanity, there isn’t a page on it unworthy of attention, the despair to exist, the torture of fighting to be alive, the Black struggle. Fred Hampton was one of many hosts of this battle cry. 

On Dec. 4th,1969 a hero to millions died but a vision lives on in the millions upon millions of black kids that grew in a world Hampton helped shape, society doesn’t guarantee the safety of our children, but our history guarantees we live far beyond death. 

To be Black is to be burdened with the understanding wherever you pester on this planet you’re the most different existence, no one looks like you, no one shares similarities. 

The world’s punching bag, no matter what race faced, the one guarantee is that black people are at the bottom of most social perspectives, whether deep racism or passive ignorance, it all gazes at us. 

There is a particular stare you receive in life, one only a Black person can understand, having to prove yourself worthy, being born with the heavy-weight of prophecy latched on our backs, to be Black is to fight but to fight is what makes me Black. 

I’ll never stop being Black and I never want to for a second because what Fred Hampton fought for would be lost without me, if I gave up believing then all the marches my brothers and sisters led, would be rendered useless. The words of James Baldwin would be obsolete, the songs of Nina Simone forgotten. 

Being Black will never rest from the constant lashes of the world but neither will our fight.     

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