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Panther Baby: A Life of Rebellion and Reinvention

by Jamal Joseph

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
907303,487 (4.08)34
Biography & Autobiography. African American Nonfiction. Nonfiction. HTML:

The former Black Panther offers "an inspiring, unapologetic account" of his life in the movement and in prison to becoming an acclaimed artist and academic (Kirkus Reviews).
In the 1960s he exhorted students at Columbia University to burn their college to the ground. Today he's chair of their School of the Arts film division. Jamal Joseph's personal odyssey—from the streets of Harlem to Rikers Island and Leavenworth to the halls of academia—is as gripping as it is inspiring.
As a teenager in the Bronx, Eddie Joseph was a high school honor student, slated to graduate early and begin college. But then he discovered the tenets of the Black Panther Party. By sixteen, his devotion to the cause landed him in prison on Rikers Island, charged with conspiracy as one of the infamous Panther 21. Though he was exonerated, Eddie—now called Jamal—soon landed back in prison after joining the "revolutionary underground."
Sentenced to more than twelve years in Leavenworth, he earned three degrees there and found a new calling that would ultimately lead him into a new life. In raw, powerful prose, Jamal Joseph helps us understand what it meant to be a soldier inside the Black Panther movement. He recounts his harrowing imprisonment and his difficult path to manhood in a book filled with equal parts rage, despair, and hope.
"Jamal Joseph is a long-distance intellectual freedom fighter who never lost his soul and his integrity—despite the ugly underside of America! Don't miss this powerful book!" —Cornel West

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It's been Black Panther literature in recent years to draw me out of my malaise of disenchantment to rekindle the idealism I used to possess over social issues. I suspect this largely has to do with my near complete ignorance of the Black Panther movement: having grown up in a predominantly white, middle to upper-middle class suburban neighborhood, for most of my life what little I knew about the organization had to do with the violently militant side and not the grassroots efforts at the community level. I don't know whether more efforts are being made lately in K-12 education about the movement, but I sincerely hope this gets into teenagers' hands as it holds excellent crossover appeal that will absolutely appeal to a young person's activist concern for social change.

Jamal Joseph's memoir is a straightforward, heartfelt account of his transformative years as a teenager getting involved in the NY Panther chapter and how the revolutionary motives influenced his life, good and ill, long after the party dissolved. Though I found a few inconsistencies in terms of the relation of events and some figures who just seemed to disappear (Noonie, primarily--the last we hear of her occurs just after he's released from his initial imprisonment), I appreciated his candor in revealing the less altruistic motivations along with his noble fights, and for all the good that he's done, he is surely proud of his work but not boastful. To say he is a do-gooder is a gross understatement. I never got the feeling that he was ever stopping to self-congratulate and say, "Hey, look at me and how good I am" as I've seen so many others do. Clearly, the fire lit in him during the 60s never went out (even though sometimes it dimmed), and his concern is to constantly move forward and to exact as much change as possible, which overwhelmed me. His ideals influenced an incredible strength in mature and compassionate conflict resolution effectively used on the streets as well as in prison and enabled him to think creatively in how to direct the energy of his community. His accomplishments humble me and challenge me to examine my own life to see how I can make my world a better place. Highly recommended. ( )
  LibroLindsay | Jun 18, 2021 |
Jamal Joseph is a great public speaker. He spoke at the closing event at the Joint Librarians of Color and inspired the crowd. ( )
  alyssajp | Jul 29, 2019 |
Jamal Joseph was in his teens when he joined the Black Panthers. At 16 he went to jail as one of the "Panther 21" (in 1969 21 members of the Black Panther Party were rounded up and imprisoned). Jamal is a gifted story teller and honest about his teenage views of the Panthers and life in jail. He admits to dreaming of Panthers dressed in ninja-like pajamas breaking into jail and busting him out. What I liked best about this books was that, although the FBI saw Jamal as a threat to national security and sent him to Leavenworth, I never pictured him as a criminal. He used his time in jail to earn 2 degrees, to lobby for equal rights among prisoners, to write and direct plays (with other inmates as his actors). None of this sounds to me like the actions of a hardened criminal. The world in which he lived – Harlem in the 1960s could have made him hard. The treatment he received by the police and in jail could have made him hard. I never saw him as hard, I just saw a kid then a man trying to do the best for himself and his community.

May 2012 ( )
  mlake | Apr 28, 2015 |
I was floored while reading Jamal Joseph’s biography of his life growing up in Harlem as a Black Panther in the late 60′s. The Panthers have long been depicted as a revolutionary group intent on killing cops, but Jamal’s biographical life as a Panther enlightens and educates readers in a completely different way.

Read the rest of my review on my blog at: http://shouldireaditornot.wordpress.com/2012/12/18/panther-baby-a-life-of-rebell... ( )
  ShouldIReadIt | Sep 26, 2014 |
In this memoir Jamal Joseph describes his experiences with the Black Panthers in Harlem in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Joseph joined the Panthers has a high school student and was arrested when he was only seventeen. He was one of the Panther 21, a group that included Tupac Shakur’s mother, Afeni, and was accused of conspiracy to commit terroristic acts. Because of his Panther activities, Joseph served time in prison more than once, but he used his time getting a BA and an MA as well as becoming a poet and playwright. Joseph is now a college professor.

After meeting Jamal Joseph at Midwinter in January, I was very excited to read his memoir. Despite having done much good in their communities, the Panthers are too often viewed through a narrowly negative lens. I enjoyed hearing an insider’s view of the organization and his personal experiences. However, I didn’t love this book. I thought he did too much name dropping, some of which was only remotely related to his story. I also thought that it was odd that a poet wouldn’t even include one poem in his memoir. Still, I think Joseph’s story is one that many teens would be interested in reading, especially in the age of Occupy Wall Street. ( )
  kherrington | Jun 21, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
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"Good. Now do it blindfolded."
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I was sixteen years old, facing 368 years in prison, and still a virgin.
"The Black Panther Party without question is the greatest threat to the internal security of the country." — J. Edgar Hoover
"The Penitentiary has been the University for many a black man." — Malcolm X
"When prison doors open dragons fly out." — Ho Chi Minh
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Biography & Autobiography. African American Nonfiction. Nonfiction. HTML:

The former Black Panther offers "an inspiring, unapologetic account" of his life in the movement and in prison to becoming an acclaimed artist and academic (Kirkus Reviews).
In the 1960s he exhorted students at Columbia University to burn their college to the ground. Today he's chair of their School of the Arts film division. Jamal Joseph's personal odyssey—from the streets of Harlem to Rikers Island and Leavenworth to the halls of academia—is as gripping as it is inspiring.
As a teenager in the Bronx, Eddie Joseph was a high school honor student, slated to graduate early and begin college. But then he discovered the tenets of the Black Panther Party. By sixteen, his devotion to the cause landed him in prison on Rikers Island, charged with conspiracy as one of the infamous Panther 21. Though he was exonerated, Eddie—now called Jamal—soon landed back in prison after joining the "revolutionary underground."
Sentenced to more than twelve years in Leavenworth, he earned three degrees there and found a new calling that would ultimately lead him into a new life. In raw, powerful prose, Jamal Joseph helps us understand what it meant to be a soldier inside the Black Panther movement. He recounts his harrowing imprisonment and his difficult path to manhood in a book filled with equal parts rage, despair, and hope.
"Jamal Joseph is a long-distance intellectual freedom fighter who never lost his soul and his integrity—despite the ugly underside of America! Don't miss this powerful book!" —Cornel West

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