Sherman Hall : 145
Date & Time
February 28, 2024, 1:00 pm – 2:15 pm
“Into lion dens”: Reflections on Assata Shakur’s contributions to the study of Prison and Black Religion on the 25th anniversary of her Letter to the Pope
Of all the gifts Assata Shakur has given us, one of the least acknowledged is her letter to Pope John Paul II. On the auspicious occasion of his first visit to Cuba in 1998, Assata found herself in a war of words with the New Jersey Police Department, which had sent correspondence to the Pope asking him to speak in favor of her extradition. In response, Assata sends her own letter. However, instead of arguing a straightforward counterclaim of justice or innocence, she refuses both as fortifiers of the civil society that has enslaved her and her people. Rather, Assata appeals to a history of Black religious insurgency and places herself firmly within its lineage of prisoners “thrown into lion dens” in the struggle against empire- stating, “If that (revolutionary struggle) is a crime, then I am totally guilty.” In this act of inversion, Assata provides an often-ignored opening for scholars of carcerality, Black studies, and Black religion; perhaps, in the largest police state in the world, it is unethical not to be a guilty prisoner.
Biography: Richard X, III is a scholar of Black Critical Studies and Black Religion. As a student of Afro-pessimism, he studies the prison, and the experiences of confinement that Black flesh endure and resist every day. As a practitioner of Black Religion, he serves as the Protestant Chaplain at Rikers Island. Currently, he is a Doctoral of Philosophy student at Fordham University in Social and Theological Ethics.