Algonquin Books (Workman Publishing), 2012. 280 pp.
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.
The Panthers perform community service and break up drug dens, while protecting and empowering The People to rise above their circumstances. Their ties to the community are strong, along with their attempts to educate young and old to be more than what circumstances have made of them. It’s true that weapons and fights against The Establishment were part of Panther life due to the way Blacks and Panthers were treated, but Jamal puts a humanity to them and their work allowing readers to understand why they were an important part of life for impoverished Black Americans.
“Panther Baby” pulls no punches, depicting biographical accounts of the police brutality of the times, the race struggles of poor Blacks in Harlem and other urban cities, street warfare, and prison life. Jamal was smack in the middle of it all, and brings readers along for the rides of their lives. As a true Panther who once believed in educating the masses, he continues that belief today as he educates readers through writing “Panther Baby.” I won’t be surprised to see it earn some sort of literary award at the upcoming ALA Media Awards in Seattle. In fact, I really hope it does.
Recommended for ages 17 and older.