Tribute to Stanley Tookie Williams
Our friend and colleague Stanley Tookie Williams, was executed at San Quentin State prison on December 13th 2005.
What I want to talk about is a subject that was important to my brother. A subject that he, Ajani and I discussed at length, and that is redemption, which was instrumental and deeply linked to his transformation.
As a former gang member, Tookie understood that gang members who grew up in the ghetto, the slums and impoverished neighbourhoods across America were conditioned to be desensitized as a survival mechanism and as a way to cope with the daily conflicts and crisis that permeated their lives. As a result of being desensitized, the conscience becomes supressed and numb in order to not feel because feelings can be antithetical to gang life.
Tookie became aware of his important connection because for him, the reawakening of his conscience was the first step to his redemption. In his book, Blue rage, Black redemption, he stated “The path of education and introspection enabled me to reason and to develop a conscience that rejects criminality, drugs and senseless violence. Redemption allowed me to acknowledge and atone for my past indiscretions. Vowed never to repeat and create new ones and to extend an olive branch to youth and adults who desire peace”.
You see, Tookie learned to connect to his conscience, which allowed him to develop his capacity for empathy, the ability to see himself in others and therefore, connect and reacquaint himself to his own humanity. Of course, there were a convoy of naysayers and doubting Thomases who opposed and questioned Tookie’s redemption and transformation but he expected and anticipated this when he wrote “no one can give redemption to me, no one can intercede on my behalf, I have to earn it myself.”
Tookie’s statement clearly conveys a philosophy of self-responsibility that self-improvement and self-transformation has to come from within the individual because that is the only way it is authentic. Tookie wanted everyone to know, especially gang members that the circumference of your life did not have to be defined by being in a gang and that you didn’t have to stay stuck there.
He believed that redemption, and rightfully so, was tailor made for those labelled as social outcasts and the wretched of the earth. He used to say “if redemption wasn’t made for people with our experiences, then for whom?”
He saw himself as proof, as a prime example of someone who has sunk to the bottom of the well but found a way to swim to the surface and rise spiritually, emotionally, intellectually and mindfully aware. He had hoped the work he undertook would play a role in inspiring his kinsmen to do better and be better because he himself believed without practice, there can be no improvement.
He wanted to show that even living under the spectre of death he could not cancel his determination, his vision, his purpose and his mission. Redemption, to Tookie, wasn’t an abstract concept and it went way beyond philosophical rhetoric. He whole heartedly embraced ideas he believed in, but was open minded enough not to be attached to them if new facts submerged that challenged those ideas. He drew heavily from the strength and wisdom from ancestors like, Harriet Tubman , Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Ella Baker, Fred Hampton and many other historical figures who he respected and was proud of, because of their commitment to the struggle, in which, he was following and in the same noble tradition.
From a prison cell, Tookie was able to touch the lives of people around the globe, whether they personally knew him or not because of the result of the things he accomplished or said that resonated with people. It is for this reason he will forever be an important archetype in our consciousness and a brother I will never forget.
Steve Champion (Adisa Kamara)
San Quentin Death Row
Poetry, writing & Lessons in Life from San Quentin death row