Eleven years ago today I got in a car in Connecticut and drove 26 hours to New Orleans. It was four months since Katrina and I was heading to the area to volunteer as an EMT with a relief organization founded in the wake of the storm. For six months, I volunteered as a medic at gutting sites as well as an intake provider at a free clinic. For six months, I was worn down by the devastation created by the storm and more so by the underlying social conflicts it magnified. When I got in the car in May of 2006 to return north I felt utterly faithless. Then, on the way out of town, I received a letter from Dr. Mutulu and felt a renewed strength of purpose for the first time since my arrival. “It is important work you are doing,” he wrote. “It is an important place and time.” After a week at home, I drove back to New Orleans and stayed for two more years. That was the first letter I received from Dr. Mutulu.
In the two years that followed, we corresponded regularly, and Dr. Mutulu continued to remind me of the greater purpose of my work there. On days when I felt alone and questioned the motivations of those around me, when I was offered money to leave the work I was doing, when I was surrounded by drugs and violence, his words reminded me “Straight ahead, stiff resistance.”
When I had finally had enough and couldn’t keep going another day, it was also Dr. Mutulu who encouraged me to return to school. He taught me that not only would it create stability and financial security for myself and my family, it would put me in a position to be even more effective in the social justice work in which I continue to believe. I am now halfway through completing a master’s degree in Acupuncture, currently with a 4.0 GPA, and heading to China this summer for study on a full scholarship. Furthermore, our school (in Bridgeport, CT) provides acupuncture at multiple clinics for those struggling from opioid addiction employing a technique developed by Dr. Mutulu himself.
I am inspired by Dr. Mutulu’s strength and perseverance each day. Through his many moves and impromptu shuffling from one facility to another he has remained the most disciplined person I have ever known, both in his personal cultivation as well as his firm dedication to the greater good, particularly the healing and development of young black males in this country. This dedication is evidenced by his work encouraging young inmates to express themselves through hip hop rather than violence, as recorded on the “Dare 2 Struggle” album he released in 2006.
I continue to correspond with Dr. Mutulu to this day. In his last letter he told me how proud he was of my school work and closed with “You’re a healer, learn to love yourself for it.” He has done an incredible amount of good in my own life and the lives of so many others from within the most restricted of conditions. It pains me to think about the good he could do were those restrictions removed as legally promised last February.
I have no doubt that the re-entry of Dr. Mutulu Shakur to our free society could bring anything other than greater health, education, and well-being to our collective whole.