Prison Radio
Mumia Abu-Jamal

Her name was Joan Gibbs, a lawyer by training, an activist by instinct, and a woman who
lived her life in social movements, fighting for social change. She was born on January 17,
1953, in Harlem, New York. She was raised in Swan Corner, North Carolina, where her
family dwelled. She would return to New York Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, when she was 14
years old. She attended the Bronx High School for Science during the 60s, a time of tumult
and social ferment. She later attended SUNY Empire State University, where she earned
her Bachelor’s Degree.

Black Panther Veteran and member of the famed Panther 21, Afeni Shakur, advised her to
go to law school, which she did. Shakur may perhaps be better known as the mother of
rap super star Tupac Shakur. Joan would graduate from law school at Rutgers in 1985,
where she studied Constitutional and Civil Rights Law. The rest, of course, is history.
Joan Gibbs blazed a remarkable path in the law. She was named the Marvin Karpartkin
Fellow of the National Office of the ACLU. She served as Staff Attorney of the ACLU’s
Women’s Rights Project. She was a member of the National Conference of Black Lawyers
International Affairs Section. She also served as Staff Attorney for the Center of
Constitutional Rights. For almost 30 years, she served as General Counsel for the Center
for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College in her beloved Brooklyn.

She threw her prodigious energies into protecting the constitutional rights of many of the
oppressed and downtrodden. She aided in the cases of political prisoners like the late
Black Nationalist Herman Ferguson, and Panthers like Dhoruba Bin Wahad and Sundiata
Acoli. She also played an important role in the defense of the group known as Act Up in
New York, which engaged in numerous protests in the 80s and 90s to bring attention to
those suffering from AIDS/HIV. Her colleagues called her the ultimate compliment, “a
lawyer’s lawyer.”

In her personal life, she strolled down the lavender lane as a lesbian woman. She helped
found Azalea, a magazine of Third World lesbians, featuring poetry, fiction, and works by
Audrey Lorde, Saphire, and Jewelle Gomez. She spent her Saturdays by going to Barnes
and Noble, grabbing several thick Nyad lesbian romance novels and reading all night long.
Where did her political consciousness come from? Where else? Her mother, Ruth Juanita
Gibbs, who loved to read James Baldwin. One of her former partners, Elise Harris, called
her “a towering intellect.” She joined the Young Socialist Alliance in high school. Before
she went to law school, she worked for the legendary radical film group, Liberation News
She lived through 71 seasons of spring.
With Love not Phear, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.

These commentaries are recorded by Prison Radio.