The Power of Learning

During the Soundbite Festival 2007 Marc Evans, Director of the movie “In Prison All My Life”, visited Atlantic College. His film tells the story of Mumia Abu-Jamal and follows a youth born the day officer Daniel Faulkner was killed.

Mumia Abu-Jamal (born Wesley Cook April 24, 1954) is an imprisoned US journalist and former Black Panther Party activist from Philadelphia best known for his conviction for murdering a police officer in 1981. He is serving a presently undefined sentence of imprisonment at State Correctional Institution – Greene near Waynesburg, Pennsylvania for the murder of officer Daniel Faulkner. Originally sentenced to death, that sentence was quashed and resentencing ordered in December 2001 by a Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Both he and the opposing Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have appealed that ruling alternately as to the appropriateness of affirming the conviction and that of calling into question the validity of the original sentencing determination.

The following lines are taken from a letter from Mumia Abu-Jamal addressed to students at Atlantic College, who had written to him after the showing of “In Prison All My Life” at Atlantic College.


All of us are students, for, by our very nature, we are always learning from a plethora of sources around us. That is the nature of being human. Gifted with relatively acute eyesight, and minor senses of smell, we apprehend our environment primarily by vision. What we learn, however, is the heart of the issue. If we learn frankly from history, then we are wont to learn a set of lessons that do not help us. For our past is littered with the spoils of war, the ravages of violence and the hells of racism. How can we break out from that dubious inheritance? Perhaps Atlantic College, and United World Colleges, provides some hope of creating a new future.The mission of Atlantic College and its related schools is, clearly, the unity of people across the boundaries of nationality, of race, of language, gender and class. The question is what can grow from that? That is a question that only Atlantic can tell us. The power of education as a liberating tool is valuable in trying to approach that question. This is especially so when we consider that college is primarily the province of the young, and it is the historic duty of the young to remake the world.

China’s Mao Ze Dong once said, “The youth make the revolution,” and this is generally historically true.

This may be so for a simple reason. Young people, who are in the process of becoming, are in the process of revolution, for they are in thrall to change. They are thinking thoughts that were incomprehensible just a few years before.

Their inner selves are in the process of change, often matched by subtle and profound transformations in their outer selves.

Indeed, it might be said, that young people are revolution. They are embodiments of the process of change.

And, in this era, who can deny the need for profound social transformation?

It is always terrifying for a young person to tread over the chasm of adolescence into adulthood. Perhaps young students think that perhaps this is the most daunting, but I would challenge that view.

Nonetheless, we must agree that today is a challenging time. For today is a day of war. It is also a time of profound conflict between various regions and interests of the earth. With passion, and perhaps more importantly, compassion, youth have the potential to transform this grim reality.

Youth can do that, and has done it in the past, by utilizing their situational power to say, “No.” By this I mean that if young people refuse to buy into the power illusions of the old, then hey can, by that very gesture, break with the tradition of the past.

Years ago, when I was the age of many of you, there was a slogan that appeared on tens of thousands of posters, and placards dotting the nation during a period of intense anti-war protest. They read, “What if they declared war, and nobody came?”

Old men (and woman) don’t fight wars. They urge young folks to fight for them.

And they do this by using the illusions of nationalism, patriotism, and perhaps most often, fear of the dreaded Other.

Because young folks often don’t have enough experimental data to really gauge the accuracy of the claims of their elders, they often learn, far too late, that the reasons given for war, although once blared from front pages of newspapers, are, at the very least, questionable; and in the alternative, simply false.

Young people, simply by standing up (or, occasionally, sitting down) can stop the wheels of the machine.

We need to build a new world.

It can begin with you all.


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