WESTFIELD, NJ — Jamal Joseph — celebrated writer, director, producer, poet, activist, educator and a former member of the Black Panther Party who spent time in prison — spoke to students at Roosevelt Intermediate School’s 9th annual Black History Month assembly Friday.  

Joseph spoke about his anger over the assignation of Martin Luther King, Jr. as what drove him, at the age of 15, to become the youngest Black Panther in history. With his friends, he said, he went to the party headquarters hoping they would hand him a gun. Instead, they armed him with a stack of books.

His message to Roosevelt students was not one of anger, but one of love, hope and cooperation. One of the great misconceptions about the Black Panther Party was that it was about hatred, he said.

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When Beyonce put her dancers in black berets reminiscent of the Panthers for their Super Bowl show, she started a controversy “so that people can understand that the image of the Panthers just with guns or being angry or thinking that they hated white people” was not the whole story, Joseph explained. He told the crowd that the Black Panthers had a breakfast program, health clinics and a message of cooperation to bring “power to all the people.”

During this Black History month, he told the assembly, “Be dedicated to the fact that we love each other and we will rise.”

The school gave Joseph a standing ovation.

Principal Stewart Carey thanked teacher Pam Friedman for organizing the assembly, which also included performances by annual guests the Newark Boys Chorus. 

“This is always a great day for the school,” Carey said “I never knew that we could get the type of speakers we’ve had here.”