Badass Guys: Why Fred Hampton’s Story and Self Should Never Be Forgotten

Recent history has given us the likes of Mahatma Ghandi, Mikhail Gorbachev, Nelson Mandela, Betty Williams, and Martin Luther King Jr., among countless others. These people led their lives by shunning hate and embracing love.

Fred Hampton is a less known, but more than worthy companion to this group. He had the tools to effect change; the ability to communicate and the passion to execute. Here’s why Fred Hampton’s story and self should never be forgotten.


1. A Life Dedicated to Nonviolent Social Change

Hampton wasn’t interested in gathering arms and waging a revolution for change rooted through violence. He knew it’d be a vicious cycle that would never get anywhere. Instead, Hampton focused on improving and empowering the lives of those in communities he knew and loved.

He advocated to local gangs about reducing crime in favor of more productive social wars, eventually getting Chicago’s biggest gangs to agree to a non-aggression peace pact. Even when J. Edgar Hoover and COINTELPRO tried to pit Chicago’s Blackstone Rangers against the Black Panther Party (BPP), Fred won the gang’s approval.


2. He United Through Speech and Action

It’s rare for public speakers to match their words with action; it’s something we typically don’t count on.

Hampton united people with his words, then showed them the way through action. Unsurprisingly, he rose quickly in the BPP; by age 20 he had become chairman of the Illinois Chapter, and deputy chairman of the national party.

He first demonstrated his knack for community leadership as NAACP youth organizer in his hometown of Maywood, Illinois. Hampton recruited a group of over 500 from 27,000 community members with the goal of improving recreational facilities and access to more educational resources.

Hampton would later initiate social assistance programs that the Black Panthers were known for overall, such as serving 3,500 kids a week through the free breakfast program, helping to create a free medical center, starting door-to-door health services to test people for sickle cell anemia, and launching a police surveillance program. He even taught political daily 6 a.m. education classes.

He also co-founded the Rainbow Coalition during this time, a multiracial alliance group of prominent organizations like the Young Patriots, Young Lords, and later, Students for Democratic Society, Brown Berets, and the Red Guard Party.


3. Education, Not Emotion, Prior to Action

How many leaders of yesterday and today use nationalism to acquire members and rally their groups? The thing with nationalism, though, is that it appeals to the emotions. It runs the risk of being tainted with people acting for reasons they don’t fully understand. Hampton and the Panthers put education before everything. Here’s Fred Hampton speaking on the importance of education before action:

(In the clip) Hampton on the dangers of appealing to emotion over education:

[“You might get caught up in the emotion of this movement. You understand me? You might be able to get them caught up because they’re poor and they want something. And then, if they’re not educated, they’ll want more, and before you know it, they’ll be capitalists, and before you know it, we’ll have Negro imperialists.”]


4. An Unjust Killing

Fred’s fiancé, Deborah Johnson, was eight-and-a-half months pregnant when she couldn’t wake Fred up in the early morning hours of Dec 4th, 1969, even after the sound of gunfire had erupted at their west-side apartment.

An informant named William O’Neill was to blame. In addition to giving police detailed layouts of Hampton’s apartment, including where Fred and Deborah slept, he slipped a barbiturate in Hampton’s drink a few hours before the raid.

Yet after seven minutes of gunfire from 14 officers, Fred Hampton wasn’t dead. According to Deborah Johnson, when police came into the room where Fred was lying an officer said, “looks like he’ll make it,” before another officer fired two shots into Hamptons’ head followed by the words, “he’s dead now.”

Fellow Illinois Panther Mark Clark also died in the raid. Early reports claimed the Panthers started the gunfire, like this statement that was released the day of the shooting by Illinois State Attorney, Edward Hanrahan’s office:

The immediate, violent and criminal reaction of the occupants in shooting at announced police officers emphasizes the extreme viciousness of the Black Panther Party. So does their refusal to cease firing at police officers when urged to do so several times.

A federal investigation months later showed that a maximum of one shot was fired by the Panthers (which was likely a reactionary wound shot after Mark Clark took a bullet to the heart) to police’s 83–99 shots.

The raid was a coordinated effort of the FBI, the office of State Attorney Edward Hanrahan, the Chicago Police Department, and informant William O’Neill. Only O’Neill—who would later kill himself—seemed to feel any remorse at the thought of contributing to the cold-blooded murder of an exceptional man. Thankfully, Hanrahan’s involvement in the matter effectively ended his promising political career, though he unfortunately still lived a long false 88 years, dying peacefully at home.


5. Edgar Hoover Was a Pile of Trash

Hoover saw the civil rights and anti-war movement as a threat to American liberties. Under his direction, the FBI ran COINTELPRO for 15 years, but it would’ve been longer had an FBI office not been burglarized in 1971 and the program exposed.

Hoover bugged Martin Luther King Jr.’s rooms. He put Fred Hampton on the Key Agitator Index. He saw them both as messiahs who could start the revolution. Hoover has blood and constitutional violations on his hands, yet his name remains on the FBI building in D.C. The last attempt to strip his name off the building came in 2015, when Democratic Rep Steven Cohen introduced a bill arguing that, among other things, the rights Americans enjoy today are in spite of Hoover and not because of him.

We can only imagine what we’d be saying about Hampton if he was with us today. His murder is a tragic case of evil overtaking good, a despicable overreach by our government. But it’s also the wake-up call that nobody is going to be the next Fred Hampton until someone is. And that true leaders embody big-picture ideas that follow through on them through community-improving actions.

Read about more inspiring men, women, places, and moments in time, all a part of VK Nagrani’s Badass series.


Badass Moments In History: Robert Small’s Mutiny

Way back before Rosa Parks didn’t give up her seat, before Martin Luther King Jr. marched for civil rights, and even before slavery was abolished, there was a man fighting for racial justice on a slave ship. In 1862, there was a 22-year-old slave named Robert Small, who freed himself, the crew and many of their families in a single act of bravery and defiance that helped turn the tide of war favorably for the abolitionist movement.

Keep reading to see why VK Nagrani thinks Robert Small’s mutiny aboard the CSS Planter was one seriously Badass Moment in History.

1. Forced Slavery

Not that slavery is voluntary in any capacity, but as Robert Small was rumored to be the illegitimate son of his master – he was given relatively exceptional treatment, all things considered. He lived in the house with mother a few other house servants, but Robert’s mother wanted him to experience the real horrors of slavery, so at the age of twelve his mother sent him out to the cotton fields.

His encounters with slavery, whipping posts and all, changed him and instilled a disdain for authority and a spirit of rebellion.

2. Mutiny

Robert proved himself to be a worthy seafarer and stevedore, so he was relegated to work on the CSS Planter as a ship hand. While working as a crewmember, he carefully plotted his daring escape and waited for just the right moment. One night, the ship set anchor in Charleston, a small harbor town on the coast of South Carolina, and the white crew and free men left the boat for the night, leaving only the slaves aboard. It was then that Robert Small made his move – he quickly told the remaining slaves on board that he was going to commandeer the ship and sail them to freedom.

A few slaves stayed behind to save themselves from the most certain death that would be waiting for them, were they to be caught.

Robert Small donned the hat of the captain and sailed up the coast into Union-occupied territory. They almost began firing, thinking it was a rogue ship that had drifted into enemy territory, until they saw a white bed sheet floating in the wind – the international sign of surrender. Smalls was able to provide valuable information about the Confederacy’s naval fleet, that eventually led to their demise.

3. Aftermath

One man risked everything to save his wife, children and fellow slaves and bring them all safely into the North. Even more, after he was a freedman, he continued his fight for justice by becoming part of the South Carolina legislature and eventually a member of the House of Representatives. During his time as a representative, he played a prominent role in getting President Lincoln to accept black soldiers into the United States Army and Navy.

Keep it tuned to the VK Nagrani Blog for more deep looks into some seriously Badass Moments in History.


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Badass Gals: Oprah Winfrey

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last thirty or so years, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Oprah Winfrey. She went from a humble backwoods rural upbringing in Mississippi to one of the world’s richest women. Oprah is a media mogul, talk show host, actress, producer, and philanthropist. There’s not much of our media-based culture that Oprah hasn’t had a hand in shaping.

As a man, your intersections with Oprah may be via a wife or significant other, so you may not be fully aware of her story and how she rose to fame. Oprah’s story is, in essence, a realization of the American Dream itself.

Here are a couple more reasons why we here at VK Nagrani think Oprah Winfrey is a total badass.

1. Troubled Upbringing

Oprah was born well below the poverty line in the backwoods of Mississippi to a single mother. She has actively spoken out about the fact that she was molested her entire childhood, and at the delicate age of 14, became unwillingly pregnant. The child died during infancy. After the death of her son, she moved to Tennessee to live with the man that she called her father, and landed a job in radio while still in high school. Her warm personality and charming presence sealed the deal on a job reporting the local news on television, which later pushed her into the realm of day-time talk shows. The rest, as they say, is history.

Move over Drake, we all know you were a rich kid in Toronto. Oprah really started from the bottom.

2. Reinvigorated Readers

Let’s face it—your mom, grandma, aunts, girlfriend or wife have all probably read a book because it was on Oprah’s Book Club. During the 15 years of Oprah’s Book Club, her viewers have purchased millions of copies of the 70 selected reading titles. Al Greco, a Fordham University marketing professor estimates the total sales of these “Oprah editions” to be just over 55 million copies – just because her name was on it.

3. Weight Issues

If you’ve been an avid watcher of Oprah’s show, you might know that there are quite a few versions of Oprah, in all shapes and sizes. She’s publicly battled her weight and has had a very active role in developing the “fad diet craze” that has been so popular in our country since the ‘90s. Regardless of the positive or negative effects diet crazes may have had on our culture, she has changed many lives by inspiring viewers to live their best life, with lifestyle changes revolving around diet and exercise.

4. Opened Up Race Relations

Oprah has always credited the sacrifices of men and women like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and the other great figures of the civil rights movement in her ability to shed her poor, troubled youth to the powerhouse of culture she has become. In turn, her successes have inspired millions more.

Her candid discussions about race opened up dialogs across the country. Oprah once taped a show in Forsyth County, Georgia, where no black people lived for over 75 years. Simply by being there, she inspired growth and a movement of people of color to the area. Twenty-five years later, there are 7,000 African-Americans living in Forsyth County.

Say what you will about her effect on culture, love her or hate her, Oprah has vastly changed the way media is produced and viewed. Keep checking the VK Nagrani blog for more of our Badass Series.


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VKN Badass Guys: Leo Tolstoy

Throughout history there have been exceptional men who’ve inspired us by the way they lead their lives and accomplish success. This is VK Nagrani’s Badass Guys Series.

You had to be a badass to make it through the hard Russian winters of the 19th century, but Leo Tolstoy prevailed. Regarded as one of the greatest authors of all time, he penned the classics “Anna Karenina” and “War and Peace,” both of which are considered some of the best examples of world literature ever created. Tolstoy originates from an era of seriously great authors, with contemporaries such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Turgenev and Vladimir Nabakov. All of these men, aside from being bearded and looking suspiciously worn down by life, wrote Russian classics, which the reading of has been used to make men seem smarter for almost two hundred years now.

Let’s take a deeper look at Tolstoy and see why VK Nagrani thinks he’s a total badass and deserving of recognition.

1. Fought in the Crimean War

Doesn’t matter which side of the soap box you stand on, whether with the French Catholics or the Russian Orthodox Christians – the Crimean War, among many others, affected everyone in Tolstoy’s time. Aside from freezing temperatures, it is likely the reason everyone in 19th century Russia was so bummed out and stayed inside writing lit classics. It was during this time that he began working on his semi autobiographical trilogy, Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, which detailed his fondest memories growing up.

2. Spiritual Anarchy

During a visit to Paris, Tolstoy witnessed a public execution that would forever change the way he viewed the government and ushered in a spiritual awakening for the young man. He thought it was a barbaric and traumatic experience, and in a personal letter to to a friend he wrote, “The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens … Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere.”

It was here that the messages found within his books took a deeper, anti-establishment, and really kind of punk rock turn.

3. Moral Thought Leader

Before thought leadership was the buzzword that it is today, Tolstoy worked to set a moral precedent of nonviolent resistance, which would go on to influence Mahatma Gandhi, and vicariously, Martin Luther King Jr. Tolstoy set out to sell all of his belongings and move to the forest, to be left with his wife and his thoughts. His wife was not happy with this decision, but Tolstoy, who was now an active pacifist, compromised with his wife and decidedly gave her the rights to his work to do with as she pleased, as long as he was free of the burden of possession.

Tolstoy’s gift has been acclaimed for his ability to underscore the unconscious motives of people’s decisions and the role of people’s everyday actions and how it defines their character and purpose. Tolstoy found beauty in the mundane, and is to this day one of the world’s greatest observers, which is why we here at VK Nagrani consider him a badass and leave you with this thought:

“If you want to be happy, be.”
– Leo Tolstoy

Keep checking the VK Nagrani blog for more editions of our Badass Guys Series.


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VKN Badass Guys: Martin Luther King, Jr.

Throughout history there have been exceptional men who’ve inspired us by the way they lead their lives and accomplish success. This is VK Nagrani’s Badass Guys Series.

There is little to no chance you live in America and made it out of elementary school without knowing about who Martin Luther King, Jr. is and what he was all about. But just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last forty years, he’s the man famous for making the “I Have a Dream” speech and leading the March on Washington and the overall face of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s.

Here’s why VK Nagrani thinks Martin Luther King, Jr. is badass.

1. Child of Abuse

Martin Luther King Jr. was beaten by his father who was determined to “make something out of him even if he had to beat him to death.” It’s pretty shocking that Martin Luther King, Jr. would eventually become a doctor, after having lived in a house with a parent who could be that violent. Although, it’s likely what prepared him and honed his patience and helped him develop a deep admiration for Mahatma Gandhi.

2. Action through Non-Violence

When Rosa Parks refused to sit in the segregated portion of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, the driver alerted the police and had the woman arrested. City officials didn’t realize that she was a card-carrying member of the NAACP and that a whole mess of civil disobedience was coming their way. Martin Luther King staged a boycott of the Montgomery bus system and nearly 20,000 people participated in not riding their usual bus. For an entire year, buses rode around the city of Montgomery empty or practically empty. It ended in victory for the protesters and in the case of Browder vs Gayle, the Supreme Court of the U.S. found that Alabama’s regulation on race restriction for the bus system was unconstitutional.

He also led the March on Washington and made the famous “I Have a Dream” speech that is arguably the most famous keynote talk in the history of human existence.

3. Consistently Faced the Threat of Death

Being a scholarly black man in the 1960s was practically considered a crime against society. Doctor King, in his peaceful quest for justice, never bowed to the hate mail and death threats that pored in through the post. At the beginning, when the threats first started coming in, he considered carrying a gun, but then remarked, “How could I have claimed to be the leader of a non-violence movement then?”

His unyielding belief in the power of peaceful activism is what makes him one of the most memorable figures in all of American history. “No matter how low somebody sinks into racial bigotry, he can be redeemed,” he insisted to his supporters.

The American South was an explosive place to be for people of color, and the entire movement was constantly threatened with violence, but this did not deter Martin Luther King, Jr. “The consequences for my personal life are not particularly important,” Dr. King stated in an interview, stressing the importance of the Greater Good, like a total badass.

Keep checking the VK Nagrani blog for more editions of our Badass Guys Series.