Thursday, June 16, 2011

Memorial set for former Black Panther with local ties

By HOWARD J. CASTAY JR. June 16, 2011

Morgan City will bid adieu to a native son, Vietnam veteran, former Black Panther Party leader, social activist and philanthropist this week.

Elmer "G" Gernomio Pratt, 63, who changed his name to Geronimo Ji Jaga, died June 2 at his home in Tanzania, Africa, of malaria, according to his sister Elder Jacquelyn Pratt E Brown and his brother Charles Emile "Rasuli" Pratt, both of Morgan City.

Together with their other siblings, Minister Jack Pratt, and a sister Virginia, will hold a public memorial service, Saturday, June 18 at 10 a.m., in the Morgan City Auditorium ballroom.

Geronimo, the former leader of the Los Angeles Black Panther Party, spent 27 years in prison for murder. He was convicted in 1972, and sentenced to life in prison for the 1968 fatal shooting of Caroline Olsen and the serious wounding of her husband, Kenneth, in a robbery that netted $18.

However, his case was overturned in 1997 by an Orange County Superior Court judge who ruled that prosecutors at Pratt's murder trial had concealed evidence that could have led to his acquittal.

"Justice was indeed served, not only for him, but for many," Charles Pratt said.

When the citizen returned to Morgan City following his release, Charles said the turnout was "thick" with people who wished to see Pratt.

"When he returned to Morgan City, the streets were lined thick with folks, waiting to see him...but it was all for mom in his mind, to see his mother for the first time in what seemed to him, like a century," Charles said, in describing his youngest brother's return to Morgan City on June 14, 1997.

Upon his release, life continued to change for Geronimo, as he won a $4.5 million judgment against the City of Los Angeles and the FBI for his imprisonment.

With those resources and hope for continued change, he, together with his older siblings Elder Brown, Charles, and Minister Jack Pratt, formed the Kuji Foundation, Kuji, Inc. for short - a non-profit organization with the goal of empowering blacks, particularly young men who some may call at-risk, with their education, and how basically to survive in society.

Charles said the name was taken from Kujichagulia, one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. It means self-determination.

Since the group's inception, celebrities have also joined and donated to the Kuji Foundation, including actor Sean Penn, the late famed attorney Johnnie Cochran, and the late Marlon Brando.

But the change was only beginning for Geronimo.

As time passed, Charles said rumors began circulating in the St. Mary Parish area that his brother was going to start a Black Panther training center for young men. "Shortly after 9-11, rumors like that were scary, particularly to people who were closed-minded to the idea of his presence here, and of course, to those who were unfamiliar with the plans for the Kuji Foundation," Charles said.

Aggravated with the allegations, Geronimo began turning his attention to Africa, particularly small villages in Tanzania, where people lived without any type of drinking water system.

Geronimo decided his first water project on Aug 25, 2002. The Kuji Foundation, together with the United African American Community Center, dedicated the Imbaseni Village Water Project in Tanzania.

"It was the first of many more good works to come," Elder Pratt said. "I thank God for this legacy Geronimo has left behind."

Geronimo was a Green Beret in the Vietnam War. He was awarded a Soldier's medal by President Lyndon B. Johnson at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. And he was also the godfather of the late rapper Tupac Shakur.

"Many call him the Nelson Mandela of America, because he was imprisoned for our people, a freedom fighter, a political prisoner, having served many years in solitary confinement," Minister Jack Pratt said.

Burial services were in Africa, at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, Charles Pratt said.

Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease, widespread in tropical and subtropical regions, including much of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Americas. The disease causes symptoms that typically include fever and headache, and in severe cases progressing to coma, and death, according to medical websites.

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