It was a place of joy and a place of sorrow. An event both somber and heartwarming. A time of tributes and a time for reflection. It was a memorial service for Wopashitwe Mondo Eyen we Langa, formerly David Lewis Andrew Rice. Buddy Hogan gave opening remarks at the Malcolm X Memorial Center in Omaha on March 26 to honor Mondo, who died two weeks earlier at the Nebraska State Penitentiary.
Mondo served forty-five years of a life sentence for the murder of an Omaha policeman, but you could not convince any of the one hundred persons attending the memorial service of his guilt. Mondo went to his death proclaiming his innocence and once wrote, “I’m paying on a debt I do not owe.”
Condolences from Black Panther in-exile Pete O’Neal were read. O’Neal, formerly from Kansas City, now lives in Tanzania. Mondo was attending a rally in August 1970 in Kansas City for O’Neal who had been arrested by the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Division when Mondo’s house in Omaha was searched by police and ATF agents who claim they found dynamite in the basement. Mondo’s house was unlocked and wide open when police arrived for the search.
Tekla Agbala Johnson conducted an African Spirituality and Initiation into the Ancestor Realm ceremony, which she conducted in Kiswahili. Mondo would likely have approved, as he chose words from four African languages to compose his name. Sondra McSwain, a local Omaha dancer, performed an African Welcoming Dance which included a call and response with the audience.
Black Panther Party archivist and activist, Billy X, also known as Bill Jennings, brought messages from Panther members scattered in Australia, Great Britain, New Zealand, and other parts of the world and around the United States. Billy X never forgot about Mondo, owns several pieces of Mondo’s art, and corresponded with him over the long years in prison.
National Jericho Movement Chair, Jihad Abdulmumit, spoke about the need to continue the work, to free all political prisoners. Mondo had been on Jericho’s list of political prisoners for years and the organization has repeatedly called for Mondo’s release.
Writer Linda Kennedy gave the history of the Harambee African Cultural Organization at the Nebraska State Penitentiary. The organization flourished under Mondo’s leadership. She also spoke about Mondo’s affect on others—that he could have been a bitter body builder— instead he was a mentor and friend. “No one knows,” Kennedy said, “how many lives he touched, how many young men he may have saved.”
Part of the ceremony included African drumming. The drummer said, “They can take your body, they can take your mind, they can even break your heart—but don’t let them take your soul.”
A message of farewell from Ed Poindexter to his old friend was read. Poindexter was Mondo’s co-defendant and has also done forty-five years of his life sentence. The pair became known as the Omaha Two and both men were targets of the clandestine COINTELPRO operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Poindexter remains imprisoned at the Nebraska maximum-security prison and could not attend the memorial service.
Activist and author, Angela Davis, read Mondo’s poem, “When It Comes To This Point” about recent police shootings of unarmed young black men. Davis was kind and gracious and a captivating speaker. Davis said despite the conditions under which Mondo lived, he was funny and maintained a sense of humor and in spite of the inhumane conditions, Mondo retained his humanity. Davis, at one time on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, has made a number of trips to Nebraska over the years to show her support for the Omaha Two.
In prison, Mondo conducted himself as an innocent man would and consequently held his head high, not in arrogance but with pride. Mondo did not let a wrongful conviction influence his approach to people. Mondo remained both a gentle man and a gentleman, gaining the respect of many.
Nebraskans For Justice President Tariq Al-Amin spoke of police violence/brutality. Al-Amin, a former Omaha policeman himself, was praised by Buddy Hogan as being, “what a police officer should be.” Hogan said, ”He was there to protect and serve. And he continues to serve his community.”
Mondo’s nieces Shanita Rice and Melissa Rice Stratford and nephew Michael Rice spoke of Mondo, not as a political figure, but as their beloved uncle who kept track of their schools, birthdays, grades, and hobbies. Mondo encouraged their education and told them how important it is to read. He sent them books and encouraging letters.
One woman attending the memorial event said it was a lovely service with beautiful music and eloquent speakers, yet she sat teary-eyed throughout. The celebration of Mondo’s life was made more poignant by the tragedy of forty-five years behind bars.
Supporters of Mondo reaffirmed their dedication to work to free Ed Poindexter so the next event can be a homecoming celebration and a real testament to Mondo’s life. The event ended with everyone raising their hands in a Black Power salute and chanting five times, “Power to the People.”
Linda Kennedy and Bonnie Cosentino-Welsch contributed to this report