Sister Souljah at the
Miami Book Fair International,
November 21, 2015
January 28, 1964
The Bronx, New York City, United States
|Education||Cornell University, Advanced Studies Program|
Rutgers University, B.A. American History and African Studies
University of Salamanca, Study Abroad Program
|Alma mater||Rutgers University|
|Occupation||Author, activist, recording artist, film producer|
|Known for||Sister Souljah moment|
The Coldest Winter Ever
Midnight: A Gangster Love Story
Sister Souljah (born Lisa Williamson, on January 28, 1964 in Bronx, New York) is an American author, activist, recording artist, and film producer. She gained prominence for Bill Clinton's criticism of her remarks about race in the United States during the 1992 presidential campaign. Clinton's well-known repudiation of her comments led to what is now known in politics as a Sister Souljah moment.
Sister Souljah was born in the Bronx, New York. She recounts in her memoir No Disrespect that she was born into poverty and raised on welfare for some years. At age 10, she moved with her family to the suburbs of Englewood, New Jersey, a suburb with a strong African American presence, a slight change from the big city feel of the Bronx. Englewood is also home to other famous black artists such as George Benson, Eddie Murphy, and Regina Belle. There she attended Dwight Morrow High School.
Souljah disliked what American students were being taught in school systems across the country. She felt that the school systems intentionally left out the African origins of civilization. Also, she criticized the absence of a comprehensive curriculum of African American history, which she felt that all students, black and white, needed to learn and understand in order to be properly educated. She felt that she was being taught very little of her history, since the junior high school and high school left out Black History, art, and culture. "I supplemented my education in the white American school system by reading African history, which was intentionally left out of the curriculum of American students." From 1978 to 1981 she attended Dwight Morrow High School, which had a relatively even distribution of black, Latino, and Jewish student enrollment and a majority-black administration during the time of her studies. She was a legislative intern in the House of Representatives. Souljah was also the recipient of several honors during her teenage years. She won the American Legion's Constitutional Oratory Contest, for which she received a scholarship to attend Cornell University's Advanced Summer Program.
In her college years she traveled widely, visiting Britain, France, Spain, Portugal, Finland, and Russia. Her education was reinforced with first-hand experiences as she worked in a medical center in Mtepa Tepa, a village located in Zimbabwe, and assisted refugee children from Mozambique. She also traveled to South Africa and Zambia. She graduated from Rutgers University with a dual major in American History and African Studies. She became a well-known and outspoken voice on campus and wrote for the school newspaper. One of her noted campus initiatives was spearheading a campaign to bring Jesse Jackson to Rutgers to speak against the university's controversial investments in apartheid South Africa at the time, when disinvestment from South Africa was a heated political issue. Sister Souljah was part of the Rutgers Coalition for Divestment, which successfully prompted the Rutgers University administration to divest US$3.6 million in its financial holding companies doing business in that country. Sister Souljah and students across the state of New Jersey also organized a successful campaign to get the state of New Jersey to divest more than US$1 billion of its financial holdings in apartheid-era South Africa.
In 1985, during her senior year at Rutgers University, she was offered a job by Reverend Benjamin Chavis of the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice. She spent the next three years developing, organizing, and financing programs such as African Survival Camp, a six-week summer sleepaway camp in Enfield, North Carolina. She also became the organizer of the National African Youth-Student Alliance and outspoken voice against racially motivated violence in cases such as Howard Beach, Yusuf Hawkins, and more.
Souljah appeared on several tracks as a featured guest with the hip-hop group Public Enemy, and she became a full member of the group when Professor Griff left the group after making anti-Semitic remarks. In 1992, she released her only album, 360 Degrees of Power.
Souljah became infamous for her statements about the 1992 Los Angeles riots. In an interview conducted May 13, 1992, she was quoted in The Washington Post as saying, "If black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?"(White devils)
The quotation was later reproduced in the media, and she was widely criticized. Presidential candidate Bill Clinton publicly criticized that statement--and Jesse Jackson for allowing her to be on his Rainbow Coalition--thus the Sister Souljah moment was created.
In 1999, she made her debut as a novelist with The Coldest Winter Ever. Souljah said that she was the pioneer for starting "a renaissance, or what Chuck D of Public Enemy would call a revolution, of reading." As of March 2016 , Souljah had been on the New York Times Bestseller List three times. The Coldest Winter Ever was widely acclaimed for making the second wave of the genre known as street literature more popular. About this, Souljah said:
I'm a college graduate, and if I read something like Romeo and Juliet, I'm reading about a gang fight, I'm reading about young love, young sex, longing. I'm reading the same themes that I'm writing in my books. So if somebody comes along and says, "Yours is street literature"--what was Shakespeare's?"
An indirect sequel of the novel, Midnight: A Gangster Love Story, originally scheduled for October 14, 2008, was published on November 4, 2008. It entered The New York Times bestseller list at No. 7 its first week of publication and remained there As of February 2009 . Another sequel, Midnight and the Meaning of Love., was released on April 12, 2011, and another novel, A Deeper Love Inside: the Porsche Santiaga Story, originally scheduled for October 23, 2012, was published January 29, 2013. A third Midnight novel, A Moment of Silence, was published on November 10, 2015. As of March 2016 , it had sold over 2 million copies. This novel follows the main character, Midnight, as he attempts to reclaim his innocence and his identity while in prison.
All of Souljah's novels deal with universal themes of faith, love, and integrity. Most of her novels have become popular among the prison population, with her books being available in many prison libraries. Due to this, she has worked in tandem with Black and Nobel, a Web site that ships books, magazines, and DVDs to prisons nationwide. Her work has also been referenced multiple times in popular culture, including on the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black.
As a community activist, Souljah organized a number of service programs. In 1985, during her senior year at Rutgers University, she developed and financed the African Youth Survival Camp for children of homeless families, a six-week summer sleep-away camp in Enfield, North Carolina. This program ran for more than three years. She has been a motivating force behind a number of hip hop artists' efforts to give back to the community, organizing major youth events, programs, and summer camps with artists such as Lauryn Hill, Doug E. Fresh, and Sean "Diddy" Combs.
Souljah was heavily involved with rallies against racial discrimination, police brutality, and the lack of proper education for urban and underrepresented youths. She went on to hold several concerts and protests in New York City, which were supported by many prominent voices in the hip hop community.
Souljah was the executive director of Daddy's House Social Programs Inc. for seven years. It is a not-for-profit corporation for urban youth, financed by Sean "Diddy" Combs and Bad Boy Entertainment. Daddy's House educates and prepares youth, aged 10-16, to be in control of their academic, cultural, and financial lives. The students progressing through the program earn support to travel throughout the world.
Sister Souljah is married to Mike Rich. They have a son named Shaquille.
|360 Degrees of Power