Author: Lauren Barker and Emma Parker
From Monday, November 5 to Friday, November 9, Black Student Alliance (BSA) hosted Exploration of the Black Panther Party Week. The week featured speakers Elaine Brown, Dr. Phyllis Jackson and David Hilliard, as well as a screening of the film Comrade Sisters: Voices of Women in the Black Panther Party, a photography showcase and a dialogue. The week was designed to highlight the aims of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and encourage social activism on campus and in the community.
On Tuesday, author of the memoir A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, prison activist and former BPP leader Brown spoke about the history of the BPP, its goals and community programs. Chairperson of the BPP from 1974 until 1977, she discussed the history of racism and inequality in the US that led to the evolution of the civil rights movement.
“In order to understand the history and significance of the Black Panther Party, we have to have a correct analysis and we have to have one and the same on the history of black people and the context of the history of black people in America,” Brown said.
Brown spoke on the intercommunity outreach practiced by the BPP before and during her time as chairperson. “We began to realize from early on that we had to also develop our relationships with other oppressed groups in the United States, but there was also more of a practical reason because we really wanted to,” Brown said. “We had to have more people; we couldn’t be isolated as black people. But there was also a moral reason: how could we talk about the freedom of black people in the context of the oppression, for example, of the Native Americans?”
On Wednesday, Jackson, Associate Professor of Art History and Black Studies at Pomona College and former BPP member, spoke to a group of about 70 people after her movie Comrade Sisters: Voices of Women in the Black Panther Party was shown. The movie, which Jackson co-produced and co-directed, featured interviews with several women who were former members of the BPP.
The women spoke about different subjects, such as why they joined the political party and the reactions of their friends and family. They also addressed what services the BPP provided for the community, such as daycare, and what it was like “living collectively” and working with other party members. “People who struggle together are family,” one woman said.
Lastly, the film showed testimonies on leaving the BPP and what the women viewed as the successes and failures of the party. “We didn’t take care of ourselves on an emotional level,” one woman pointed out as the reason for the “undoing” of the party. However, most women spoke positively of the BPP’s education programs and community activity.
After the film, Jackson fielded questions from the audience. Students asked questions regarding Jackson’s current relationships with other former party members, the oppression of women in the party and what Jackson gained from being a BPP member. “The most fulfilling thing for me was the realization as a young woman that I controlled my own destiny,” she said. Jackson’s mother and father were in the audience and she said it was the first time she spoke about her involvement with the BPP in front of her family; Jackson dropped out of college to join the BPP, which her family did not approve. She returned to college in her late thirties and her mother once remarked that she was “the oldest person in my class.”
Jackson then answered questions about the relevance of the BPP today. She advised students to read the party’s old newspapers and the party’s Ten Point Program to learn about initiating social change.
One student asked about Jackson’s views on the upcoming elections. “I’m personally disinterested in symbolic representation,” she said. “Until we look at the role of capitalism, I don’t think it makes a difference who you put in that office.”
On Thursday, Hilliard, co-founding member and former Chief of Staff of the BPP, said that the Party went through three phases: self-defense, political organization, and reformation. Hilliard admitted that many people blamed the fall of the BPP on Huey Newton’s drug addiction, but he said that things like drug dependency were part of the society and so of course they were also part of the BPP because the BPP was part of society.
Hilliard emphasized his reverence for Huey Newton, saying he had never seen anyone, even to this day, as brave as Newton was. He shared memories of Newton in which the BPP would patrol the streets of Oakland, keeping an eye on police activity. Hilliard said Newton would walk with a gun in one hand and a law book in the other hand. Hilliard co-founded the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, whose mission is “fostering progressive social change,” in 1993.
On Friday, BSA hosted a campus dialogue to talk about the week’s speakers and presentations. At the event, the BSA passed out the 1972 version of the Black Panther’s Ten Point Plan for discussion and brainstormed possible actions that could be taken by Oxy students to reduce racial disparity both on and off campus.
“For the campus dialogue, [we want to] talk about some of the things that we saw during the week and how we can translate that into our existence here at Oxy and what we get out of that and how we can move and how we can change here at Oxy,” BSA Vice President Rozell Hodges (senior) said at the opening of the event. “It’s been a while since we’ve had a movement here at Oxy . . . and so I think it’s very fitting for one to occur.”
The dialogue gave students the opportunity to express their reactions to the week’s events. “As each event came, I realized more and more how unhappy I was with the current situation of minorities . . . and how I feel like I want to do something about it. Each [speaker] had their own ways, saying how we can help overcome that situation,” Nicole Copti (first-year) said.
Monikah Baltimore (first-year) agreed. “Since almost the beginning of the year, I’ve been wanting to get active and do some more things on campus, but it just didn’t seem like there was particularly a vibe in the first-year class, that was really ready to go,” she said. “I feel that this dialogue has pushed so many people to want to do more.”
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