by Malaika H Kambon
A now famous quote from Ernesto Che Guevara says, “At the risk of sounding ridiculous, the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.”
The legacy of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense has proven this repeatedly, even though the city in which the party was born continues to shower those who struggle within her boundaries with the most heinous disrespect.
Repeated murders of her youth by brutal Chief of Police Harold Jordan and the Oakland Police Department echo the very police brutality against which the Black Panther Party fought in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The City of Oakland now even brazenly decrees that we, her battered and abused grassroots, must stay off the grass in front of City Hall so that it will “grow in healthy,” after soaking up the blood, sweat and tears of the Occupy Movement that was forcibly evicted by means of brazen police brutality.
It’s as if Oakland’s city government continued its audacious mockery of her own citizenry in even this small way – by means of silly “Keep Off the Grass” signs – as some of the true revolutionaries of Oakland, the Black Panther Party and Oakland’s poor communities and communities of color celebrated the 46th anniversary of the Black Panther Party in a space that used to be free to all – but is now guarded by sentry fences, warning signs, and imminent police threat – during October’s Black Panther Party History Month in 2012.
Yet in spite of the shroud of infamy that Mayor Jean Quan’s appalling mismanagement hangs in canopy as a monument to ineptitude over the city of Oakland, the spirits of fallen ancestor revolutionaries such as Steve Biko of South Africa, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Papaloi Boukman of Haiti, Che Guevara of Cuba and many more were a cleansing force for this most important of annual Black Panther Party celebrations.
And though the crowd was relatively small, the love and warmth was huge as four generations of Panthers and the struggling Oakland residents they’ve served since the ‘60s celebrated both the history that isn’t to be forgotten and historic current events in the making.
Those who could not be there were with us in spirit as the Caribbean All Stars brought down the house with their instrumental versatility and music that called the ancestors and brought them closer to us: from the Ibo people who refused to be enslaved – and often walked en masse into the sea despite captivity to “return home to Africa” – to Gil Scott-Heron, Robert Nesta, Peter Tosh, Bessie, Billie and Ma; from the spirits of four generations of fallen youth to a spiritual renewal of commitment to those not yet born.
Panther elders and Panther cubs, revolutionary media, soldiers, rank and file workers, rappers, poets, street people, warrior queens, newborn infants soaked up the story of our world with the sunshine.
And as the people celebrated the Panthers, the Panthers celebrated the people. Master Black Panther Party artist-photographer Ducho Dennis and SF Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff were among the several community members who were awarded plaques in recognition of their dedication, service and commitment to ending poverty in Bay Area communities.
Additionally, Ducho celebrated three generations of Panthers: himself, his son Refa Senay, better known as Refa1, and his growing young son. Refa1 is a first generation master writer, hip hop pan-African artist, muralist and illustrator, a member of the Oakland Maroons group of artists and co-curator of astrophysicist Dr. Nia Imara’s art gallery, First Love.
Throughout the month of October in cities and states across the country and in countries around the world, the story of the Black Panther Party will be renewed and revered. Examples of this can be seen in events that have already taken place, in continuing events and in events yet to be:
- The It’s About Time Black Panther Party Legacy Committee and Underground Books in Sacramento hosted film showings of “Lords of the Revolution,” “Merritt College, Home of the Panthers” and historical footage of the BPP, along with the book signings of Elbert “Big Man” Howard’s “Panther on the Prowl,” Steve McCutchen’s “We Were Free for Awhile,” Mia Sia Gilbert’s “Twirl in Smoke” and Aaron Dixon’s “My People Are Rising.” Members of Sacramento’s BPP chapter spoke, as did community activists and spoken word artists.
- The 2012 Oregon Shakespeare Festival, held in Ashland, Oregon, featured the play entitled “Party People.” Written and performed by members of New York’s phenomenal theatre group Universes (Steven Sapp, Mildred Ruiz Sapp, William Ruiz, aka Ninja), the new play “digs into the legacy of the Black Panthers and the Young Lords with a high-energy, infectious mix of theatre, poetry, jazz, blues, hip-hop, boleros and salsa.”
- Berkeley’s Amoeba Music on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley boasts one of the finest exhibits of Black Panther Party photographs in the Northern California Bay Area. On June 16, Amoeba Music celebrated what would have been Tupac Amaru Shakur’s 41st birthday. Proceeds from the birthday bash went to the National Alumni Association of the Black Panther Party. Both of Tupac’s parents were Black Panther Party members.
- Panthers in exile Mama Charlotte and Mzee Pete O’Neal have founded the United African Alliance Community Center (UAACC) which continues the Black Panther Party legacy in the Imbaseni Village near the northern city of Arusha, Tanzania, East Africa. The UAACC has initiated a “Heal the Community Tour – 2012” as one of its several projects which serve the African and other communities worldwide.
- The legendary Black Panther Party Minister of Culture Emory Douglas will be in residency at Edelo in Chiapas, Mexico, in November 2012. While there he will participate with Zapatista artists and other cultural workers to build art between Zapatista and the Black Panther Party. Together, they will develop the newsletter Zapantera Negra (ZPN), a collaborative artistic effort between two powerful revolutionary forces for humanity.
- The Oakland Maroons are presenting “The Point Is … Art Representing the Relevance of the Black Panther Party’s 10 Point Program in the 21st Century” Oct. 5-31 at the First Love. The gallery is open from 12 noon to 6 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and is located at 2440 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. Find them on Facebook as well.
These are but a few examples of the continuing legacy of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, a party rich with stories of their positive development and commitment to enrich the quality of life of struggling communities everywhere. For they stood and spoke truth to power, despite the depredations of mainstream media and J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI’s COINTELPRO (counterintelligence) program – once labeling the nascent Black Panther Party “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” for doing nothing more than empowering the African community and, by example, other poor communities and communities of color worldwide.
To this day, tenets of the original Black Panther Party 10-Point Program – What We Want remain just as relevant in 2012 as they were yesterday in the 1960s. Thus, it is important that we not forget that the Black Panther Party and, later, the Black Liberation Army were – and are – an integral part of the Indigenous African Movement for Freedom in the U.S.
To forget would be the most heinous of crimes and would make a mockery of the dead and those whom an imperial state wishes to bury as though they are dead – the political prisoners and prisoners of war whose steadfast principles and beliefs have not been compromised, even though they’ve been locked away in gulags and dungeons of gulags for the lifespans of their children, grandchildren and elders and forced to fight each other as repressive Euro-American governments look on. Said governments’ hope, of course, is that the resultant diversion will allow their repression to continue.
But that plan has failed. Repression breeds resistance. Inspired by the Black Panther Party, prisoners are fighting for liberation instead of fighting each other. New Afrikan Prisoners have organized everything from think tanks, book projects, and a New Afrikan Criminology Academy (NACA) to hunger strikes and moratoriums on prison violence.
So it wasn’t so much about the quantity of people who were present at the BPP celebration but the quality of love and commitment that was present.
Thus, the words of rappers S Dot Venom and Eseibio the Automatic rocked young and old out of any complacency about life they may have formerly entertained.
And the conch shell that Brotha Cliff of the Caribbean All Stars blew along with the small red and gold trumpet brought home the reality of the Maafa that brought us here, the holocaust that persists, and the fact that struggle continues. The versatility with which his fingers roamed a 10 octave double keyboard brought joy; the soul of Trinidadian guitarist strummed a base guitar that beat like a giant heart thrumming through the crowd up through the soul of the cement. As Hugh Sweetfoot drummed on traps and Ron blazed a new day on a second guitar, Cliff’s clear vocals, Bajeeta’s tenor sax and Raul Gomez’ accompanying percussion by way of shekere, bell and hand drum, the music held all of the intimacy of a crowd of people who knew exactly what we are about, young and old.
Then, after hours outside, and while the sun still rode high in the sky, everyone went to Geoffery’s Inner Circle, located at 410 14th St., a block or two from Oakland’s City Hall.
There, the Panther Party did one of the things at which it excels – it served the people with good food, threaded through with networking, education, knowledge of self, an awards ceremony and revolutionary love.
A luta continua. The struggle continues. All power to the people!
Malaika H Kambon is a freelance photojournalist and the 2011 winner of the Bay Area Black Journalists Association Luci S. Williams Houston Scholarship in Photojournalism. She also won the AAU state and national championship in Tae Kwon Do from 2007-2010. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.