Berkeley Talks transcript: Women of the Black Panther Party

Listen to Berkeley Talks episode #161: “Women of the Black Panther Party.”

[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions ]

Intro: This is Berkeley Talks , a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can follow Berkeley Talks wherever you listen to your podcasts. New episodes come out every other Friday. Also, we have another podcast, Berkeley Voices, that shares stories of people at UC Berkeley and the work that they do on and off campus.

[Music fades out]

Williamena Kwapo: OK, everyone, thank you so much for being here and for attending. I hope you’re all having a wonderful evening, and it’s going to be an even more wonderful evening with this fantastic event. Thank you for joining us this evening to celebrate Stephen Shames’ and Ericka C. Huggins’ new book, Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther Party.

My name is Williamena Kwapo. I am a second-year short form video student at Berkeley Journalism, and I am incredibly honored to be your MC tonight. Aw, thank you.

We will begin the night with a truly moving photo presentation from photographer Stephen Shames, followed by a lively conversation between Ericka Huggins, Madalynn Rucker and Judy Juanita Hart.

Angela Davis, beloved author, scholar, and activist, could not be with us tonight as planned. So the conversation between the dynamic women of the Black Panther Party will be moderated by our very own Corey Antonio Rose, audio journalist and co-chair of UC Berkeley Association of Black Journalists.

We know that too often, the work of the Black women contribute to the fight for social justice goes unnoticed. Over six out of 10 Panther Party members were women, all of whom were the backbone of the movement through community building and organizing. Through intimate photographs, Shames’ and Huggins’ work details the lives of these women and the essential labor they provided to the community. We hope that by highlighting their work and putting on events like these, we strengthen the narrative around the role that Black women played and continue to play to today’s date in enacting and progressing the future that we seek.

OK, so this event would not have been possible without the help of plenty of people. Now, I’m going to thank those people, and I ask you to relax, take a deep breath, and work with me as I do that. OK? All right.

Hello. The event is being brought to you by the UC Berkeley chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists with support from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Reva and David Logan Gallery of Documentary Photography. The faculty advisor for the NABJ is Professor Lisa Armstrong, and the faculty advisor for this event is Professor Ken Light, the Reva and David Logan Professor of photojournalism at Berkeley School of Journalism.

Support for this event was made possible in part by the Photo Vision Endowment and AAC Art Books, the publisher of Comrade Sisters. Special thanks goes to Jonathan Logan, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, and the Reva and David Logan Foundation for supporting this event through the endowed funding of the Reva and David Logan Gallery of Documentary Photography and Berkeley photojournalism program.

More thank yous. I would like to thank the university sponsors, including the Department of African American Studies, the History department, the American Studies department, the Othering and Belonging Institute at the School of Public Health, the American Culture Center, and the… You guys don’t have to clap after every one of them. Thank you. The American Culture Center, the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies… I accept a clap for that one, absolutely. And the Ethnic Studies program. Thank you to all of you.

A huge shout out goes to the UC history professor Waldo Martin for his help in reaching out to so many campus departments and gaining their sponsorship that helped make this event possible. Thank you, Waldo.

And lastly, but certainly not least, I would like to thank our Berkeley journalism students who are here helping out and ushering. I would like to thank our faculty and staff that worked behind the scenes to make this event a reality. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Done. That was fun and painless. Now we can get to the party.

OK, so there will be a Q and A portion after Ericka, Judy and Madalynn speak. We’ll pass around a mic for those who would like to ask them a question after the Q and A with our moderator.

So it’s time to talk about Comrade Sisters. To do this, I would first like to welcome Stephen Shames, who is the photographer and co-author of Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther Party. A little bit about Stephen before he comes up. Stephen Shames used photography to raise awareness of social issues with a particular focus on child poverty and race.

Steve’s photographs are in permanent collection of 40 major museums, including Museum of Modern Art, Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Steve is the author of 15 monographs, including Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers, Bronx Boys, and Outside the Dream. He has received numerous awards, including the Kodak Crystal Eagle Award for impact in photojournalism for Outside the Dream. American Photo named Steve one of the 15 most underrated photographers. Amongst two others, PBS also named Shames…

I’m very sorry. PBS named Hine, Wolcott and Shames as photographers whose work promotes social change across the United States. Steve is represented as an art photographer by Galerie Esther Woerdehoff, Paris and Steve Kasher Gallery, New York, and as a photojournalist by Polaris Image New York.

With that, please give a huge round of applause for Steve Shames. The floor is yours.

Stephen Shames: I’ll give you your notes. Well, hi everybody. I’m glad to be here. Before I start, I want to tell you that I am proud and humbled to have been… I was a student here, and I was one of the students who went on strike in 1969 to create the first Black Studies department at this university. I mean, I wasn’t a leader, I was just a student photographing it, but I’m proud to be part of it. And I’m going to try and get rid of this thing.

Berkeley back then was just filled with turmoil. The police were on the campus all the time, arresting people and beating people up. And I got my start as a photographer taking pictures of police brutality. I know that doesn’t happen anymore, but I wanted to just mention that so that you knew the history. I started taking pictures for the Berkeley Barb and also the Associated Press, and New York Times , and all kinds of other publications. And I took the pictures by the Panther office, which was then on Shaddock Avenue, and showed them to Bobby Seale, chairman Bobby Seale. And he liked the pictures and invited me to photograph the Panthers, and they used the pictures in the Black Panther Party newspaper, and on posters, and leaflets, and those sorts of things. So, the Panthers were very, very media conscious and understood the power of them speaking, them having their own voice, not relying on the government to define who they are.

And that, to me, is something that’s very, very important. People have to define themselves in their own voice, and the Panthers were wonderful in that regard. They understood that they needed to be the ones who presented themselves.

And the relationship grew, and I became the most trusted photographer who was not a Panther member of the party and was able to photograph behind the scenes, in the houses, preparing for the rallies and the events, and get a series of pictures, which we’ll show you a few of them now, and the rest are in the book, of the party members that nobody else has. This is a unique collection of photographs. Everyone could go to the rallies, but the Panthers didn’t let the media behind the scenes and into their private lives.

One of the things that really impressed me were the women of the Black Panther Party. They were really the soul, the heart of the party. Almost two thirds of the members of the party were women. Women ran most of the programs in some of the chapters. The Panthers were really one of the most progressive organizations at the time in terms of the role of women in their party. In the white anti-war movement, there were very few women. The civil rights movement, these other movements had women, but I think the Panthers did a better job than the other groups did.

And by the way, the Panthers were also very outspoken in terms of what at the time we called gay rights. Huey Newton spoke out very forcefully.

The Panthers ran 64 community survival programs. And this is one of the medical cadre who were doing sickle cell testing. Again, the Panthers were doing sickle cell testing before the government or anybody was doing it. It was really being ignored at the time, and one of the reasons it got any publicity at all and the government did anything was because of the Black Panther Party.

They also had many survival conferences where they would talk and have speeches, but also register people to vote, give away groceries, and again, do medical testing.

One of the things that’s… This thing is really annoying. I think the FBI has gotten into us here. OK. Anyway… J. Edgar, turn that off! You see how they disrupt everything?

One of the things that’s incredible, anybody who’s had any dealings with a university, a nonprofit, a government agency knows you have to go to them. And often, their programs are from the top down. “We have this program, you need to fit into it if you want any help.” The Panthers were the exact opposite. They were bottom up. They listened to the community. And the women will talk more about this. I’m not going to give a long speech. I’ll let the women speak for themselves. Isn’t that refreshing?

In the picture on the right, that’s Norma, who spoke at many of our other events, in somebody’s house doing TB testing. You saw the other picture where the Panthers were on a street corner. The Panthers went out into the community, door-to-door. They didn’t require people to come to them. They crafted their programs around the needs of the people. And that’s what it really means to serve the people, body and soul.

The other thing about their programs… And I’m stealing this from Ericka, stealing some of her speech, but I hope she forgives me. All their programs are replicable any place in the world. The Panther Breakfast Program… You want to log in?

I didn’t know you were in the FBI. You’re under arrest.

That’s no joke, actually, COINTELPRO. When I worked for the Barb , we had a communal darkroom, and there were five of us that shared a darkroom, and I found out 40 years later that one of the photographers was working for the FBI. Can you believe… I mean, even little old me, who is…

Anyway, the breakfast program, again, was before the government was feeding any children. And because of the Panthers, Lyndon Johnson and his war on poverty included the breakfast program in 20 states, including California, started serving food to children in schools. Again, anybody who got breakfast or lunch at school can thank the Black Panther Party for that. Let’s give them a cheer for that.

What motivated the Panthers? It was love. People think that revolutionaries are revolutionaries because of hate. That’s not true. You can’t sustain a movement on hate. Well, the Republicans seem to be able to, but we can’t.

A movement like the Panthers can only be sustained by love, love for their community and for all people. I mean, look at the joy in this little girl’s face. Look at this one.

Did the Panthers hate white people? Well, I don’t know, look at that picture on the right. Anybody who came into the Panther office of any gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, race, if they came into the Panther office, if they needed shoes, if they needed food, if they needed clothing, if they needed a hug, whatever they needed, they got it. There was no means test, no forms to fill out. Are you getting it? Yeah, exactly.

Ten thousand bags of groceries were given away at this program, and there was a chicken in every bag. Healthy food, healthy food.

The Panthers started a school, which later became the community school that Ericka was the principal of. And again, I’ll let her talk about it. At first, it was a school for the Panther children. It was an award-winning school, and educators from all over the world came to see what they were doing. They were very innovative in terms of it wasn’t just book learning. They were also out in the community, and they fed the children.

Again, do you see the love?

Clothing… I’m almost done. They had a clothing program. This isn’t so important in California where it doesn’t snow very often. But in New York, and in Toledo, where this picture was taken, the community told the Panthers, “We need snowshoes. We need overcoats. It gets cold. Our kids are freezing.” Panthers started a clothing program, a free shoe program.

Registering people to vote, again, walking in the community, going door-to-door. We know how important registering to vote is, and we know that the people who are trying to take away the vote for people know how important it is too. So the Panthers helped elect… Barbara Lee helped elect Ron Dellums to Congress and many other candidates. As you know, Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland.

That’s a political education class. That’s Afeni Shakur on the left, Tupac’s mom. She was a Panther.

Again, look at the joy. Look at the beauty and the joy and the happiness and the love.

This was George Jackson’s funeral. And the reason I put this picture in is just to illustrate that the women were equal to the men. There’s a man and a woman standing guard. The women did everything.

That’s Kathleen Cleaver with some Panthers from Los Angeles. We’re almost done. On the left is Ericka Huggins.

Williamena Kwapo: Go through the last two. Beautiful. Am I going the right way, Stephen? Excellent.

Stephen Shames: That’s the last one.

Williamena Kwapo: Woo! Can everyone hear me? OK. Thank you so much for showing us those beautiful photographs. Now, it is my honor to introduce these three amazing women. Let’s hope I don’t cry while I do it.

We’re going to start with Judy Juanita Hart, novelist, poet, and essayist. Judy Juanita’s poetry collection Manhattan My Ass, You’re in Oakland won the American Book Award in 2021. Her semi-autobiographical novel Virgin Soul was published in 2013 and follows its protagonist, Denise Hightower, aka Niecy, who joins the Black Panther Party in San Francisco in the ’60s. Her collection of short stories The High Price of Freeways won the 2021 Tartt Fiction Award, is published in 2022. Her poem “Blink” was nominated for Pushcart Prize in 2012. Her essay “The Gun as Performance Poem” was nominated for Pushcart Prize in 2014. She teaches writing at the University of California, guess what, you all, Berkeley!

Madalynn Carol Rucker. Madalynn Carol Rucker was born in New York City, raised in Los Angeles, and moved to San Francisco at the age of 18. She was a member of the Black Panther Party from 1968 to 1978, and served as a proud rank and file comrade in San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland, California. She credits her family and her experience in the Black Panther Party as her greatest joy and achievements. After leaving the party, she earned a bachelor’s of arts degree at the University of Washington and a Master’s of Arts at Stanford University in Political Science. She is the founder and executive director of On Track Program Resources, a social justice nonprofit agency that has been providing consulting, training, and organizational development statewide, primarily in behavior health fields, since 1997.

And lastly, but certainly not least, Ericka C. Huggins. Ericka Huggins is an educator, Black Panther Party member, former political prisoner, human rights advocate and poet. For 50 years, Ericka has used her life experiences in service to the community. From 1973 to 1981, she was the director of the Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community Schools. From 1990 to 2004, Ericka managed HIV-AIDS, volunteer, and education programs.

She also supported innovative mindfulness programs for women and youth in schools, jails, and prisons. Ericka was Professor of Sociology and African American Studies from 2008 through 2015 in the Peralta Community College district from 2003 to 2011. She was professor of Women and Gender Studies at California State University’s East Bay and San Francisco. Ericka is a racial equity learning lab facilitator for World Trust Education Services. She curates conversations, focuses on individual and collective work of becoming equitable in all areas of our daily lives.

Additionally… I’m not done yet. Additionally, she facilitates workshops on the benefits of self-care in sustaining social change. She co-author with Stephen Shames of the book Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther Party , published in 2022, and is the reason why we’re here today.

Everyone, along with Corey Antonio Rose, please welcome Madalynn, Ericka and Judy to the stage.

Corey Antonio Rose: Any Panthers in the house? Hey. Hey. How you doing? Thank you for your service. Well, how are y’all tonight?

Speakers on stage: Good. Great. How are you?

Corey Antonio Rose: I’m chillin’, chillin’. Oh, we live. We’re live.

OK, good evening, everybody. My name is Corey Antonio Rose. I am a journalist, podcaster, and second-year audio student here at the J-School. Thank you so much for being with us. We’re going to jump right in.

Earlier, Stephen mentioned the importance of serving the Party and serving the community with body and soul. And you talked about this early in our chat. I’m wondering if we could start by going around the circle and defining what serving the community with body and soul meant to each of you and means today. We’ll start with you, Judy.

Judy Juanita Hart: I taught at Laney Community College in Oakland for 29 years, and I could not have survived there without my Black Panther Party training. I had to fight almost every minute. Ericka and I were there sometimes at the same time. As some of you know, our educational system is broken, particularly the K through 12 system, so Laney gets that. We get those students. So you have to fight every day against a corrupt administration. I just have to say it. The accreditation committees for both San Francisco City College and the Peralta District have criticized not the teaching, but the administration. So coming to work in an environment like that, you either have to have a backbone of steel, or you quit, or you leave. I didn’t want to leave the area, my family is here, so I had to fortify myself and get in there and fight. And frankly speaking, when you’re known as a whistleblower, everybody doesn’t like you.

So we’re kind of, as Panthers, celebrated right now, but everybody didn’t like us back then. And many of us who were not known, we didn’t walk into any job situations and just boldly announce that we were Party members. However, Laney College was actually a haven for Party members. I mean, for radicals, not just Party members, for radicals. So it was a good place to go during the ’80s, ’90s. However, all of those good people who welcomed us retired. OK. Enough said, I can hear it by your voice.

Corey Antonio Rose: No, no, no, I’m saying…

Judy Juanita Hart: No, no, no. I’m saying everyone understands what that means. A new generation of bourgeois salary-oriented education doctorates, walk in the door.

Corey Antonio Rose: Where’s my parking space?

Judy Juanita Hart: Exactly. Thank you. There we go. But that doesn’t matter because the same students are coming, were coming to Laney. So I had to fight. I had to fight every week, every day, to the point that when a new chancellor came in, I think they pointed to me and to another very good person as the whistle blowers or as the troublemakers. So sometimes that happens. And we all know that John Lewis died saying, “Get out there and make good trouble.” So that’s part of body and soul for me.

Corey Antonio Hart: Thank you so much. Madalynn.

Madalynn Rucker: Well, I think, for me, I’d go all the way back to why I joined the Party in the first place. Ericka mentioned it a little bit earlier, but I graduated high school in 1968. It was on the hills of a lot of movements kicking up. A lot of civil rights leaders were dying. Even the Kennedys was a big deal there, seen as a big hope. But the women’s movement was kicking in. The Vietnam War was kicking in. Our high school students, men, boys, were going off to Vietnam and coming back in body bags.

And while I was motivated by love for the community, I joined the Black Panther Party because I was frustrated with where the movement was going, and I was frustrated with feeling like we had no options but to just go with the civil rights movement, which was kind of turn the other cheek. And although I was motivated by love, I was really angry. And I went into the Black Panther Party because I thought it was worth dying for to make a difference.

And really, caring for the community was the biggest thing, of course, but it was also a very political move. It wasn’t just a social program. It wasn’t just survival programs. We were also trying to change the trajectory of where the movement was going and to save lives long term.

I think it was really an example of teaching future generations that you could stand up. You don’t have to lay down and die. It wasn’t definitely not my parents’ choice, but I was supported in that effort because I think that just everything was… And the universe at that time was crazy, unpredictable, and it gave us a chance to feel like we were back in control, that we could give a strong message that this was not OK, and we weren’t going to live like this.

And I think all of us expected to die in the Party. So that was a struggle too, because we survived and then had to figure out how to keep that love, that commitment going in the world that was still broken. And it was very challenging.

So I’d say probably for me, too, one of the most peaceful times in my life was when I joined the Black Panther Party because I was all in. I didn’t care about material things at that time. I was supposed to be going to college, but I didn’t care about that either at the time. I did circle back around eventually, once I realized I was going to survive and had to figure out my life. But every decision I made since then was full of that initial commitment and willingness to put it all on the line for what you believed in. And I think that’s the way we all survived. That’s the way we all stayed connected, family. It was family. We were all comrade sisters, comrade brothers, but we all still come from that very deep place of love for each other. And it’s almost like being in the military, when you hear the vets talking about that connection that they keep, because we really didn’t think we were going to live beyond the relationships we were in and fighting around.

So that was my entry.

Corey Antonio Hart: Thank you.

Madalynn Rucker: Just the lesson that there’s some things that are worth dying for, and there’s some things you put yourself all on the line for, and that’s, I think, the biggest love you can have.

Corey Antonio Rose: Ericka.

Ericka Huggins: Let’s let it rest right there.

Corey Antonio Rose: Yes, yes.

Ericka Huggins: Yeah. Do you have another question?

Corey Antonio Rose: Oh, sure. Well, for you, coming from DC and moving all the way over to Oakland to join the Party, we talked earlier about basically overcoming the fear that you had of the struggles or how are we going to get there, what is the money going to look like. I’m wondering if you can talk about being in that moment and having to make the decision of, yes, I’m going to go, I’m going to do that, and what advice you might have for anybody who may be struggling with that now.

Ericka Huggins: You mean when I made the decision to join the Black Panther Party and to stay?

Corey Antonio Rose: Yes.

Ericka Huggins: I really don’t have advice. I liked Carol… We called her Carol in the Party, so it’s hard. Madalynn. And it’s a good thing that I know your last name because I might not. In the Party, we just called each other by whatever little endearment came to us, and we addressed each other as comrade sister or comrade brother.

Madalynn Rucker: Sister love.

Ericka Huggins: Sister love. So I think that what motivated me to be there and then to stay goes back to body and soul. But that is that I knew that my purpose on the earth… I mean, I didn’t have it all planned out, the big purpose, but I knew that I was here to learn how to love, because I was raised in a community that was not loved. I was raised in a household where love was there, and also secondary, in a way.

Corey Antonio Rose: Secondary to…

Ericka Huggins: To paying the rent or the mortgage. I mean, I was a child. To working government jobs. In DC, you worked for the government. That’s why I wanted to leave when I graduated high school, not knowing yet that the Black Panther Party was in my destiny, but I didn’t want a government job. I didn’t want to be battling what my paycheck looked like, because in DC, you got to see brutality every day. I was raised around it in Southeast. Anybody here from Southeast? So you know what I mean. And from a little girl, I saw police beating people for no reason. They were walking down the street. And my sister and I would yell. We didn’t know that they could have turned their fear on us. We just knew it was wrong to let it happen.

So when you live in a place that’s under siege, you want to make a difference. And as Madalynn was saying, it was as if we were in the Black Panther Party, we were under siege. It was like we were in a war. We were not creating it, though. We really didn’t have the power. But what we were talking about is self-defense in the form of the community survival programs. It is self-defense to feed babies. And it is also not only kind, but it is self-defense to provide for the healthcare of people. And our way of thinking about it is if the government won’t do it, we will.

And I was thinking as both of you were talking about the school that we ran, body and soul, when I went back to school as well and got a degree in sociology, and I interviewed the students who were then in their 40s, who had been to the Oakland Community School. And one of the women, when I asked her, trying to follow the ridiculous interview format that’s handed out by the academy for a thesis… I don’t know how to lie, y’all. It’s so cold.

So I asked a simple question, though I believe in simple questions so that things can open up for people. And I asked this particular woman, who became an actress, by the way, Kellita Smith went to that school. Remember her, Bernie Mac Show? Yeah, she went to the Oakland Community School and learned how to use her voice there, and then it developed over time.

And so I asked her, “What was it like for you to be a student at that school?” She said, “That’s a crazy question. It changed my life. It made me who I am. It made me the woman I am today. It taught me how to love myself as a Black girl. It told me that anybody who told me different was not telling the truth. And it also allowed me to explore things that I never could have explored in another way.”

The school, by the way, was tuition-free, child-centered, three meals a day, parent-friendly, how about that? And we had a connection with Children’s Hospital. And we loved every child personally. We knew their full names, their parents’ names, their aunties’ and grandmothers’ names, if they were the ones caring for them. And we knew what they liked. And a hug was not a shameful thing. Tears were not shameful, whether they came from girls or boys.

My door was always open. I wasn’t really a principal. I was called a director, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to that. I moved with my intuition, body and soul.

So the way we loved the children was the way we had wanted to be loved when we came from Toledo, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Chicago; Harlem; Philly; Los Angeles; Sacramento. We all talked about it. How can we do this?

And so what made me stay actually was those children, every year. Do you know that, no you don’t, that parents would come to us begging to have their children in that school? Not because it was a school started by the Black Panther Party, but because of the way we loved them. They trusted us, and we trusted them. Parents are the first teachers for a child. And why we don’t trust them to enter our classrooms is an assertion of some kind of power and privilege. That wasn’t set up for the teachers today. Most things were not. The scaffolding of the country that we live in wasn’t set up by any of us, or the thinking that we have, or the communities that we live in. So we did something so radically different there.

We didn’t have a big way of having sports for them, but there was a basketball net, and we had martial arts, and we taught the children how to meditate, as I had learned to do when I was incarcerated. That’s why, because it worked. But it was only three minutes every day. But it made them feel really peaceful. That’s what they would tell me. “I feel really peaceful after those three minutes.”

We did whatever we could, with the meals, the home-cooked food, the way we kept the building clean. We did not have any such thing as detention, which is the precursor to that prison pipeline. We clogged it. And we also had the children communicate with incarcerated people by pen pals kind of, and to go inside. We visited the San Quentin Six often. I don’t know if you know who they were, but if you don’t, you can easily Google. I’m serious though. I mean, we don’t know a lot of things. And as students, always remember, it’s not your fault that you don’t know it. Things were written out of history.

So even though we were infamous as you said earlier, Judy, we were infamous then in the time of the Black Panther Party. Even though I was running the school, I was under surveillance. My phone was tapped. I was followed home. It wasn’t relenting because I was there with the children.

So I just want to say that that’s why I stayed, because I could see the impact on the future generations understanding that I came from a generation that didn’t have what we were offering. And it worked. The human being is not just a mind or just a body. We’re all made of spirit. And I’m not talking about religion right now. I’m talking about the human being, the whole being. But that’s what rings true for me. Thank you for asking that.

Corey Antonio Rose: Thank you for answering. So as you all have lovely mentioned, we are in an era now where the Black Panthers are lifted up. You go to the ball and there’s a category, Bring It Like A Black Panther. I’m wondering, from y’all’s perspectives, having been there back in the day and seeing the change that’s happening now, how does it feel to know that you are a part of that? And what do you think young people today are missing that y’all had that might push us forward?

Judy Juanita Hart: I have a grandson who’s 20, and I keep telling him to be very careful about the choices that he makes now, because whatever you do, it registers in your life, it imprints in your life very strongly. If a woman has a baby at 19, that’s a lifelong choice.

So I agree totally with Carol, Madalynn, that we thought the world was either going to change completely or it was going to end. Just like today with us having Putin’s threat of the nuclear, that’s it, we had the threat of the bomb over us then. So when we were involved in the Party, it was a life-or-death kind of thing.

And so I just want him to be aware of any choices that he makes now, they’re life-affirming or life-threatening. What we’re doing every day now counts. It’s not like we have any… You said that earlier today. Everything’s moving very fast. Well, that’s how it was when we were…

Ericka Huggins: That’s exactly right.

Judy Juanita Hart: … 20 and involved in the Party. And you got involved when you were 16, I think.

Madalynn Rucker: 18.

Judy Juanita Hart: 18, yeah. So it wasn’t a joke then. Even though I was young and I had an immature side to me that it was very exciting, it was a very fun because of the camaraderie, and there was always something to do every day… But when little Bobby was killed and Martin Luther King was killed, when these two figures were assassinated within a three-day period, all of a sudden it became very real, very serious. I realized I could lose my life through this.

So that’s all I try to emphasize, is that it was a very serious movement, and what everyone’s involved in now, and particularly, I just love looking out and seeing this beautiful array of youth, what you’re involved in now matters. I teach, and I always tell my students to put their hands right here, put your hands down really close to your crotch, to your generative organs, because everything that’s going on in our country now is determining what’s going to happen to your future. So we can’t leave anything for granted day-by-day.

Corey Antonio Rose: Thank you so much.

Madalynn Rucker: I remember when I first went home. My mother was living in LA and had some people over after I left the Party. I was very depressed when I left the Party. That was one of the hardest decisions that I had to make. And someone asked me how did I feel after spending so many years working on a failed revolution?

And I thought… I had no doubt there’s not… A revolution is something that’s going to continue to go. What I felt was I was very proud of the role that we played at that point in time. I think we set a bar for how to push back, how to respond at a world that wasn’t just giving you the floor. I think we had a role to play at that time, and that was our point in history to make that change, where we didn’t have to get on our knees, where we said we’re going to protect ourselves, we’re going to fight back, we have a right to fight back collectively in the community and not just die.

And at that point, we were dying. As Ericka said, the communities that we were living in were open battlegrounds. And at some point, and I think it was just our time because all the things that were going on, Panthers showed up at the right time and they made the contribution that we needed to make at that point in history.

And I think it has continued because we see it now, as you said, like an iconic thing. It makes me feel that we were successful in completing what we needed to do to give other people the strength to fight on. I don’t think it was a failure at all. I just think it was the beginning of a long-term struggle that’s going to continue. And you all definitely have your roles to play, too.

We talked about it earlier, that it’s a spirit, it’s a revolutionary spirit. It’s something that you take to whatever field, whatever your academic goals are, whether you’re in politics, whether you’re in medicine, whether you’re going to corporation or communications. Take the revolutionary spirit with you and do your best to learn how to bring that into the systems that we’re all working in that are totally broken. And I think that’s the only way we collectively can create revolution.

And it doesn’t have to be a do or die. It means you can die, but many of us need to use our intellect, use your careers, use your passions, teach your children to not be afraid to fight for themselves, I think, and that we are entitled to good healthcare, good schools, good services. Fight for it.

Corey Antonio Rose: Oh, my gosh. When y’all got the book, what was your first reaction?

Ericka Huggins: I thought about every woman… First I held it in my hands because we’d been looking at the manuscript of it for quite a while.

I want to do a shout-out. Where is Angela? Angela Ernest, could you stand, Angela? You can’t because you’re recording. She’s documenting. Throughout the whole process, she’s been documenting everything. That’s how her beautiful mind works.

But she supported Steve with some of the photographs, where his photography archives live. She supported each of the women who we had conversations with, remember, so that we would have a flow of information for the chosen 50 experiences, lived experiences in their own voice, primarily unedited, except to make it fit on a page. And Angela was the backbone of this. And I wanted you to give her her propers.

Now before that, what was I saying?

Corey Antonio Rose: You’re getting the book, you thought about all the women.

Ericka Huggins: And I held it in my hands, and I thought, “It’s real. We did it.” Because it moved really fast. It wasn’t a book that took years and years and years. It took one year. That’s fast. But it was time, and it was timely, as we love to say these days. And then I thought about every woman in it. I didn’t look inside. I couldn’t look at it at first. I don’t know why, but I just wanted my heart to go over the people in there, especially the women who have passed on, whose sons and daughters speak for them inside this beautiful book, like Joan Kelly, and Jody Weaver, and…

Madalynn Rucker: Marsha Taylor.

Ericka Huggins: … Marsha Taylor, who joined when she was 14, with her parents’ permission, I think. And I was going to say earlier, I’ll say it again, we were infamous when we lived the experiences that are in the book. And now we’re famous. And the other thought I had was, this is the first time… Asali, can you stand back there? (Applause)

This is the first book, Asali, an incredible artist, incredible, first time her art is in a book is this one. And she did the back… How many of you know the Black Panther Party newspaper, have seen an old copy or something? Oh, great. Well, she did many back covers for the Black Panther Party newspaper, but we didn’t get to know her. Do you understand what I mean? Now you do.

So I was thinking all these things, but sort of with what I call witness consciousness, like I had almost had nothing to do with it, that it was supposed to happen and I was a part of this beautiful process, and it was done. So I thought about the old saying, give them their roses while they’re alive. And then the women started writing. Wow, I didn’t know the book was going to be like this. Because they were giving them the book too, as a gesture for what they had offered to it. So we have email after email of the women and their amazement, how touched they were. A lot of women said that it brought them to tears. The stories do, whether you contributed to the book or not. And they make you laugh too.

So there’s so much. I’ll stop right there. So much.

Corey Antonio Rose: Thank you. If y’all don’t have anything to add, I think we’ll open it up to a little Q and A. I’m going to go over here.

Williamena Kwapo: They’re right here, Corey.

Corey Antonio Rose: Oh, perfect.

Williamena Kwapo: OK, it’s time for Q and A. The audience, all of you wonderful people, get to ask the amazing folks up here a couple of questions. So raise your hand if you have a question, and we will bring you a mic.

Ericka Huggins: And a question has a question mark at the end.

Williamena Kwapo: A question has… Absolutely, Ericka. A question has a question mark at the end. Thank you for reminding the class. OK, I did see one hand go up just now. Can you raise your hand again? If you have a mic, go ahead.

Audience 1: Hi. Sorry, I got really emotional hearing y’all speak. I am working to get my teaching credentials, and hearing y’all as teachers was really, really amazing. My struggle is that I work in Oakland Schools, and it’s hard. I admire y’all so much. And I guess my question is sometimes, how can you show so much love when sometimes you see that these kids aren’t receiving the love that they need? And I feel like I try to give them as much as I can, but sometimes they need love from other places, as well. And I’m asking advice as teachers, how can you do that for so long?

I’m asking more like, how do you empower students when you feel like you’ve given them all the love that you can? How can you push them to feel more love?

Madalynn Rucker: I’m not a teacher.

Judy Juanita Hart: So what happened at Laney at one point… And I was part-timer for that 29 years, and went up for full-time positions nine times and never made it. It was the best thing for me. It really tested me. But one of the chairs at one point said, “Judy, I’m going to give you Developmental Writing. And it should be easy, and it will allow you plenty of time to work on your own writing because these students are in such chaos at home that they can’t do homework. So just do everything in the class.” It was a six-unit class. So it was allowing me to make my money, but I got very, very mad at her for saying their situation is so chaotic that they can’t do homework. And so I went in determined to, quote, “treat them like I would treat any other class.”

However, right away, these students would come to class with statements like, “My cousin was murdered last night, and I was at the police station all night,” or “I went to the funeral home because my father got shot and he was there.” I mean, it was, you said, relenting. It was unrelenting.

So I had to come to school, then, prepared. I had to fill my toolbox with many different kinds of exercises because for six hours a week then, I had them. That was it. And my chair was right. There was too much chaos in their home environment for most of them to focus at home. But my place, that place that they came to, could be a haven. Yeah. There we go. So that’s what it was. I made it a haven.

And sometimes, I had to stay up all night thinking of what to do, and look in books, and pull out what I could. What I learned at Laney was to go into each class with a huge toolbox. I had it ready because I never knew what I’d have to pull out to help people. And then I think whatever field we’re in, we found that out. Once you get some, you get them to help the others. And I always call those students who I get up, I call them my stallions, and they lead the other ones. So it’s quite a little process.

And at the end of the school semester… One thing, you have to stay in contact with other teachers, because only teachers know what the joy of helping people learn in a classroom that’s fraught with problems and surrounded by maybe an indifferent administration, but teachers know what’s going on. I always say, there’s three professions you should only go in if you have a calling, and one is teaching, and one is the medical field, and one is pastoring. I don’t know.

But when you finish that semester, that year, you can tell with your body if you’ve done it. We’re talking body and soul. You can tell if you’ve done it because you basically collapse. My mother would say, you wait to have a nervous breakdown until you turn in those grades. Because you’ve put your body, your heart, your soul into it. So I think when you do that, you know, and you get results. And I see it all the time when I’m in Costco or any store around here, some student is always saying, “Miss Juanita, I was in your class 15 years ago.” And I’m like, “Oh, really?”

Williamena Kwapo: Thank you. OK, we have another question. Go ahead.

Audience 2: Hi, good evening. Thank you all for speaking this evening. My name is Renayah. I’m a grad student in the policy school here. And my question is, I’d love to hear from you all what your current impression is of this new generation of organizers, and if you have any advice for this young new generation of organizers. Thank you.

Speaker on stage: Excellent question.

Madalynn Rucker: Well, personally, I’m inspired. I think the challenges of the last few years, it’s kind of elevated the issues. I think people have risen to the occasions, the response from everything from the pandemic to the racial reckoning. And it’s been a lot of organizing going on, and I think definitely a lot more enlightenment about taking responsibility moving forward.

So I think the struggle is about young people. I mean, we’re here to share our knowledge, to walk with young folks that are trying to find their way to continue the revolution or continue to make the world a better place. But I think there’s a lot going on right now. I think there’s people in a lot higher places than there were when we were in the Black Panther Party that have political consciousness. I think there’s definitely more leadership that has political consciousness than the times when we were there.

And education, I think a lot of us weren’t educated when we were in the Party. We had not found ourselves. I can’t even imagine what it’d looked like if we had been educated, and really were using each other’s skills in a really particular, targeted way. We were mostly, most of us, 18, 19 years old. And we knew that we had the grit, we knew we had the passion, we knew we were smart, we definitely were caring. But we didn’t really know where our place was yet, what our gifts and talents are. We had not had that part of our lives, that experience yet.

So I think it’s just really important that we pour as much as we can into the younger generations, that you continue to study. And I mentioned in the other room just briefly, a lot of the challenges that we had in the Black Panther Party, were things that we were not prepared for.

The COINTELPRO has been mentioned, cybersecurity is an issue now. The world is very different. We did not have social media. I know we’ve met with Black Lives Matter at one of the Black Panther Party reunions, and little things, like they were asking similar questions, but I’m like, it’s probably good that you’re not as centralized as we were because when they came after us, we were together, we got bombed, we got killed, we got jailed en masse.

But they’re much more decentralized in the movements now, using technology very wisely, which we were not prepared for. As Ericka mentioned, our phones were tapped. COINTELPRO had us in-fighting among each other because we were losing trust among each other, but it was intentional. Definitely mental health, substance use issues became big problems too.

And again, we were very young, very vulnerable, and totally exposed because we were out there every day in the community and didn’t have the real tools that we needed. We didn’t even have the maturity, but we did what we could with what we had to work with.

I’m encouraged because I think there’s revolutionaries in this room that are getting educated, that are learning from the experiences we had. And I think we need to infiltrate, as I said, every field, every leadership position from education to science to communications. We need to know how to handle the systems that we’re trying to change in a way that we can stay safe and continue to grow and thrive. So I’m encouraged. I think this next generation is doing good. (Applause)

Williamena Kwapo: Thank you so much. And I’m glad you think we’re using social media wisely. I appreciate that. We’ll take two more questions.

Ericka Huggins: The woman right in the center with the blue mask on had her hand up for quite a while.

Corey Antonio Rose: Oh, where you at, sis?

Williamena Kwapo: Corey is going to bring the mic.

Corey Antonio Rose: Sorry. Excuse me.

Audience 3: Thank you for that. So my question is, I know at the same time in the ’60s there was the Chicano movement and the Young Lords movement and Asian American movements. And at least in the way that I’ve learned, I know that those movements were inspired by the Black Panther Party, but there wasn’t necessarily tight solidarity. So I’m wondering what your experiences were with interacting with those movements, and how now we can build more cross racial solidarity to create more revolution and social movements and organizing. Thank you.

Ericka Huggins: Well, actually, thank you for that question. And we talk about it a lot. We formed coalitions with everybody. One reason we did speaks to what Madalynn was talking about, that we were less vulnerable in coalition. So it was the Young Lords P arty, [inaudible], the Yellow Peril, the Brown Berets. And yes, they did pattern themselves, but they were their own organization, and we worked with them. And I don’t know what you mean by tight solidarity, but I remember working not only that, with organizations that weren’t calling themselves activists in that same kind of way.

I remember when Cesar Chavez came to the Oakland Community School to see it. I mean, I was so touched by his visit and the visit of many others.

So that’s how the Black Panther Party got the nickname the Vanguard of the Revolution, because we wanted to work with everyone. And we also worked with poor white people, with Fred’s Rainbow Coalition. And that was brown and Black and poor white people, starting in Chicago, but spreading.

And so I think you can just do it. You can call someone representing some organization and say, “Will you work with us on this?” I did that at Oakland Community School when we got the heinous statistics about infant mortality and maternal morbidity in Oakland, comparing it to two or three countries in Africa that lived in the most dire conditions, the people lived in the most dire conditions of poverty. Oakland. And I didn’t know who to ring up, but I thought of the Third World Women’s Alliance. It doesn’t exist in that form. And right away, the coalition was formed, I mean like the next day.

So it’s all about intending to connect. And we had a few landlines, but other than that, we had payphones. So look what you have that you can use, and you can do it. It’s very important that we align and not be in silos, because there’s where the vulnerability is. But it may mean that each organization has to have some conversation about what understanding or lack of understanding might be there about what it means for Black and brown people to talk, for Asian American, Pacific Island, and Indigenous people to talk. Do you see… no formula, but I’m just saying there may be things there that need to be discussed. And I can remember discussing some of those things in the Black Panther Party.

Madalynn Rucker: Sorry, go ahead.

Ericka Huggins: It’s all right.

Madalynn Rucker: I was thinking about, well, Huey P. Newton coined the term intercommunalism.

Ericka Huggins: That’s right.

Madalynn Rucker: And it wasn’t even just… It was looking globally at oppression and political systems. And so that built around our coalitions here in America, but we’re really starting to look at that, I mean, the whole thing behind is that there’s these country borders that we’re creating space for war and divisions, and that we should not be looking at countries and nationalities as opposing and based on some arbitrary border, that intercommunalism is that we all are sharing the same globe and that we have to work together, because you’re not going to liberate one little part of the United States. And definitely, as we’re seeing over the years and especially now with all the wars going on, what happens in one place affects everyone, the economies, everything.

I think it is basically a construct because we were called the Black Panther Party, that there were some assumption that we weren’t embracing other struggles of other people. And that absolutely was not the case because the coalitions were strong, but we also worked in our individual communities because we could do that best. But we supported movements around the world.

Stephen Shames: And I just wanted to add something because when Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland, he had a plan to revitalize Oakland by having a whole, between the airport and downtown, just having like a cultural center, restaurants and all these different groups and small businesses.

So the point I’m trying to make is you have the people you have a coalition with, but also sometimes on the left, we see other people as they’re not with us. And one of the things that Bobby was really good at is he talked to the labor union. The construction unions weren’t really hiring Black people, but he said, “If I’m mayor, we’re going to build all these things, and there’ll be a lot of jobs. But of course you’d have to open your unions up.”

He also talked to Kaiser Aluminum, not thinking they were going to be an ally, but maybe neutralizing them in the sense that they were going to sell a lot of aluminum.

And so the point I’m making is that sometimes in the left, we kind of exclude people who aren’t 100% politically correct with us. And one thing we have to learn to do is make coalitions with people who are right with us, but also try and bring some of those other people in. Maybe they won’t agree with everything, but maybe you can find that one thing. Maybe you can find that one thing that they can join you on.

And so I think that’s something the Panthers understood, and that’s something that the Panthers did that we maybe need to do a little more of that today, if that makes sense.

Judy Juanita Hart: Also, I’d just like to add that many of us who left San Francisco State to join the Party came back to San Francisco State, reenrolled, and then the person who was the minister of education, George Murray, was fired from his job at San Francisco State. So we started, instituted what was going to be a one-day strike, and it blossomed into a four and a half month strike. From that, the Department of Black Studies, the Black Studies program, and then the Ethnic Studies department grew.

But to answer your question, it wasn’t just the Black student union who did that, it was the third world liberation front. So we allied with many, many different people. And that’s why we were able to start a domino effect throughout the country, with Cornell and many other universities then making the same demands, going through the same process, and changing basically, within a year or two, the face of American higher education. And it’s why many of you are here today, being able to major in this wonderful array of things.

So it has happened. All of the history is not written yet. Much of it is still in pamphlets and people’s notebooks. We’re trying to get it out. What Erica and Steven did with this book, and Angela, because I worked with Angela too, was incredible. Just not even… like the speed with which you did it. I was like, what happened? This girlfriend put this stuff together.

But please go back, because you may be the ones who are going to help put this history together, so people can understand that there have been coalitions, there have been uniting. And sometimes, yes, it has a temporary unity, but it has a permanent effect. At this point, it’s been permanent for us to have departments of ethnic studies and Asian American studies and so forth. That’s an incredible result of, really, the Black Panther Party. Because we were trained in the Black Panther Party. We went back to our universities not as bourgeois students looking forward to making a lot of money. We didn’t go back. We went back armed with political consciousness and a devotion to our communities.

Williamena Kwapo: You have the last question.

Audience 4: Hi. I’m an undergraduate student who does political lobby work relating to the incarceration of Black and brown bodies. I often confront these deep brewing emotions of indignation, anger, frustration when trying to chip away at the institutions that endlessly denigrate my community, my family and my peers. How do you handle or channel those emotions when confronting the politician or confronting systems of oppression? Thank you.

Madalynn Rucker: I think that it… Go ahead.

Ericka Huggins: I just want to clarify. Do you mean how do you take care of yourself?

Audience 4: Yes.

Ericka Huggins: It’s a beautiful question. Go on, Madalynn.

Madalynn Rucker: No, I was pretty much going to agree, but I think having been in the Party, dealing with these current issues, I do political advocacy work now, but how I take care of myself is to stay at it, to keep true to who I am, and educate other people, and come up with concrete strategies that you can share to work your way through it, or else you’ll burn out. You have to be true to yourself first, take care, but come up with strategies, work with other people that maybe have a piece of the puzzle that you don’t have until you get some wins, because that’s how you stay motivated. I know we did in the Party. I mean, we would celebrate when good things would happen or we got out of a tough jam alive. The work every day is what fed us, so getting up and doing the work every day, knowing it’s hard, but pulling it off.

Williamena Kwapo: Excellent. Unless any of you have any last words to add… All right. Well, time was well spent here. Did you guys enjoy that?

(Applause, standing ovation)

[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions ]

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