By Kamika Dunlap
OAKLAND At 102, Ruth Villa Jones is still committed to the work of
the Black Panther Party.
She is considered the "grandmother" of many of the party's programs
and was honored Saturday at the Oakland Community School Reunion and Picnic.
The East Oakland school was founded by the Panthers more than 30
years ago, and Jones was there at the beginning. She helped with
everything from the party's free breakfast program to passing out
shoes to poor children.
"It's so wonderful that she always thinks of others first and herself
last,'' said Betty Reuben, who was a parent volunteer at the school.
About 50 former students, staff members and parents gathered for the
event at Dimond Park. They greeted each other, and Jones, the oldest
living former Panther member, with hugs and smiles. The reunion was
the first official gathering since the school closed at the end of 1981.
The school grew out of a need to help African-American and other
disadvantaged children caught in an unequal public education system
that tended to have better schools in middle-class and affluent
neighborhoods than in poor inner-city areas. It began in 1974 with
about 90 children and was located at 6118 E. 14th St.
Poets, artists and activists, including Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou,
Cesar Chavez, James Baldwin and Richard Pryor were guest teachers and
lecturers at the school.
Party members say Jones was a "real comrade" and had a strong sense
She was recruited by Panthers co-founders Huey Newton and Bobby Seale
to help with the school and other party work. Jones founded the
party's Seniors Against A Fearful Environment (SAFE) program.
"She was always there at critical times and on the picket lines for
the party,'' said Melvin Dickson, a former party member. He said he
remembers how Jones supported Newton when he returned to the U.S.
from Cuba by attending his court hearings. She was also present to
protect the party against negative attacks from the media.
Today, Jones is still on the move and uses a walker to get around.
Last week, she celebrated her birthday and was recognized by the Rev.
Cecil Williams of Glide Memorial Church for her long-standing work in
At the reunion, Jones said she was glad to connect with her friends
from the school.
"I'm happy I'm able to see what the party has done,'' she said. "We
did the work, and many seeds were planted.''
Contact Kamika Dunlap at 510-208-6448 or email@example.com.