By Cecily Burt
The Black Panther Party's most captivating and charismatic leader has
been dead for 20 years, and the once-notorious black power group
splintered apart years earlier. But those who gathered Thursday at
the Oakland Library were transported back in time as women of the
Black Panther Party rekindled memories and showed that the
social-justice programs created four decades earlier still are very much alive.
Thursday's program was offered as part of Black Panther History
Month. Numerous photos, books, buttons and poster art provided by
historian Billy X Jennings served as the backdrop.
Although the women of the Black Panther Party were often overshadowed
by Huey Newton and co-founder Bobby Seale, they provided the backbone
for the group's most important work, and they developed and sustained
the group's social justice causes such as free breakfast programs for
children and community schools.
The Rev. M. Gayle "Asali" Dickson recalled the feeling of community
within the party and how it gave its members the courage and power to
stand up for justice and equal rights messages that resonated with
black people and others around the world. She said those goals are
still alive today in her work as educator, senior housing
administrator and artist.
Dickson worked alongside Emory Douglas, the party's cultural
minister, to create the bold images for the Black Panther newspaper.
The images illustrated the biting, social commentary on the plight of
poor, black communities of the time: police brutality, hunger and
lack of affordable medical care.
"We felt that if you couldn't read, you'd still get it through the
images," she said.
Majeedah Rahman joined the Black Panther Party in 1969. The Contra
Costa College professor laughed Thursday when she recalled how her
small stature at the time belied her strength and resolve to some in
the party who thought she should go back home.
Instead she became a leader and developed the educational curriculum
for the Black Panther Liberation Schools, later renamed the Oakland
Community School. Her work in the community didn't stop with the
Panthers. In 1988 Rahman founded the Healthy Babies Project in the
Acorn Housing project in West Oakland, going door to door with other
volunteers to educate pregnant women about the importance of prenatal care.
She reflected on the surge of violence in the black community and
urged audience members to help young people find their way.
"Children were looking to us for help and guidance and we let them
down, but it's not too late," Rahman said. "We need to get those
messages to our children."
The West Oakland Library is hosting an Underground Newspaper Exhibit
this month, and on Oct. 23 and 24, Laney College will host a Black
Panther Party Book Fair and Teach In. For more information about
Black Panther History Month events, go to www.itsabouttimebpp.com.
Reach Cecily Burt at 510-208-6441