For me the most important part of the Black Panthers’ legacy is a belief that one can effect change even when things seem hopeless.
Huey Newton and Bobby Seale cofounded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966. The party’s Ten Point Platform and Program included demands for freedom, employment, restitution for slavery, decent housing, education, fair trials, and an end to police brutality against black people.
The Black Panthers set themselves apart from other civil rights organizations of the time with their firm belief in their right to defend themselves from racist attacks “by any means necessary,” a position adopted from Malcolm X. Acting legally, they carried loaded guns in public, patrolling police to ensure they treated people of color justly. Those firearms, as well as black berets and leather jackets, visually united the party.
Although notorious for its guns and violent altercations with the police, by the early 1970s, the BPP focused heavily on “survival programs,” providing needs left unfulfilled by the government. Grassroots initiatives included free breakfasts for children, free health clinics, free clothing programs, political education classes, and disease prevention education.
From the exhibition: Give a damn. (June 30 – September 30, 2018)
One thing in my life that has remained consistent is my inability to do math. When faced with numbers, my brain grows eyebrows of her own that furrow in frustration.
My willingness to grasp these concepts leaps out of the window with no intent of returning. I am defeated by math and haven’t even bothered putting up a fight. Instead, I find comfort in my nook of the English Language.
In Elementary School, my teacher pulled out a CD from behind her desk and promised us that we would never forget the contents of it. The video was a compilation of songs sung by Black girls and boys who looked just like us. Except they were experts at math.
These little mathematicians sang us our timetables in Black musical genres ranging from Reggae to R&B. Not only teaching us to multiply up to 12 x 12, they provided positive representation for the children who so desperately needed it. I never forgot that CD.
In High School I began to understand the impending doom of life after childhood. Navigating these already vulnerable years with a ticking clock behind my eyes forced me into a search for security. So I clung onto Coding.
I was drowning in a sea of self discovery and existential dread and on top of that, I needed to figure out what I intended to do with my life. I stuck my nose into coding because of the rumored financial security that computer science would offer. I hated it.
I wish I remembered my first experiences with existentialism. I wonder if the girl in this photo knew that she was participating in something revolutionary. Who did she grow up to be? Has she ever considered that this photo of her younger self completing an addition equation would end up gracing my eyes?
I was drawn to her beret which matched the one worn by the man in the poster on the wall. Reminded of the Black Panther party, I learned that this girl was a student at a Youth Institute founded under their organization. With their efforts, lives for Black children were changed inside and outside of their schools.
This organization envisioned a future for education in which our youth would receive utmost support. In a world with properly funded education for children of color, I would be good at math.