In the Spirit of Elaine Brown

Revolutionary, a title too often used as a self-proclamation, yet not carried out enough through action.

Only two chapters in, Elaine Brown’s lyrical, captivating, intelligent 450 page auto-biography, A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story, and it was evidently clear why the black community is in such a detrimental state.

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines revolution as such:

a) a sudden, radical, or complete change b) a fundamental change in political organization; especially the overthrow or renunciation of one government or ruler and the substitution of another by the governed c) activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation d) a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something : a change of paradigm e) a changeover in use or preference especially in technology

The same dictionary defines revolutionary as:

a) of, relating to, or constituting revolution b) tending to or promoting revolution c) constituting or bringing about a major or fundamental change

The following are a few of histoty’s well-known revolutionaries: Mao Tse-tung, Gandhi, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Emma Goldman, Emiliano Zapata, Angela Davis, and the list goes on. In comparison many of them had vastly contrasting ideologies, nonetheless all are revolutionaries in their own right.

Elaine Brown was indeed a true revolutionary apart of the most militant organization in America.

Although heavily criticized for its violent reputation, espousing of socialist doctrines and provocative ideas of change, one could never rightfully criticize the Black Panther Party for lack of vision. In 1966 when Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Party in Oakland, CA, they established a lucid agenda of what they wanted for the oppressed black community, how to organize, how they would implement their programs and how they would achieve the goals in which they had set forth.

In two short years the party had reached nearly 5,000 members and had burgeoned throughout the United States in various cities like New Orleans, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Harlem, Washington D.C. and others. Its official newspaper, The Black Panther had an approximate circulation of 250,000, and the Ten Point Program was the organizations canon, which kept the organization focused on its goals.  BP party was known throughout the community for its many programs, Free Breakfast for Children Program was the most successful of the programs, the founding of a youth institute, free clothing distribution, free testing for sickle-cell and a host of others. Even with its own agenda against the American capitalist system, the Panthers were for the people. Hence, its many community efforts.

Huey’s exile to Cuba in 1974, presented Elaine Browne, a woman, the opportunity to lead the party upon Huey’s request. It comes as no surprise a male-dominated party would take issue with a woman reigning as commander-in-chief.

“It’s possible some of you may balk at a woman as the leader of the Black Panther Party. If this is your attitude, you’d better get out of the Black Panther Party. Now.”  (A Taste of Power, 4)

So in reflection of her story so heavily tied to the Party, I thought about the state of black folks in 2010. And it ain’t pretty.

Here we are living in historical times with the first African-American president. For once the world is exposed to an uber accomplished, poised, intelligent, strong black family. Michelle Obama’s presence in the media showed the world what a strong black woman looked like with the credentials to back it up. Prior to the Obama phenomenon many white Americans seemed to be oblivious that we (strong, degreed, accomplished, beautiful, articulate) black women even existed.

Yet in the midst of our celebration for Obama and what he represents he is under attack. Although his attackers wrap their hatred under the blanket disguise of opposition to his policies, most of us know the ugly truth. Some whites just can’t deal with the fact that an African-American, former Negro, colored man, descendant of a slave, “nigger” to many, holds the highest position of the land. Talk about karma.

But more important than the numerous defamatory assaults on our President, black and brown people in America are under attack too. I can’t help but wonder how much more has to occur before we realize we need a revolution.

When will we say enough is enough? It wasn’t enough that the teabaggers Tea Party yelled “nigger” to U.S. Representative John Lewis. It isn’t enough the Tea Party movement proudly displays their racism using epithets on signage  in protests.  Or it wasn’t enough Pat Robertson declared the earthquake in Haiti was its punishment for making a “pact with the devil.” It still wasn’t enough that Arizona passed the SB 1070 immigration law- the gateway to racial profiling. We have yet to get riled up about another erroneous law passed by Jan Brewer, governor of Arizona, banning ethnic studies classes.  Well maybe the Detoit police killing 7-year-old Aiyana Jones will spark some anger.

I’m curious to know what will.

These are only few of the national events that have happened in 2010 and it’s only May. While Congress passes unjust laws that violate civil rights, we’re (myself included) standing around doing nothing.

Mobilization, revolutionaries, a clear agenda, black leaders, those willing to follow, a movement, it is all needed now more than ever. Those resilient spirits possessed by our ancestors of slavery, the Jim Crow era, the Civil Rights Movement, the black nationalists and the Panther Party, seems to be lost.

Our community is more concerned with pop culture, hip-hop, True Religion jeans, reality TV and Louis Vuitton bags. Don’t believe me just look around. We’re not getting married, we’re raising boys who become a part of a vicious criminal justice system, black women are the largest demographic of those infected with HIV, poverty is abundant, and on, and on, and on.

Don’t get me wrong, there are major errors in this white Supremacist system that has and still contributes to the deploring conditions of blacks in America. But we can’t keep crying about how the “white man is holding us down,” when we won’t even organize, put our differences to the side and make a stand.

Whether you agree or not with the Black Panther Party’s agenda, it is undeniable the presence of their movement was felt both in America and internationally.

In the spirit of Elaine Brown, I’m calling all revolutionaries to stand up. It’s time for a revolution; or at least a movement that resembles one.

  • owlasylum

    I am glad you have written about Elaine Brown, not many have ventured to mention a name that should be touted among the greats. Thank you.

  • This was an insightful, beautiful post. So many people have no real concept of who the Panthers were, or what Elaine Brown’s contributions were. I have the highest respect and admiration for everything that Panthers stood for. That being said, I also have some major issues. The fact that their movement was partially derailed by sexism is truly tragic.

    In my mind, it is not enough for “true revolutionaries to stand up”. We need to do a better job of walking our talk, of representing the ideals for which we say we fight/strive/live for (freedom, equality, justice, etc). One cannot truly stand up without knowing oneself. Just as important as knowing oneself is knowing the history of the community. To all the folks that want to get into REAL organizing, take it from one who knows (yes, I do have a few stripes & scars). Transparency & accountability are just as important as “the struggle”.

    There is a lot of work to be done, but we cannot effectively create movement if we do not check our own prejudices and internalized oppression. Too many sisters in the Panthers & the Young Lords suffered due to patriarchy. Many sisters that I organized with during the last decade sadly left many social justice organizations for the same reason. Very much like psychologists & social workers, we can not effectively help the community if we do not do our own internal work. Just because an organization strives for social justice does not mean that its members are not without their faults. We’re all human beings.

    The social justice movement can benefit most not only from an increase of rank & file, a mass awakening of communities to rise up and get involved, but from an honest look in the mirror. True revolution, like salvation, enlightenment, and most worthwhile things, starts within.


    Timothy Prolific Jones
    Writer / Activist

    • WrittenbyBene

      Thank you for your thought provoking comment. 🙂

      I have to preface this by saying I’m no expert in the Black Panther Party movement. I think I have a general understanding of their motifs, its leaders and their ideologies. But not as well read on their movement as you and others may be.

      You write: “I also have some major issues.The fact that their movement was partially derailed by sexism is truly tragic.” Indeed sexism is problematic; and BP was firmly rooted in its ugliness. So the concern or critique is justifiable. However, can you name me any movement of that time period, French, black, white, whatever, that did not function in sexism? Even our religious SCLC co-founded by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was sexist. So we can’t discredit the achievements or philosophies of the organizations based on this. Hell, the black church is one of the most sexist organized bodies in America. But people aren’t going to say women shouldn’t go to church or denounce the black church because of it.

      I think the synopsis of the rest of your point is in bettering self through enlightenment, self accountability and self reflection. Basically practice the ideas for what you belief in. I understand and agree in all that. I think that is important. But I just don’t think it supersedes uniting to attack the system that we are oppressed under. I do think we must know ourselves and history before we even think about organizing any type of movement. This I find to be critical and one of the sad reasons our community is suffering-the lack of knowledge of self & history. But I don’t think we have the time to wait for people to “start within” and come to this awakening before they start moving toward action. I’d rather people do that while in the process of a movement or revolution.

      Certainly revolutionaries have flaws: Martin was an adulteress, Malcolm(prior to the NOI) was a petty criminal, Newton abused drung. Nonetheless, this didn’t prohibit them from being true revolutionaries. I just don’t see how an honest “look in the mirror” can advance the social movement. As long as we are waiting for people to do this, our people and communities steadily diminish. My point being I just want people to do something, get involved and act.

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  • Marisella Cozier

    Your awesome. i just love your articles are very enlightening. Many people are not aware of Elaine Brown contributions to The Black Panther Party movement.