Got a chance to do some independent reading over the Holidays. With all that is going on in the world concerning young Black men and communities of color, I was moved to pick up Bobby Seale's Seize the Time to understand the rise of the Black Panther Party and why we don't have more organizations like it today in the face of increased predation in predominantly Black communities. My Top Five takeaways:
1. The Panthers were deeply dedicated to the community
Bobby Seale and Huey Newton came up advocating for and the poorest members of their community. They had a firm understanding of the needs and frustrations of the people of Oakland and they developed the Party to directly address those needs. Early in the book, Seale tells the story of how hard he and Huey Newton fought to get a traffic light installed in the community and how important that was. They were equally committed to resisting an increasingly militarized police for which was unjustly targeting Black residents of Oakland (that sounds familiar). There are lessons here for today's Black leaders who often rise from more affluent backgrounds and struggle to connect with poorer members of the community.
2. The Panthers advocated an Anti-Racist philosophy
The imagery of the Panthers is all about the Black leather jackets, the berets and the guns. What is lost in that is the message that the Panthers were pushing for the eradication of racism in all forms. Throughout Seize the Power, Seale denounces Black Cultural Nationalists who espoused an
anti-white agenda. The Panthers put actions to these words by forming coalitions with predominantly White groups who shared similar goals.
3. Members were not only educated, but were held accountable
Newton and Seale were so adamant that members adhere to the principles of the Party that they were willing to kick people out when their actions ran counter to the beliefs of the organization. It was not simply about how many people they could boast about on their member rolls, but who was willing to commit to the work of fighting inequality.
4. The Panthers sought to sustain themselves without strings attached
Speaking engagements and the sale of the Panther newspaper were the main revenue streams for the Panthers and many of the leaders broke their backs to do this revolutionary work without getting paid. They did not seek to be in bed with corporate entities who might try to dilute their message or divert them from their mission.
5. The Panthers actively sought to broker coalitions that would serve their mission
The Panthers knew that to maximize the spread of their mission they would need to work with like-minded organizations. This shows a willingness to put egos aside for the greater good. It also shows how much the actual work of improving the plight of the poor and disenfranchised meant to Seale and Newton.