'Women's Liberation' In Support Of Black Panthers
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A Look Back At Black Panther Women Amid The Party's 50th Anniversary

Panther women were revolutionary doers and teachers. 

The Black Panther Party (BPP) turned 50 this year and it seemed that everywhere you looked there was a celebration, event, exhibit or new book. Founded in Oakland, California, in October 1966, the BPP formally existed for 16 years. The BPP’s founding document, "The 10 Point Platform and Program," highlighted poor employment, education, housing, health care, rampant police violence and harassment, the desire to fix an unfair legal and military system and a general call for freedom, self-determination and peace. These were a few of the injustices that combined to make people see the Panthers as an answer to a society that after years of civil rights activism in the 1950s and 1960s, seemed to have so much further to go.

The people who flooded into the BPP came from local community colleges, high schools, and the streets. Most members did not join for the same reasons; some joined to take a stand against police brutality, segregation and inferior conditions, others joined because they wanted to make an impact on their local communities while many were merely attracted to their ideology and bold style.

The Party was an organization of young men and women from all walks of life; there is no one image that captures them all. Yet, the majority of the images accompanying the 50th anniversary celebration have been decidedly male.

However, the story of Black Panther women should not be forgotten. Women who joined the BPP were as young as 16 and as old as mid-30s. Their education ranged from high school to college. Women remain hidden because there is a historical, sexist backlash against focusing on women in black political movements. The feeling is, if we focus on women in the movement, we detract from the serious problems confronting black men in America. This is not the case at all. BPP women made great contributions to the organization and endured the same repression and oppressive tactics as the men did. Focusing on women’s experiences allow us to see a more complete picture of what it meant to be a Panther.

Panther women were revolutionary doers and teachers, editing, writing and creating art for the BPP newspaper, teaching art in the classroom, designing fliers and banners for events and singing in the BPP’s Son of Man Temple choir. Panther women were also poets, spoken word artists, and singers, all while fighting alongside Panther men.

Who are these women who gave their all, including their artistic talents, to make a difference in their communities? How did their gifts and talents build the community and their organization? How does their art change the way we understand what the organization was about, how they fought and the society they envisioned?

READ:: Introduction To The #Blackpanthersyllabus

Meet JOAN “TARIKA” LEWIS, aka Matilaba (Oakland, CA).
Joan “Tarika” Lewis was the first young woman to join the BPP at 16-years old, already an accomplished musician and Black Student Union member at Oakland Tech High School. Regarding her decision to join the Panthers, she explains, “I put down my violin and picked up a gun.” She was the first woman to serve as graphic artist for the BPP’s newspaper, creating images to highlight social ills and reflect the Black community practicing armed self-defense.

READ:: Herstories: Writing Black Panther Women’s History

Meet ERICKA HUGGINS (Los Angeles, CA; New Haven, CT; Oakland, CA).
Panther Ericka Huggins was a dedicated BPP soldier for 12 years. She was a poet, writer, organizer, Party newspaper editor and the Director of the BPP’s Oakland Community School. She was imprisoned for two years for a crime she did not commit due to the FBI’s Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) created specifically to destroy political organizations. Huggins’ poetry included references to resistance and freedom as well as expressions of solidarity. She wrote poetry honoring special occasions in fellow Party members’ lives and even homages to fallen Panthers. In her poem, “Fire and Rain,” (1972) Huggins expresses the ways in which we can internalize our own oppression and the power we have within ourselves to free our communities from mental slavery.

READ:: Black Lives Matter: A Legacy Of Black Power Protest

Meet M. GAYLE (ASALI) DICKSON (Seattle, WA; Oakland, CA).
Asali Dickson worked as one of a few women graphic artists for the Panther newspaper, known for a realistic style that influenced male Party artists. She was also an art teacher at OCS. Her art reflected the struggles such as racism and inequality present in the black communities across the nation. Capitalism and the economy take a central place in the work she produced for the Party paper. In the image to your left, Asali highlights poverty’s impact on black families. The women observing the chart displaying the steep price increase of food realize that their paychecks are not enough to afford the high cost of living.

READ:: Angela Davis And The Black Radical Tradition In The Era Of Black Lives Matter

Meet ELAINE BROWN (Los Angeles, CA; Oakland, CA).
Elaine Brown was BPP Chairperson for three years, the only woman in the Panthers (or any other revolutionary organization during the time) to serve at this capacity. She is a singer and songwriter, writing and singing the Party’s national anthem and recording two albums, Seize the Time (1969) and a self-titled album (1973). She was also an editor of the BPP paper and an author. Her self-titled LP was released under Motown’s Black Forum label and includes the song “Until We’re Free,” which speaks to the injustices in our society. Her powerful and soulful lyrics make vivid the discrimination she experienced growing up in Philadelphia, surviving the violence of poverty and her continued fight for emancipation. Brown’s autobiography is “A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story” (1993).

Meet AFENI SHAKUR (New York, NY).
The late Afeni Shakur joined the BPP in New York. She was a community worker and wrote articles that appeared in the Panther newspaper. She was also one of the New York 21, a group of Panther men and women strategically attacked by the FBI and charged with multiple conspiracies and later acquitted. She also contributed to shaping hip-hop culture via motherhood—she birthed her son, the late actor, lyricist and beloved rapper, Tupac Shakur, while she was in the BPP, exposing him to political ideas at an early age. As an empowered black man, he often articulated various forms of oppression as well as recorded music that reflected his activist roots.

Meet ASSATA SHAKUR (New York, NY).
BPP member Assata Shakur is a writer and artist. She volunteered in the Party’s free Breakfast program and did healthcare work. She was a target of the FBI’s COINTELPRO. Falsely accused of killing a New Jersey State trooper and sentenced to life in prison, Shakur eventually escaped, living in Cuba today. Like Huggins, Shakur is a poet who captures the history and spirit of communities of color.As the Black Lives Matter Movement has mobilized communities across America, “Assata Taught Me” demonstrates conscious political engagement. There is much to learn from her about self-determination, self-pride, and the importance in standing up for your rights. Many hip-hop artists have honored her, including Common in his song, "Assata" (2000).

In addition to inspiring political activists, Panther women have inspired sports figures and contemporary artists. San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, recently hosted a Know Your Rights Camp for youth in Oakland, attended by Ericka Huggins, at the Omi Gallery, the same location for their current installation honoring BPP Women, “Survival Pending Revolution.” Common recorded “A Song for Assata,” in honor of Assata Shakur praises her sacrifices as a black woman fighting for freedom for the black community. Solange is unapologetically black in her style, lyrics, and music. On her new album, A Seat at the Table, Solange aligns herself with the “Assata Taught Me” movement as demonstrated in her interlude, “Tina Taught Me,” during which the listener learns that Solange’s black consciousness was influenced by her mother. In addition, Alicia Keys’ newly-released album, HERE, includes an interlude by Elaine Brown reciting the poem, “Black Mother,” by Alprentice “Bunchy” Carter, founder of the BPP’s Los Angeles Chapter. The poem acknowledges the pain black women and black mothers experience due to the society’s oppressive forces.

Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest, Tracye A. Matthews, Mary Phillips, and Robyn C.Spencer, authors of some of the leading essays about gender and Black Power, founded the Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project in July 2016. LeBlanc-Ernest is a Houston-based independent scholar and filmmaker; Matthews is a Chicago-based historian, filmmaker, curator and associate director of the University of Chicago’s Center for Race, Politics and Culture; Phillips is an assistant professor of Africana Studies at Lehman College/CUNY; and Spencer is
an associate professor of History at Lehman College/CUNY.

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'The Last Train To Paris' Turns 10: Revisit Diddy's Aug./Sept. 2010 VIBE Cover Story

YOU EVER WATCH a control freak mellow out? It’s fascinating. When said micromanager is Sean “Puffy” Combs, it’s an enlightening ordeal altogether. Sitting at trendy Asian eatery Philippe Chow in New York City, two days before LeBron James announces that he’s taking his show to South Beach, Combs has talking points: impact and legacy. “This ain’t a regular run,” says Combs of his two-decade laundry list of accomplishments. “I’m saying that in the most humble way possible. I’m me and I’m seeing it. Most times the impact of what you do you don’t even live to see it.”

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Translation: Sean believes that his ambition has been infectious. In his “humble” opinion, his drive has taught the have-nots that not only can they have, but they can be gluttonous and acquire wealth rather than riches. Will it ruin his day if people don’t agree? Not really. But he’d still like the legacy to be accurately documented. His reactionary reflexes have given way to him thinking long term, which could be why he’s unfazed by trivial shots like 50 Cent’s claims of having nude pictures of his artist Cassie. He’s more interested in guiding careers—Rick Ross, Red Cafe and Dirty Money, among them. And really, he’d like to do square biz and have your kids’ kids respect him like his contemporaries admire Warren Buffet. That would truly be money in the bank. In the meantime, he wants to mellow with a plate of chicken satay and talk Diddy legacy.

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What’s the ranking in that heavyweight division?

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Desus & Mero Bless A Bronx Bodega With A Year's Worth of Rent

You know them as the hosts of the hit Showtime series Desus & Mero, aka "the greatest show in late-night history, featuring only illustrious guests." These days you might catch them chatting with President Obama, but  Bronx natives Desus Nice and The Kid Mero have never lost touch with their roots as the Bodega Boys.

"On our first podcast me and Mero used to have to ride the train back afterward," recalls Desus. "And basically our conversation on the train sounded exactly like the podcast. And somebody was like, 'Yo, they sound like two guys you hear in the bodega.' Which was true, because when you hear guys in the bodega, they talk very passionately about things. They may not have all the facts, but they're talking with their hearts."

"Their confidence is strong!" adds Mero with a laugh.

"That's just us," says Desus. "We're raised in bodegas. Probably 90 percent of the food we grew up eating was either our mother's cooking or chopped cheese sandwiches."

"Facts," Mero confirms.

Ever since the pandemic hit, New York City's community bodegas have served as a lifeline by providing New Yorkers with daily necessities, especially in neighborhoods where door-to-door gourmet food delivery is not an option. But staying open hasn't been easy—the daily risks of doing business under threat from a deadly virus—not to mention a spike in robberies and violence—has made running a bodega very challenging, to say the least. But day in day out, in good times and bad, they find a way to keep their doors open.

"If your block is the solar system, the bodega is the sun," says Mero. "The hood orbits the bodega."

So when the makers of Pepsi cola decided to give back on the bodega owners who provide life-giving sustenance and ice-cold soda to NYC's five boroughs, they reached out to the Bodega Boys as their official goodwill ambassadors. Today Desus & Mero appear in a short film called The Bodega Giveback, which highlights the way one Bronx bodega overcame extreme hardship—and the way Pepsi is helping them keep going after 2020 comes to an end.

For Juan Valerio and his son Jefferson, the proprietors of JJN Corp Deli & Grocery in the Bronx, 2020 has been a horrible year. Juan still remembers when he came to America with his father in 1990. "To buy a bodega at that time was well over $100,000," Juan recalls in the short film, which you can watch above. "It was a dream that seemed unreachable. I never thought I would achieve it. And now this is what I do. My whole life is here."

Then in April 2020, tragedy struck when Juan's father lost his life to COVID 19. For the first time in three decades, the bodega had to close its doors down briefly. "It’s something very powerful to lose what you love the most in a split second," Juan recalls with emotion as his son comforts him with a hug. "Life goes on. And I decided to come back because he always taught me to work. To stay closed was disrespectful to him."

"He had to shut down for a little bit," says Desus. "But then he reopened cause the community needed him. Cause the lockdown a lot of stores closed down. And in the Bronx, you can't really get stuff delivered. And he's the hub. We heard stories of what he did, so we were like, how can we give back to him? Shout out to Pepsi with the Bodega Giveback. And just giving him a year's rent—that's the most amazing thing you can give a bodega owner. Shout out to Juan and his son. The look on their face when they really get it—you see the appreciation."

"It really hit home," said Mero. "Cause it's like, we're children of immigrants. So that could have been us—if we didn't get seen by the right people and put in the right positions, we coulda been workin' alongside our dad at a bodega. And then watchin' your grandfather pass away and then comin' back because you know how important you are to the community. Like, that's really selfless. It's just a dope story. And those stories occur all over the place, it's just people don't see them. Cause they don't get exposed on a national level. But a brand like Pepsi can put that on a national stage and be like,  "Yo, look—this is a mom and pop establishment for real. And these are the small businesses that you supposed to be supporting."

The release of The Bodega Giveback kicks off a larger holiday giveback from Pepsi this season that includes cash gifts to bodega owners and consumers across NYC's five boroughs.  “Pepsi has so many longstanding bodega partners in New York City,” said Umi Patel, CMO of North Division, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “They are not only pillars of the community, but they have gone above and beyond to take care of their loyal customers during the hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have worked around the clock to stay open, filling shelves to ensure their customers, friends, and family have the essentials they need to stay home and stay safe. They have even shifted their businesses to meet the needs of the community, offering new delivery options, adding crucial items like masks and gloves, and more, all while dealing with their own personal challenges of the pandemic. We are proud to do our part in giving back to these unsung heroes.”

From now until December 20, Pepsi will also be surprising customers at local bodegas across the five boroughs by gifting pre-paid credit cards of up to $100.00 per customer.

As Juan says in the film, "one hand washes the other, and with both, we wash our face."

Check out our full convo with Desus & Mero above and the short film, The Bodega Giveback.

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Courtesy of Level.com

Level Announces Their 'Best Man 2020 Awards' Featuring Entertainment Elite to Everyday Kings

It is a hard feat for media brands to survive the content landscape these days. To pull off the incredible undertaking of informing an audience as a new publication in the digital space is damn near impossible, yet the team at Medium's Level has done just that. To celebrate making their mark as a one-stop information shop for black men with their one-year anniversary this week, the team of bright and witty editors has launched their first annual Best Man Awards 2020.

The plan to honor the brand that started in December of 2019, focused on the interests of African-American males, has expanded into encompassing the efforts of a few good men during this mess of a year that is 2020. In doing so, those that broke through barriers of personal pain, new business frontiers, and support of others are highlighted and given the rightful pedestals to gain well-deserved props.

Of the 12 awards, esteemed gents like Swizz Beatz, Timbaland, and D-Nice are saluted as Quarantine Kings for their Verzuz and Club Quarantine (respectively) social media music creations that entertained the masses during the dogged days of our universal shut-down. There is also a heroic soul of a man who protected a black woman and her family from the surrounding presence of racist neighbors on his own time and dime. They have an award for Father of the Year, where former NBA all-star and champion, Dwyane Wade shines as a glowing example of understanding and ushering in new ways of parenting in today's society.

With the awards being a noble move towards giving Black men some much-needed praise in 2020, Level made sure to round up the last 365 days with themes on "The State of Black and Brown Men" as well. Essays that cover the realms of political ideology, coping with covid among Blacks health care workers,  how Black men fell short of protecting Black women, and exploring what Black men see when they look in the mirror (a piece that is a user-generated content driver/audience-led convo). All hard topics that need to be detailed, yet are rarely in a space for deep-dive convo.

Helmed by former VIBE editor-in-chief, Jermaine Hall, Level's editors explain their thoughts on the special coverage and celebration of their one year old brand:

“With the Best Man Awards, we wanted to lean into people who are doing incredible things to support society and publicly thank them. Anthony Herron, Jr is a hero. He stepped up to protect someone he didn’t know because, as he saw it, harassment is unacceptable. LEVEL wanted to make sure he received a nod for his heroics. But there are also several celebrities who are doing things outside of their jobs. D-Nice, Swizz, and Timbaland helped us cope through music. And it wasn’t a paid gig for any of them. They responded because people needed help healing so they provided care. That’s a strong attribute of the LEVEL man. It’s certainly is the definition of men being their best selves."

Click here to read about these individuals and learn more about the Best Man Awards 2020. Excelsior to Level.


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