The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Black Panther Party leader speaks at Grand Salon

The co-founder of the Black Panther Party regaled a room packed full of students, faculty and members of the community with stories of the inception and history of the party Wednesday night in the Grand Salon.

Students of various ethnicities were sitting at tables, standing in the back, or sitting on the floor of the room in order to listen to the 74-year-old’s memories.

President and vice president of the Black Student Union, Kalic Chambers and Ken Barrows, respectively, moved around the red, black and green decorated room, making sure all was going according to plan while the crowd chatted and looked through the Bobby Seale books they had bought at the door from his wife.

As the three-man singing group Nappy Tongue Vanguard began their spoken-word performance, two older women approached Seale with his book “The Black Panthers” in hand. They seemed nervous as they asked for a few written words from him.

One of the women, Vivian Davenport, said although she went to many of Seale’s rallies in Oakland, she was “very, very afraid” of him. She never joined the Black Panther Party, but looking back, she wishes she had.

“I wish I had joined. Educating is knowledge and knowledge is power that can’t ever be taken away,” Davenport said. “I got married and started having kids, but I kept in touch through the newspaper. Now, I brought my grandkids to see and hear Bobby Seale.”

The other woman was the grandmother of four or five children present for Seale’s speech. Janice Coursen said hearing Seale speak brought back memories of that time.

“I think young people should learn about what happened before they can go about community organization, because it’s still needed today,” Coursen said. “We definitely need more grassroots organizations.”

At the close of his speech, Seale spoke about using technology, along with the community focus the Black Panthers used to “cut crime, get people involved and (begin) financially self-sufficient programs.”

“Technology is so different, but the basic structure is still the same for community organization,” Coursen said afterwards.

Seale’s speech focused mainly on the impetus for the Black Panther Party, remembering how he was caught up in a high tech world that was far removed from the many social movements occurring in the early 1960s. He was an engineer and design major in college, working on the Gemini Missile Program when he heard the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey Newton, address a group of students.

Seale said his inspiration came from hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak, and later hearing about Nelson Mandela’s plight in 1963. After learning about dialects and the decades of blacks being denied a formal education, Seale said he realized he was “semi-bilingual” and “understood (his) own humanity.” He began to argue with professors in class about social science references and reinforced inferiority complexes.

He spoke of getting involved on campus in issues he felt passionate about, organizing rallies and once of threatening a boycott if African American history was not taught in classes.

“The rallies were huge at the time,” Davenport said. “(Seale) spoke of great memories about the introduction of African American history.”

For more than an hour, Seale spoke about the need to have knowledge of the law and respect for the community.

“There was a need for legality and a need for community organization, like his children’s breakfast and preventative medicine,” Davenport said. “More people need food and health care, and that was Bobby’s focus in the Panther party.”

Seale said when the party first showed up to monitor a police officer with unconcealed weapons, “we captured the imagination of the people with an organization like that.” Seale signed off with, “Power to the people.” Earlier in his speech, he defined power as “making the pig power structure act in a desired manner.” He later said what he would like to see from this generation is for them to “help build a progressive movement in opposition to the war-mongering avaricious class.”

Back in the day, Seale had left-wing white radical actors, including Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda, holding fundraisers for the party. At Wednesday’s event, Kurtwood Smith from “That ’70s Show” and Marcus Chong, who played Huey Newton in “Panther” (and Tank in “The Matrix”), were there to listen to and support Bobby Seale.

Davenport summed up the event nicely.

“Although I haven’t seen him in over 40 years, he continued to fight and teach about the power of numbers and minority achievement,” Davenport said.

Seale encouraged the crowd with these words: “We live in a high tech world, we have to be progressive, it’s just not the 1960s anymore, but we need to re-evolve the power back into the hands of the people.”

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