It was less than a year ago that I moved to Oakland, California – home of the Black Panther Party. I remember being so excited after years of emulating the Black Panther Party and their community building tactics. I grew up understanding the true nature of their movement, one of building solidarity among black communities. In their likeness, I founded Global Black Student Orientation – a means of developing young black leaders from across the Diaspora. The concept would give me the roadmap that would lead to my role as the national training director for a massive nationwide youth voter program.
I remember my first day in Oakland, feeling like it had been predestined for me to be here because I had been trained and molded in my activism by a former Black Panther, Minister Corine Mack.
This feeling of belonging and being in the right place at the right time reached its peak last Thursday as I watched the opening scene of the movie Black Panther, which seemed to be set less than a mile from my apartment in Downtown Oakland. The crowd cheered, no doubt Oakland natives who are extremely proud that the movie’s director, Ryan Coogler, made an effort to shout out his hometown.
The movie itself was fascinating to watch and experience, partly because of the anticipation for its premier that had felt like forever but mainly because of the gems found throughout it. As an activist, I’ve always felt a closeness to the story of the fictional superhero T’Challa, going off into the night battling to protect his people while maintaining a humble political profile to the world. It reminded me of my experience as a liaison in the U.S House of Representatives where by day I wore my business suit to advocate for the rights of constituents and by night, I dressed in black to protest or direct lyrics about the broken American system. The great W.EB Dubois often spoke of the duality of the black man as a two-ness, having to think for your people as a black man, while also thinking about the lens of perception through white eyes or rather, fear.
This essential fear of black people rising is why Black Panther has been and remains relevant. The telling of this tale and its take on the multi-layered experience of being black and the resistance we face internally and externally was genius. As T’Challa faced his own doubts about ascending to the throne, he consults his counsel who are reminiscent of so many in our community. His best friend, played by Get Out star, Daniel Kaluuya, showed the pressure any black person feels in dealing with the rage and reprisals from the wrongs done to us. The strong voice of his general Okoye embodies the resilience of black women in tackling any issue head on with a sound moral compass. I see parallels in my own activism. We won a historic victory in an open Alabama Senate seat last November, thanks to the fearless organizing of black women, such as Dejuana Thompson & Deanna Reed.
I believe the experiences of the characters each offered a lens to the individual plights many of us face. The character of N’jobu and his son Erik Killmonger, played by Michael B. Jordan, represent a young, neo-radical movement that is often vilified. As a young black person in America trying to make change, I could relate to the “What about us?” mindset exhibited by Killmonger’s character. He constantly reminded T’Challa about sharing his nation’s powerful resources with the brothers and sisters of the diaspora. The dynamics between the two characters was a powerful reminder to me of my own privilege and duty to my community.
In the year that I’ve been in Oakland, it has made me more committed to following in the steps, not just of these fictional heroes, but of the real life men and women who called themselves Black Panthers. They were not perfect, but strived to strengthen and protect their communities.