Oakland Celebrates Weekend of Black Liberation and Calls for Unity with all Communities

October 15, 1966, the Black Panther Party was born in Oakland, CA. October 13 and 14, 2018, we were celebrating a movement that changed everyone’s lives, especially in Oakland. It is the celebration that we need to slap gentrification in the face and let it be known that the descendants of the party are still here. Many may not be able to afford living here, but we gathered in honor of Huey Newton. Bobby Seale, Lil Bobby Hutton, Elbert “Big Man” Howard, and so many more.

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Onsayo Abram was one of the men seen harassed in the now infamous “BBQ Becky Video.” Saturday he was seen registering to vote at “Life is Living” in Lil Bobby Hutton aka De Fremery Park.

Life Is Living by Youth Speaks kicked off its annual celebration at De Fremery Park, also known as, Lil Bobby Hutton Park. With performances from youth groups, a tribute to Aretha Franklin, and so many more, it was the creative outlet that the community needed. The park was packed with many community members and organizations that reflect what the Black Panther Party represented. There were young people registering people to vote for the mid-term elections. One man was just released from probation, and he registered right there as he rode in. To witness that moment was something to document.

Sunday’s 52nd Anniversary in downtown Oakland had the messages that we needed to keep that spirit alive. Hosted by Gina Madrid and Saturu Ned, with various speakers from Kenzie Smith, Cat Brooks, Ashara Ekundayo, and performers such as Ras Ceylon, Kev Choice, Jennifer Johns, Khafre Jay, and others, the messages were heard loud and clear. The city is pushing us out, and it is different from when the Black Panther Party started. It is strategic to organize and hit the polls. The celebration was in the middle of the all high rise developments and a few blocks from the Oakland Police Department. It was the epitome of why the Party was established. As Saturu Ned said, “We had determination, and we were serving the community.” With so many of us working independently or with our own organizations in the community, we are doing what the Panthers would be doing. We are the children and nieces/nephews of the original members, and we were instilled to give back and be the impact.

Documentarian/Photographer Michelle Snider who filmed the infamous “BBQ Becky Video” shares her experience, speeches and performances from the Black Panther Party 52nd Anniversary Tribute Rally and Concert.

Register to vote and be the change you want to see. Just like in 1972 when Bobby Seale and Elaine Brown were running for office, the people running for office are local community members who are tired of the system and tired of not seeing anything done in City Hall. There are so many people doing things grassroots that they do not always have the financial capital to do what they do, but they are making it happen. “A local organization became a global movement,” Saturu Ned reminded us. We have to come together to save our schools, neighborhoods, give each other skills so we can employ ourselves. If the Black Panthers were able to do their survival programs, then we should keep providing survival programs. There are way too many resources for us to tap into, especially with the power of the internet. As the theme said for the rally, All Power to the People!

Elbert “Big Man” Howard’s Black Panther Memorial Marks History

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Original Black Panther party members gathered in honor of the history and life of one of their founding members at Lil Bobby Hutton Park, also known as Defremery Park in West Oakland, CA.

Elbert “Big Man” Howard died in Santa Rosa at the age of 80 on July 23.  The memorial service was held on August 25.

Howard was one of six founding members of the Black Panther Party of Self Defense. He was well known as of the most instrumental members in many facets of organizing during his time with the party.

The memorial was packed with original panthers who shared candid stories of their time with Howard. One of the most mentioned accomplishments of Howard’s was writing for the Black Panther Newspaper and traveling internationally to represent the Panther Party.

According to former Black Panther Communications Secretary Kathleen Cleaver, Howard went under the pen name “Brother Dynomite” while he was an editor of the newspaper.

Cleaver, who traveled all the way from Atlanta, Georgia to attend the memorial service described the character of Howard as not a soldier, but a gentle yet powerful passionate man. She described him as a true leader.

“One of the things about our brother Big Man, he had a big heart. He had big ideas. He was extremely honest. He was devoted. And I would like to say he represented the soul of the Black Panther Party.” Cleaver said.

Howard was an international spokesman for the party. Several speakers at the memorial service had stories reflecting on his trip to Japan. Roberta Alexander was one of the party members accompanying Howard on the trip to Japan explaining the difficulties of traveling abroad and organizing.

When speaking on Howard’s character, Alexander said, “We called him Big Man because he was big in stature but he was big in his heart, his soul, and his commitment to the fight for justice in our communities and in the world.”

Original Black Panther member and leader Ericka Huggins recalled Howard coming to guarding her after acquitted of conspiracy murder charges in 1971. Huggins said she did not know Howard that well at the time. When reminiscing on her release, Huggins said Howard reached for her arm. She recalled his gentle eyes and felt safe.  

“I was just aware of being so protected…so held…so loved. How is it that love works in people that don’t even know each other? It’s because it’s bigger than our little minds and the shallowness of our thinking,” Huggins said.

Among other noted announcements during Big Man’s memorial service, host Billy X Jennings read of a proclamation from the city of Oakland officially proclaiming August 25, 2018, Elbert “Big Man” Howard day.

According to KQED, Howard left the Black Panther Party in 1974 to live a normal life. He moved to Tennessee after leaving the party and rarely talked about his life as a Panther.

Howard’s daughter Tynisa Howard Wilson said at the memorial she grew up not knowing much about her father’s Panther past and did not realize how important he was in the movement until he was searching for photos for a 35th BPP anniversary.

Howard was married to his wife, Carole Hyams, a woman he had known during his times as a Black Panther but did not marry until 2005. At the memorial service, Hyams said her late husband would have loved the memorial service.

“His favorite thing, being the center of attention, and being the reason for bringing all the comrades back together,” Hyams said.

Speakers at the memorial read poetry sang songs and recanted stories of Howard with one recurred theme. They wanted him to be remembered for more than the black and white image often displayed of him in a leather jacket with a gun.  He was a man who loved jazz, was gentle and protective towards his friends and family, and a fierce warrior against those who imposed a threat to his community.

Many speakers mentioned the with the current political climate, the fight for liberation is still necessary. The fight for justice and peace will continue in Howard’s memory and the history he made.

Elbert “Big Man” Howard lived a full life from January 5, 1938, to July 23, 2018. May he rest in peace while his legacy lives on.

BBQing While Black Part 2 Brought the Vibe and the Politics

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Early May, our world was shifted into a new outer-sphere as a video I shot featuring my husband and his friend dubbed BBQ Becky went super viral. Like, The Views Whoopi Goldberg commenting on video while laughing at the memes that exploded all over social media, viral.

In response to the videos 25 minute 101 example of a white woman using privilege to scare two black men out of a park, there have already been two response events to the BBQ Becky video. 510 Day was a previously scheduled event. Since it happened right as the BBQ video was going viral, many people took a stance against the calling of police on Oakland natives enjoying Lake Merritt Park at that event.

The next event happened on May 20, 2018, as the official response to the BBQ Becky video cracked off big time, which featured A LOT OF BBQ.

This newest video of BBQing While Black Part 2 does not have a lot of barbecuing in it. It was a colder day after an extended heat wave in the Bay Area, CA. There was a cast of weird color through the cloudy skies. We experienced debris falling from the sky from some NorCal fires.

What was different about this event were the many subtle political statements. There was an art exhibit group called Alena Museum that put up an entire art exhibit to bring awareness of the eviction they are facing in West Oakland. They wanted to make a statement about gentrification pushing out artists.

Politicians were campaigning, including my husband, Kenzie Smith, who is running for District 2 which covers a lot of Lake Merritt. Despite being his wife, I made sure to give every politician I met a chance to express their platform.

And of course, there was a lot of entrepreneurs, some even included children selling lemonade and cupcakes, others included artists who were painting as people walked around the pathways and watched.

Onsayo Abram aka Deacon, the other black man targeted by “BBQ Becky,” had a moment to go into depth with his conversation with Jennifer Schulte, the woman who called the police on him for barbecuing with a charcoal grill. Abram said of people who think there was no evidence of racial bias by Schulte who told him he did not belong in the park “People who say that haven’t really experienced the different versions of racial bias….it can be body language, the tone of voice….and telling me I don’t belong in a public place.”

One of the woman picture with Andre 3000 when he made a visit to Lake Merritt recently for his birthday made an appearance in the video as well.  The woman who runs a custom made sunglass business named Tres Mercedes remarked how the Outkast rapper loved the sun glasses he got from her.

In the mix of another well-organized event on Lake Merritt, the community came out strong participating in eating, shopping, getting to know each other, meeting old friends, hanging out with family, all while relaxing on a Sunday.
What will be next is undoubtedly a new chapter. The doors have been opened for events like this for all to take advantage of and enjoy.
This may look like a happy ending, but with new horizons come new problems. My husband, Kenzie Smith, has told me that trash was taken out of bins all around the lake last night after their clean up. Some of the garbage containers are upside down with trash thrown everywhere.
The issues people living around Lake Merritt often talk about is homelessness and trash. Every weekend, trash overflows the too few bins around the lake, and the garbage is not picked up until Monday afternoon. A problem that results in many residents taking to social media to complain.

Oakland Neighbors Take to Organizing Offline

Oakland, CA – After several viral videos hit national news in the last month at Lake Merritt Park, neighbors became even more active and outspoken on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

In response to issues like BBQ Becky, where a white woman told two black men they were not allowed to be at the park at all and called the police intent on arresting them for barbecuing with charcoal. To a white man trashing a black homeless man’s belongings throwing them in the lake and then coming back and attacking an activist who was filming. Lake Merritt neighbors are fed up.

Activists and longtime organizers like Cat Brooks, Gina Madrid, and Kin Folkz took a moment in need and organized an “Oakland Hands Around the Lake” on Saturday morning. While there was not enough people to create another mass holding of hands around the lake as they have done before, the event enabled many neighbors to meet each other, discuss local issues and prepare for a more significant event in July.

Among some of the most critical topics; the high cost of rents, homelessness, and stripping of Oaklands culture was major boiling points. Brooks mentioned the hardship of artists being able to afford to stay in Oakland as well as the slow stripping of longtime traditions like old school cars no longer allowed at First Friday events.

Video of First Friday event before old school cars were banned.

Folkz spoke of when she first moved to the Bay Area and attended school in San Francisco. She told a story about a man who was the first person she befriended despite locals who judged him as possibly mentally unstable just because he was not well dressed. Her story ends tragically with a reminder that community should not condemn and ignore neighbors merely because they do not look “normal.”

Kenzie Smith, one of the men in the BBQ Becky video, spoke of coming out and talking to neighbors being an essential part of a change. JJ Harris, the man who filmed “Jogger Joe” also spoke of a need for unity in the community.

Many neighbors who never met each other before had their chance to discuss important issues and life in general. Local city council candidate Nikki Fortunato Bas used the opportunity to campaign and speak for the interests of district 2 which Lake Merritt park is in..

The next “Hands Around the Lake” event will be held July 14 with hopes that each person will bring ten people with them and slowly build community unity. All of Oakland is welcome to join.