“It was out of love that the Black Panther Party was started”
Executive Producer Eddie Conway interviews Ericka Huggins at the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panther Party. Huggins is a former political prisoner and was one of the central leaders of The Black Panthers.
EDDIE CONWAY: All right, I’m standing here right now with Ericka Huggins, who I’m honored to be with — one of the original central committee members for the Black Panther Party, and probably the whole entire history of the Black Panther Party, and she’s here. And I just want to find out what she thinks about this event, and why she’s still doing positive work.
ERICKA HUGGINS: I love this event because it honors our lives and our work in the Black Panther Party, and it honors all the people, living and dead, incarcerated and in exile, who served the people body and soul. I mean, that was a slogan, but it was for real. And I am inspired because out in this park today, and throughout the week at the museum and Oscar Grant Plaza and all over Oakland, there are young activists, revolutionaries, just like us. I mean, the median age of Black Panther Party members at the time we were very, very active in it was 19 years old. So there are all these young people who are so willing to be heard and to hear us. And so, I’m inspired by the event, and I feel that this is a pivotal point, not only in Oakland history or Black Panther Party history, but in the history of the United States because something great is happening right now.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yes. Young people, similar to the age that you jumped in a car and came across the country, actually starting to become involved in what’s going on in their community. But I understand after you got here you became a city council person, or a board of education…?
ERICKA HUGGINS: No.
EDDIE CONWAY: Well, what happened to you…?
ERICKA HUGGINS: During the time of the Black Panther Party, any opportunity that we could grab hold to that put us in touch with the people, we took it. And there was an appointment to the Alameda County School Board which handles all the schools for children with special needs, and all the juvenile institutions, the juvenile prisons.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yes, okay.
ERICKA HUGGINS: And I was asked to sit on that board, and I did. Because these were the boards that decided what curriculum was happening in Juvenile Hall, which was notorious at the time.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yes. Mm-hmm.
ERICKA HUGGINS: And it still is.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah.
ERICKA HUGGINS: And it also had oversight for all the suspensions and expulsions in Alameda County. That’s 19 school districts.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay.
ERICKA HUGGINS: So I kept lots of black and brown students — because I was the first woman, and the first black person, to sit. It was an old boy club, rubber stamped. They didn’t even hear when mothers would come and plead that their boy or their girl wouldn’t be suspended. Sometimes the young ones suspended were translating from English into Spanish for their parents. I heard them. And I fought for them not to be expelled. And I did the same thing in the juvenile institutions. I took a county board of supervisors in for an unscheduled press conference, inside there. Oh, they were so mad at me. But I had that power.
So any little seat of power we could take, we took it. It wasn’t so that I could become some elected official.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Yeah, no, I knew you were working in the interests of the people on the behalf of the people.
ERICKA HUGGINS: I did that for six or seven years, and then I turned it over to another woman, and kept doing my party work. And my life has been like that. I just keep doing what’s in front of me.
EDDIE CONWAY: Okay. Do you have any advice for the young people that’s growing stronger and getting more involved in community politics, or the Black Lives Matter movement and other young groups? Do you have any advice or anything?
ERICKA HUGGINS: I don’t have advice. I have a suggestion: to do whatever we can to remember love. Because it was out of love that the Black Panther Party was started. When Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors and Opal talk back and forth on social media about the one more death of a young black person, it was love in their hearts. That took the form of what we call the movement for black lives, so we have to remember that so that we don’t succumb to the attitudes and the behaviors of the very systems we want to dismantle.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yes, I think that’s an important piece, and somewhere along the line I heard that probably one of the mistakes — and, of course, I’m a former Black Panther Party member myself — one of the mistakes that we made or shortcomings that we might have, was that we didn’t have the spirituality, the connection to the universe. And I understand you have that connection.
ERICKA HUGGINS: Well, when I was incarcerated, and certainly not for the horrendous number of years that you sat — not only incarcerated but in solitary — during that time, though, my two years, I taught myself to meditate. And I still do every morning, and it gives me access to the deeper part of myself that isn’t tricked by my outer identities. So that when I come back from meditation to my work, which is not easy, I’m clear. I’m grounded. And I’m imaginative. I’m creative. And I can listen.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yes.
ERICKA HUGGINS: So those are important things for all of us.
EDDIE CONWAY: Yeah.