There was and still is a lot of hunger in the hood. Founded in 1966, the Black Panther Party soon expanded beyond “policing the police” to “survival programs.” The Free Breakfast Program was the best known of more than 60 survival programs. By 1969, the Panthers were serving breakfast to about 20,000 children in 19 cities around the country. As David Hilliard says, “Food is a very basic necessity, and it’s the stuff that revolutions are made of.”
by Keith ‘Malik’ Washington
“I never thought I could be so easily tricked into being against something that I didn’t understand. It’s got to be one of the most basic principles of living: Always decide who your enemies are for yourself, and never let your enemies choose your enemies for you.” – Assata Shakur, from her autobiography, “Assata”
Revolutionary greetings, Comrades!
In the late 1960s, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover said that the members of the original Black Panther Party presented the greatest threat to Amerika’s national security. This was propaganda designed to drive people away from the Party, but it had the opposite effect.
I want you to picture in your mind a chilly morning in 1969 – we could be in Oakland, Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Detroit or Washington, D.C. Little Black children across the U.S. were preparing to go to school. Their stomachs were empty.
However, in a nearby church, community center or school, there were members of the Black Panther Party preparing grits, eggs, toast, orange juice and milk in order to provide a nutritious meal for hungry bellies. The Panthers’ thinking was this: A child with a full stomach performs better in school and has a greater chance to succeed in becoming a valuable member of the community.
FBI agents didn’t come into our hoods to feed our children. They came to lock them up! So you tell me who was the greater security threat.
In the 1960s and 1970s, there was no internet and there surely weren’t any iPhones. Political education was needed desperately in the Black community. Once again, the Black Panther Party met the needs of the people by creating their party organ, known as the Black Panther newspaper.
There are some who believe that the radical theory and revolutionary practice of the Black Panthers died years ago, but that line of thought is for only those with blinders on. Almost 20 years ago, a young journalist whose grandmother, with a house full of children, had always made room at the table for Panthers needing a home-cooked meal and a safe place to gather, began to write stories about Panther veterans, breathing new life into the Black Panther Movement. That journalist, whose stories were published in the San Francisco Bay View newspaper, became know as the People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey.
In 2005, two politicized prisoners by the names of Kevin “Rashid” Johnson and Shaka S. Zulu founded the New Afrikan Black Panther Party, Prison Chapter. They modeled the party after the original Black Panther Party, and now, in 2019, Chairman Shaka S. Zulu is back home in his community of Newark, New Jersey, building a free-world chapter of the NABPP and doing an incredible job of expanding the United Panther Movement.
Political education is key to creating the leaders of our future. Not too many people survive intact the torture and abuse that currently permeates America’s slave kamps and gulags. Some part of the human being dies when constantly subjected to cruel, unusual and inhumane conditions of confinement.
Of course, I’m not telling you what I’ve heard; I’m telling you what I know. I’ve spent nearly 12 years inside prisons operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. My last three years were spent in solitary confinement, with no access to the phone, no TV, no internet and, in the past year, from 2018 to 2019, I received more than 100 denials of incoming mail.
Like thousands of prisoners across the United States, my main source of political education and updates on the struggle came from the San Francisco Bay View National Black Newspaper. Most prisoners in the U.S. don’t have access to the internet. The Bay View helps prisoners who are attempting to “stay woke,” to stay abreast of the development of “The Movement” and allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of our Prison Abolition Movement.
My belief in the Bay View has become so strong that I now have committed to coming to the Bay Area in order to help Dr. Willie and Mary Ratcliff keep the Bay View in print. The huge cost of printing, distributing and mailing each month’s Bay View is a staggering $7,000 that is no longer covered by advertising – the decline in ad revenue having put many newspapers out of business in recent years. Yet, for the Bay View’s core readers, who live in prison or the hood with little or no internet access, the print edition is essential, a literal lifesaver.
The Ratcliffs have dedicated decades of their lives and their bottom dollar to produce this uniquely revolutionary newspaper. Now I believe that revolutionaries of all races, creeds and genders actually have a duty to help me come up with a viable plan to sustain the print edition of the Bay View, so that we may continue to provide this invaluable teaching and networking tool and information source to the hoods around the Bay and to thousands of prisoners all across the U.S.
I say this today for everyone to hear: If you give me your support, I’ll give you the rest of my life. I’m telling you that I will dedicate the remainder of my life and all my energy to the publishing of this national Black newspaper. This is what Dr. Huey P. Newton meant when he coined the term “revolutionary suicide.”
For the prisoners of Amerika to live, some of us must make sacrifices. I have absolutely no regrets about the journey I’m about to embark on.
Can you believe that this “spirit” which exists inside me today began in 1966 at a small college in Oakland, California, known as Merritt College?
Comrades, on this 50th anniversary of the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast Program, let us meditate on the incredible legacy of the original Black Panther Party. Although this is a plea for help and a call to action, this piece is also a dedication.
I dedicate this essay to the memory of Safiyah Bukhari, Kiilu Nyasha and Afeni Shakur. These three sisters certainly spent some time serving up some hot meals to hungry children, but their legacy lies in their remarkable revolutionary political practice. May they rest in power!
The Bay View and I would also like to take this moment to recognize our comrade and friend Billy X Jennings, who has passionately sought to preserve and protect the legacy and true revolutionary spirit of the original Black Panther Party. I believe every child of color in Amerika should be taught the real history of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. Thank you, Comrade Billy X!
I end this piece with a quote which really got my attention. The quote is from a wrongly convicted politicized prisoner in Marquette, Michigan, named Lecino Hamilton, who contributes articles to the Bay View.
Lecino wrote: “Most of the time when a person is exonerated and released from prison, they pose for a picture or two, thank a few people, then become footnotes in the pantheon of criminal justice horror stories. I’m not going out like that!”
The print edition of the Bay View must be preserved and protected! Let’s do this together.
Dare to struggle! Dare to win! All Power to the People!
Send our brother some love and light: Keith Washington, 34481-037, USP Beaumont, P.O. Box 26030, Beaumont TX 77720. Malik has been paroled from the Texas system but has a short sentence to serve in the federal system before he can come to California.