Comrade Sisters Celebrates the Women in the Black Panther Party
by Mike Murase and video by Alan Kondo. Posted Oct. 21, 2022.
Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther Party, a book by Ericka Huggins and Stephen Shames, was launched at Reparations Club in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles on October 17, 2022.
The panel included the authors, plus Norma Mtume and Ruth Wakabayashi-Kondo. Stephen Shames was a progressive documentarian and Ericka was a Black Panther Party member and director of Oakland Community School. Ruth, one of the few non-Black members of Black Panther Party, worked in Los Angeles and the Oakland Community School.
The Panthers were more known for high-profile confrontations with the police, and the eventual repression and murders that came down on them, but they also provided Serve the People programs, mostly held up by the women who comprised 60% of the party membership. At one time, there were 60-80 survival programs that included community police patrols, free breakfast for school children, health clinics, Sickle Cell Anemia testing, Intercommunal Youth Institute, Seniors Against Fearful Environment, legal aid, childcare, teen programs, voter registration, and more.
Ruth Wakabayashi-Kondo held up a photograph of the first group of teachers and staff at the Panther’s Oakland Community School. In the book, she recounts what led her to join the Black Panther Party.
I grew up in Boyle Heights, an underserved Latin, Black, and Asian community in Los Angeles. In college, I fought for Asian Studies. For me, the WWII concentration camps was the reality that helped me understand my history, yet every day I would hear about Black mothers losing their sons on the streets, and I felt there must be more to do.
Since my focus was on education, I was invited to go to the LA Free Breakfast for School Children Program and help. That prompted me to join the BPP, and eventually I moved to Oakland. I started to work at the Oakland Community School. It was a time of struggle, but the Party’s world outlook, theories, and practice were a good fit for me. It was a natural fit because we were working together for the same goals. Many years have passed. I’m older, and still I think the platform and programs of the BPP will guide change. There were many memorable moments, but the relationships that developed from our trust in each other were inspiring, and working at the school was joyous.
I would tell young women today to have the courage to believe in their worth and move forward even when you don’t have all the answers. Seek the support and inspiration of like-minded folks to achieve your goals. – Ruth Wakabayashi-Kondo
The evening was nostalgic, heart-warming, spiritual and forward-looking.
Comrade Sisters, a 192 page book, which contains 10 color photos and 112 black and white photos, was published by ACC Art Books. It is available at many booksellers. You can also order the book from Reparations Club, which sponsored the LA Crenshaw District launch of Comrade Sisters. The Reparations Club is a bookshop and creative space curated by Blackness and it is Black-owned and Woman-owned. Click Rep.Club book order to get your copy of Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther Party.