by JR Valrey, the People’s Minister of Information
The corporate media would tell us to put our faith in Biden and Harris to save the Black community from the perennial social ills that we constantly face, the Black Panther Party has taught us to put our faith in ourselves and in our community, because we can not depend on the empire to feed us, defend us, educate us, or provide for our wellbeing, as has been demonstrated recently by the effect of the pandemic and its shelter in place order, on the Black community.
In February of ‘21, west Oakland resident, Jilchristina Vest will be unveiling a commissioned art piece on her house, where a mural dedicated to the women of the Black Panther Party was painted across the street from where the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, Huey P. Newton, was murdered in 1989, on 9th Street and Center. This mural project is accompanied by a coloring and activity book dedicated to the work and memory of the women of the Black Panther Party, which is now on sale.
With this year being the 55th anniversary since the founding of the Black Panther Party by Chairman Bobby Seale and Minister of Defense Huey P. Newton, in Oakland California, it is important that we become more acquainted with the rank and file foot soldiers of the Black Panther Party, instead of just the leadership. It is important that we give our appreciation and flowers to those that are still breathing, as well as those that have crossed over to the ancestor plane. These people are important because they are the people who did the non-glamourous work, when the microphones and cameras weren’t present like: feeding or clothing the community, educating youth at the liberation school, busing people to see family members behind enemy lines, testing people at free Black Panther Party health clinics, helping to put together the Black Panther newspaper, defending the Black community against police aggression, organizing to free political prisoners and much more.
I have heard from the mouth of co-founder Bobby Seale personally, that the ranks of the Black Panther Party nationwide were filled predominantly with women; sheros with names like Sheba Haven, Kiilu Nyasha, Yasmeen Sutton, Barbra Cox, Assata Shakur, Pat Brown, Tarika Lewis, Charlotte O’Neal, and so many more. It is our Movement duty to give a true and full account of the actions of the Black Panther Party’s women and men. We can not allow sexism to dictate who we will honor in freedom fighting when people sacrificed their lives, and the wellbeing of their families for the cause of Black Power in this racist and capitalist society. No matter the gender, everyone who participated on the side of the people needs to be saluted.
The Women of the Black Panther Party coloring and activity book, is one tool that Jilchristina Vest and her team are using to right a perceptional wrong. Knowledge of self, is an important tool in staying sane in this American matrix, and it is mandatory that we make sure that Black girls and women have role models that were/are freedom fighters that look like them, as well as it is mandatory that Black boys and men have an equal appreciation for the contributions of Black women freedom fighters. We may have a ways to go as of now, but the journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step. Salute to the women Panthers and the activity book team. We appreciate what you are doing/did for our community and our perception of ourselves. Check out Jilchristina Vest, as she breaks down the meaning and purpose of this project.
JR Valrey: Is there a relationship between the mural dedicated to the rank and file women of the Black Panther Party that you have commissioned to put on your house and the Women of The Black Panther Partyactivity and coloring book that you recently released?
Jilchristina Vest: Yes. The coloring book was born out of the mural. The history of the women in the Black Panther Party has been nearly invisible over the last 50 years. The mural is happening to shine a light on that history, create a space for these warriors’ names; and the activity book created a space for their story. Not everyone will be able to see the mural in person, but everyone has access to the book.
JR Valrey: Why did you choose to create a coloring book over a traditional book?
Jilchristina Vest: We created an activity book because none of us are in the position to write an actual book on anyone. LOL. And the mural is art based and educational, and we wanted something art based and educational to accompany it. That, and something that would be accessible to all ages.
JR Valrey: What kind of content is in the Women of The Black Panther Party coloring/activity book?
Jilchristina Vest: The activity book has the most comprehensive collection of history, pertaining to the women in The Party, in existence. It includes information and activities that highlight the Survival Programs as well. Over 60 Survival Programs were created by the Black Panther Party to serve Black, poor and oppressed people, like the Free Breakfast Program and The Voter Registration Program. The majority of these programs were managed by the women in the Party.
JR Valrey: How did you pick the different activities that you wanted to include?
Jilchristina Vest: Everyone who worked on the book and created it are educators so choosing the activities to include was fun. Ericka, Angela, James, Tyson, Krista, and me, we all have teaching in our backgrounds, and because of this we were able to create a wide range of activities based on the learning scale. For example, for the littles, we have matching activities and ‘find the differences’ and then for the older readers there are word searches and crossword puzzles, and then the next level after that, there are short essays and activities to promote critical thinking.
JR Valrey: There are a number of Black Panther women highlighted in the book, how did you choose who you wanted to highlight?
Jilchristina Vest: Like the mural, the coloring book images are based on photos by Stephen Shames, many never seen before. Out of so many amazing images, choosing who to include was hard. Originally the book was going to be about 15 to 20 pages. In the end, it is nearly 40, and it easily could have been 80. Creative Shields, the graphic designer on the book did an amazing job. There are so many Panther women, and so much history. We did our best to include as much information as we could, and who knows, maybe we will need to do a Volume II.
JR Valrey: Why did you choose to highlight the women of the Black Panther Party specifically?
Jilchristina Vest: The mural and the activity book are for and about the women of the Black Panther Party because their names, stories, influence and contributions to history are missing, because Black women are too often invisible. This mural and book is for everyone but most specifically for Black women and girls. We need to know who our elders are, we need to know the stories of our freedom fighting ancestors. Knowing this history straightens ones’ spine in a world that is heavy with burdens. Knowing these women is knowing that we come from greatness, power, strength, determination and love.
Where the book has the most comprehensive history about the women, the mural will have the largest collection of their names ever seen. We have been collecting names since June of 2020. These women helped change the course of history, and that needs to be acknowledged. Their names need to be spoken. Their journey needs to be honored and celebrated.
JR Valrey: Your coloring book and mural is coming out in 2021 – the 55th anniversary year since the founding of the Black Panther Party by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Why does the local Black community specifically and justice loving people in general, hold the Black Panther Party in such high regards?
Jilchristina Vest: The Black Panther Party was an amazing organization of young revolutionaries that came together to serve the people, body and soul- to protect, uplift and inspire Black people and communities in Oakland, and subsequently all poor and oppressed people across the globe. They were revolutionaries, in that they said if the police aren’t going to protect us, we will protect ourselves. If the government isn’t going to feed us, we will feed ourselves, if the schools aren’t going to educate us, we’ll educate ourselves. This had not happened, since before desegregation.
Based on this ethos and the 10 Point Platform, they were deemed terrorists and a threat to the American way of life. Why? Because the American way of life is white supremacy and the oppression of Black and poor people. To go against this turns you into an enemy of the state, hence J. Edgar Hoover and Cointelpro (a series of covert and illegal projects conducted by the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation aimed at surveilling, infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting American political organizations).
The BPP are held in high regard by justice warriors, because they are people that fought and died for the liberation of Black, poor and oppressed people. They earned their place in American and world history, and most definitely Oakland’s history.
JR Valrey: What do you hope people get out of the activity/coloring book?
Jilchristina Vest: A more accurate telling of the history of The Black Panther Party. They were not some violent mob of Black men marauding the community day and night, as other tellings may have you believe. They were a group of men AND WOMEN who were fighting to feed, cloth, house, educate, care for and protect the people.
JR Valrey: How can people purchase your Women of The Black Panther Party Activity/Coloring Book?
Jilchristina Vest: You can purchase the book and more on our website- www.wbppmural.com. We ship anywhere in the world, or if you are local you can pick it up.