By JR Valrey
Some of us can name off the leadership of the Black Panther Party, but just as important we must remember the everyday community leaders, that served the people on behalf of the Black Panther Party, and gave it their all. These were the everyday Panthers that worked at the Free Breakfast Program, the Liberation School, and the free health clinics, worked on the Black Panther Newspaper, as well as in dozens of other Survival Programs. These people who participated from all over the nation, in one of the Panthers 48 chapters nationwide are called the rank and file, and they also deserve to be saluted, because they were the engine and grease of what made the Black Panther Party “machine” great to oppressed people, from all over the world.
Gayle Asali Dickson was one of the community warriors who served in the Black Panther Party, heart and soul. Her story is a beautiful one of love, perseverance, political art, and revolution. She was the only woman artist to contribute to the legendary Black Panther newspaper, over a certain period, as well as she had other jobs in the people’s army. At Black New World Media we believe in saluting the people who we respect and love and giving them their flowers, while they are still here. It is an honor and pleasure for me to be able to bring the words of a community shero to the readers. Check out this exclusive Q&A, and then go to wbppmural.com, to see the mural that M. Gayle Asali Dickson is a part of, that is honoring the rank and file women of the Black Panther Party. It is being unveiled on February 14th. Stay tuned.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about what impressed you about the Panthers and made you want to join?
M. Gayle Asali Dickson: Well, JR, by the time my husband and I joined the Black Panther Party, we were pretty aware of things going on around us, and in the world. I attended Merritt College where, as you know, gave birth to the first Black History/Ethnic Studies department, in the nation. My husband and I also boycotted Housewives Market in 1968, for discrimination in hiring practices, as well as we were part of the protest against the murder of Little Bobby Hutton. In 1969, we moved to Seattle and worked in the Free Breakfast for Children program, and I joined the Black Panther Party, because I was following my husband into the Black Panther Party.
JR Valrey: What was your experience like when you joined?
M. Gayle Asali Dickson: In 1970, we decided to join the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party. Here is where I felt I had come home, to a new family; a sense of a caring community is important to me.
JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about your work as a Panther artist? How did that start and what was that like?
Gayle Asali Dickson: In 1972 my husband and I, along with other members of the Seattle chapter migrated back to the Bay Area. When I returned to the Bay Area, my talent was recognized and I began working on the Party’s newspaper, the Intercommunal News Service. I typeset the articles for the paper and learned layout, graphics, and how to put together a newspaper. I also learned about the global economy and multinational corporations’ worldwide exploitation efforts, mostly through the articles I typeset and the writings of (co) founder, Huey P. Newton, on Intercommunalism. I came to realize that communities all over the world, regardless of language differences or cultural differences are interdependent on each other to survive the brutal suffering and terror from the same oppressive “global economy”, boosted by endless war. As a result, it was here, upon my return to Oakland that I began to learn to put social commentary to my drawings, and I continue to do so to this day. I also served in the Oakland Community School as Pre-school instructor teaching children fundamentals, preparing them for elementary school education from 1974-1976. I also designed the first logo for the school, for their slogan “The World is Our Classroom”.
However little did I know then, as a woman and an artist, the gift that I gave to the Party, and my fellow artists, working on the paper at that time. I was the only female artist drawing for the paper, between 1972 and 1974, and my drawings are predominantly of women and children. I learned just recently from a fellow artist, I reconnected with in 2016 during the planning for the 50th Anniversary (of the BPP), that when I came to the newspaper I had an effect on drawing styles. I was not aware of this at that time. He said they, “were drawing in one style, basically line drawings, just flat lines.” But I brought in shading and shadowing and using charcoal and a different style; and it actually changed how they worked. He said that I had a big influence on how they drew, during that period. I brought a change to their art, when I came to the newspaper. I have also come to realize that my drawings were intended to evoke emotion and experience.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about this upcoming mural project that is dedicated to the women of the Black Panther Party? Why is it important?
Gayle Asali Dickson: Well, I came to the project relatively late, in the process. They wanted to use one of my images in the project. This is an amazing time to me, and for so many others. I think this mural is a good thing because women are breaking away, YET AGAIN, from the restrictions of a patriarchal system. Black people, yet again, are setting a moral compass, demanding accountability and being vigilant and continuing our push towards freedom – and not just for us, but for everyone else who cares to join us. And women, period, are leading the way. Stacy Abrams and what she did in Georgia, has set the bar pretty high. Look at all those women in Congress that are progressive. We have a woman Vice President. And that is just in politics!
JR Valrey: What have you been doing with your art since the demise of the Black Panther Party?
Gayle Asali Dickson: Since the Party ended, I went back to school and received an MFA; my family and friends have kept me busy with their projects, off and on. I went back to school again, and received an MDiv degree, and I am an ordained minister. However, in reference to my art, since 2010, I have made a deliberate effort to focus on developing my painting skills. I paint Biblical stories, interestingly they are all about women. I have done at least 4 commentaries on this nation’s citizens, who are un-housed. I am currently working on a commissioned painting, and beginning a portrait project. This portrait project consists of a portrait of 4 strong women ancestors: Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, and Shirley Chisholm. My goal is to tell a story about them, capture an emotion and place them in the context of American history.
JR Valrey: What is the role of the artist in an oppressed society like Black people in the US?
Gayle Asali Dickson: I really don’t know if I am qualified to say what the role of any artist is, in an oppressed society. We each have to find our way. I will tell you, however, the thoughts that inspire me: Paul Robeson – artists are the gatekeepers of truth. Gleaned from something Nina Simone said – Every image I paint to me is important. Hopefully, it communicates something to someone. What I paint is not just a painting, but a form of communication, my way of communicating, hopefully, to get into the soul of people. Something I gleaned from Dianne Carol – I hope that my art reflects the times. I believe from rapper T.I. and/or Tip artists create art that is a reflection of their environment. To fix what artists are talking about that you happen to disagree with, you have to fix their environment.
JR Valrey: How do people keep up with you online?
Gayle Asali Dickson: Unfortunately, I do not have an online connection. However, there are two very wonderful young ladies who have been talking about putting together a website for me. So soon, perhaps there will be a direct connection to my art.