When I lived in the Bay Area, I heard a lot about the Black Panthers, which was started by Dr. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale in West Oakland on October 15th, 1966. The Panthers provided frequent patrol of neighborhoods to protect the residents of the neighborhood.
Also, they provided breakfast programs, after-school program, youth institutes, and numerous other programs that helped their communities.
I always loved to hear the stories about the infamous group of proud, strong black men and women that used to guard the very same streets my mom and I drove down every day. I sometimes imagined that they were still there, guarding us against whatever bad things were around the corner.
Therefore, when my uncle Tubaya Carter informed me that when he was a teenager in 1968 and 1969 that he worked with the Black Panthers, I jumped at the chance to interview him about what it was like, what it meant to him, and why he did it.
Q- What Made you want to work with the Panthers?
Carter: I decided to work with the Panthers when my frustration with the corruption of the San Francisco police in my neighborhood reached a breaking point. I saw them shoot a 13-year old boy in the leg. He had already been handcuffed. That’s when I knew I had to do something.
My neighbors, who were already Panthers, began talking with me about the movement. Intrigued, I began to sit in on some of their meetings.
I had always wanted to serve this community in the best way possible, and in my eyes, this was the perfect way to do it. The Panthers were doing something that no one else was willing to do, and I realized that it was something I truly wanted to be a part of.
Q-What did you do when you worked with the Panthers?
Carter: My job was to take care of African-American children while their mothers were at work supporting their families. Every day after school, along with other teenagers who felt called to serve their community as well, I’d go to the Fillmore Chapter in San Francisco where the daycare center was set up. When I wasn’t working with the children at the Fillmore chapter, I was probably passing out leaflets containing information about social meetings being held by the Panthers, special guests speaking at the chapters, and what books to read about educating oneself about their Blackness. I was also assigned my own readings to further educate myself about I who was, and who I could eventually be. The Panthers were all about educating Black People. They set me on a course that I knew I’d never stray from.
Q-While you were working with the Panthers, was your life ever in danger?
C: Actually, yes. Although we only worked with children, the chapter was still subjected to frequent raids by the San Francisco Police. They only ever found baby food and diapers.They kept coming though. Looking for guns and whatever else they could find to incriminate us. But they only found diapers. Every time.
Q-What did your family think about you working with the Panthers?
Carter: Oh, my folks didn’t even know. If they had, they would’ve busted me upside the head. The thing about the Panthers is that it was very much a youth movement. There weren’t many if any, old cats involved. We were just more radical; you know? We’d had enough, and we decided we’d take our neighborhood’s safety into our own hands.
Q-How did working with the Panthers make you feel as a person?
Carter: While working with the Panthers, I felt empowered and immensely proud of my blackness. I truly began to see how beautiful black people really are. The Black Panther taught me who I was as opposed to what America taught me who I was. The Panthers told me I was a man. They taught me my life has value.
Q-What would you tell today’s black youth based on your experience with the Black Panthers?
Carter: Never back down. You are valuable. Stay focused on the truth and to never compromise your dignity or self-worth for anyone. Don’t ever be afraid of who you are. Oh! And educate yourself! Keep learning the truth- your truth. Find out about your family and what they did in the times before you. Find out what they did to pave a way to get you where you are today and thank them. Always remember YOU are valuable. I know that I said that already but I think that’s important. The Panthers taught me a lot, and one of the most valuable things they taught me was that despite what I had been told, I had value.