There are certain extraordinary life experiences that are destined for a page in one’s own personal history book.
Bobby Seale’s appearance Friday, Feb. 24, 2017, at two For Richmond Black History Month events is destined for such a page.
The co-founder of the original Black Panther Party, Mr. Seale spent a momentous morning in Richmond, first addressing an intimate crowd of residents at the Pullman Point Apartments, followed by an appearance before an audience of more than 350 people at the Craneway Pavilion.
Mr. Seale’s first stop that morning at the Pullman Point Apartments was at the Soleil Kids Café, For Richmond’s recently launched, free, daily breakfast program that provides the complex’s school-age children and their families with a nutritious meal to help prepare them for a successful day at school and beyond.
The breakfast program, offered in partnership with Café Soleil on school days, is inspired by the original Black Panther Party’s “Free Breakfast for School Children Program.” The Black Panthers’ free, before-school breakfast program launched in Oakland in 1969, and was so successful, it grew to serve more than 10,000 children across the country.
“In my organization, the Black Panther Party, one of the greatest things…was that it developed real good character when I created the Free Breakfast for School Children Program,” Mr. Seale told the Pullman Point audience.
Mr. Seale relayed how he had seen “pictures of real young children” with “bloated stomachs” and realized they needed to take action by establishing a free food program for local children.
“We weren’t a big organization at the time,” Mr. Seale said of the time period when the Black Panthers first launched the breakfast program at St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church in Oakland. With a steady influx of students from a nearby elementary school, coupled with donations from Lucky Supermarkets, the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast program was born. Per Mr. Seale, it was serving 150 students before long at that location—and the rest is history.
“This program has a lot of mean, tough relevant and positive history,” Mr. Seale told Pullman Point residents of the Soleil Kids Café breakfast.
Mr. Seal also told the Pullman Point audience how, following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death, young people flooded his organization, causing it to grow rapidly and establish chapters throughout the county. He also underscored that the importance of their collective work expanded beyond the programs they initiated.
“I would go to every chapter, every branch, and teach them the fine particulars and the methodology of grassroots community organizing,” said Mr. Seale. “How to put up programs and maintain voter registration drives…The whole objective was not just to put the programs up; the objective was to get the programs in the community, get the community united around the programs, get the people registered to vote—and when they’re registered to vote, we can vote in some people who are gonna relate to these kinds of programs, policies and legislation that make human sense.”
At Pullman Point, and later before a larger crowd at the Craneway Pavilion that morning, Mr. Seale spoke of how some of his first community efforts occurred in Richmond not long after he heard a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Oakland that inspired him to take action.
Taking ‘action’ resulted in Mr. Seale establishing our city’s first youth jobs program. He would later return to Richmond for numerous other social justice activities, eventually leading the City of Richmond to “surprise” him with a proclamation honoring his work.
“To have Mr. Seale here today to talk about the work that he’s done in Richmond—he started the first jobs program—really is in unity with what we do at For Richmond,” said For Richmond Executive Director Kyra Worthy when introducing Mr. Seale to the Craneway crowd—an honor she described as making her feel “elated.”
Throughout the Craneway event, Mr. Seale drove home the importance of grassroots community efforts like he engaged in while leading the Black Panther Party—from offering free breakfasts for school children to establishing preventive health care clinics, to dispersing free groceries to underserved people, to registering people to vote, to protecting citizens targeted by authorities and so much more.
In closing, Mr. Seale underscored his overriding point by paraphrasing the first two paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence.
“When I say ‘When in the course of human events it becomes necessary…’
Or when I say, ‘when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, then I say it is the right of the people to alter and change that government and provide new GUARDS for their future security and happiness.’
That’s on our Declaration of Independence…the founding goal objective of what democracy and freedom and human rights should be about. Above and beyond all, that’s where it’s coming from, that’s what it’s about,” Mr. Seale said with gravitas that reverberated throughout the room.
“Power to the People, thank you very much,” concluded Mr. Seale.
Following a near one-hour speech, Richmond bid adieu to the incomparable Mr. Seale the same way he was greeted: with a standing ovation.