.History Stands Corrected: Research and action center will tell Panthers’ story, revitalize their goals

As a child growing up in Los Angeles, Xavier Buck had never heard of the Black Panther Party. “I learned very little Black history other than slavery, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks,” he said.

But his journey took him from student activism at New York’s St. John’s University, where he, along with five other students, helped recruit Black faculty members, as well as successfully agitating for the introduction of a required microaggressions course, to an ACLS Leading Edge Fellowship at the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, and several other formative stops. By the time he completed his doctorate in history from Cal Berkeley, he not only knew a great deal about the Panthers, he had found a passion for telling their real story and helping realize their community vision.

That passion led him first to becoming deputy director of the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation, and now, manager of the newly announced Dr. Huey P. Newton Center for Research & Action (HPNCRA). The center, Buck said, “will finally tell the full story of who the Black Panther Party was, what they did, how they did it and what they were up against.”

According to materials provided by the foundation, the new center, to be located at 14th Street and Broadway in Oakland, will develop multiple initiatives, including capturing the stories of people who were involved with or impacted by the Black Panther Party (BPP) during its existence, will host organizing workshops and speaker series, and promote social science and public policy research.

“This is the realization of decades of work,” said Buck. In the 1980s, Huey Newton dreamed of a research center that would be both a community meeting place, and a place where the ideals of the BPP could be furthered. This vision, said Buck, was passed down after Newton’s premature death to David Hilliard, who co-founded the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation with Newton’s widow, Fredrika. Now it has passed to him, and he intends to see that the HPNCRA promotes the “five pillars” expressed in Newton’s writing and speeches:

• Address your community’s immediate needs, teach them why resources are inequitably distributed and organize them to change their conditions.

• Because we live in a capitalist economy where many people are exploited, we must build coalitions with oppressed people locally and globally.

  • Sexism and homophobia are counter-revolutionary.
  • There will be no real change until we redistribute wealth, resources and technology equitably.
  • Theory must be grounded in real-world experiences, and criticism is essential to intellectual growth.

Capturing stories, said Buck, is already part of the foundation’s work, but at the HPNCRA, it will be enhanced by an on-site oral history studio, which will record audio and video of both Panthers and those connected to them. “Many of these people still have sharp memories and are still active in their communities,” said Buck. The captured stories will help drive the narratives of exhibitions at the center.

The HPNCRA will also house a think tank, which Buck envisions as “developing out of the community we work in,” and intersecting with academic thought and research. Stanford University, UCBerkeley and Merritt College will collaborate with the center on research, workshops and lectures around the Black Panther Party’s legacy and contributions.

Another initiative of the think tank will be partnering with community-based organizations to help deliver services similar to those pioneered by the BPP, such as free food, clothing and medical services; educational services; and housing information. “[The BPP] organization was impactful because they had a strong theoretical framework and understanding of law; they were community-oriented and data-driven, and made sure the people they served knew about their programs,” Buck noted.

There will also be a virtual reality experience, in collaboration with Kai XR and the Oakland Museum of California, which the foundation hopes will offer young visitors a chance to creatively enter BPP history, “an organization where the average age of members was 19.” This is part of the foundation’s goal to engage an intergenerational audience of both Oakland residents and visitors to the city.

Buck believes that the HPNCRA presence and programs can be pivotal to the communities it will serve, and also provide a counter-narrative to the steady stream of stories about violence coming out of Oakland. Slated to open mid-2023, the center will be a cornerstone of the Black Arts Movement Business District and will spur Black-owned businesses and capital investment, he said. He plans to use his own background and skills, such as the digital entrepreneurship program he designed while a digital equity fellow for the City and County of San Francisco, to work reducing the racial wealth divide. That program was eventually adopted by Salesforce.

“Businesses can start out using digital platforms,” he noted, paying tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit of many in the Black community.

But above all, Buck, Fredrika Newton and others driving the center’s creation forward are dedicated to correcting the omissions and deliberate misrepresentations of the Black Panther Party and its programs.

“For those who don’t know anything about the Black Panther Party or who were taught false narratives, this will be a place to learn about and critically analyze American history,” Buck said.

“People will walk into the center, and not walk out the same.”

For more information about the Dr. Huey P. Newton Center for Research & Action, visit hueypnewtonfoundation.org.

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