Elaine Brown Discusses Black Activism and Oppression

Written by Chaline Lobti

On Tuesday, Colorado College had the privilege of hosting Elaine Brown, the former chairwoman of the Black Panther Party and only woman to have held the position. She came to campus to visit and talk to students. She opened her speech with awe of the knowledge that she was standing in the same place that the likes of Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey had stood and made speeches. She then went on to speak of what the Black Panther Party stood for and the goals it was working to make a reality.

“Booker T. Washington and Marcus Garvey were both seeking ways for black economic independence and to bring about self-determination for black people, and that was the core of the work of the Black Panther Movement,” Brown explained.

The 50th anniversary of the founding of the Black Panther Party was commemorated this October, along with the theme “Where do we go from here?” The theme comes from the title of a speech given in 1967 by Martin Luther King Jr. According to Brown, King stated that “in order to talk about where we go, we have to talk about where we are right now.” During King’s time, black people in America experienced twice the poverty rate compared to whites, high unemployment, and high infant mortality rate. Brown argued that now, 50 years later, the reality of the black experience is not much better.

Brown continued her speech, explaining that the party realized they could not speak about their oppression and freedom without addressing the oppression and freedom of other oppressed groups in America. This realization led to the formation of several coalitions, helping to bring about American Indian Movement (AIM), a Native American civil rights organization, and the Red Guards, an organization with Chinese-Americans in California. Brown spoke on why these groups, in addition to the Black Panther Party, mattered and were needed. Brown highlighted the need to do away with the status quo of treatment of black people and other oppressed groups and to also strip away the negative mentality held towards these groups of people.

The overwhelming majority of the audience were in agreement with the points Brown made. Brown spoke on how the FBI made a statement that the Black Panthers posed one of the greatest threats to the country’s national security, which, in other words, could be calling the party a terrorist group.

Sophomore Tyler Borko spoke more on her delivery of her speech, which was very blunt and unapologetic. Borko says that he “liked how she just said what she wanted to say and didn’t let anyone influence her.” He was especially in agreement with her view on education of the young as one of the ways to bring about the liberation of all oppressed groups in society.

However, not every student agreed with everything that Brown stands for, such as the use of armed resistance if that is what is necessary to attain freedom. Taylor O’Donnell, first-year, said violence is “much too difficult and ineffective.” Despite whatever disagreements some audience members may have had, the vast majority of the audience appeared to be in awe of Brown and held much respect for a woman who has achieved so much in the quest to liberate the lives of the oppressed—not just in America, but outside its borders as well.

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