A collective sentiment of revolution and excitement permeated the small, crowded auditorium inside the Multicultural Center at UCSB. A diverse crowd of teachers, students and adults packed the room, leaving very little space to encompass any further persons. A table and four microphones adorned the stage, patiently waiting for the presence of Black Panther members Emory Douglas and Akinsanya Kambon. Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Black Panthers, the revolutionaries spoke on how they employed art as a way to reflect the struggles and cultural history of African Americans and their rebellion to the oppression in their society.
The crowd anxiously awaited Douglas to take the stage as Professor Diane Fujino began the event. Introducing an atmosphere of solidarity and cross cultural support, a group of indigenous Chumash Indians took to the stage to thank and honor the speakers for their attendance.
Emory Douglas took to the stage, his presence so intense that the room echoed silence, and his first words rang powerfully through the ears of his listeners, “All power to the people!”; this was recited back to him with a fervor that matched those protesting the streets of IV. He introduced his position within the party, the Minister of Culture, as he played a video of the Panthers detailing his role. Douglas had constructed iconic images, that embodied the Black Panther Party’s persona of the militant and revolutionary poor, one that resonated with and began to define the insurgent minority. A powerpoint of his art plastered the vast screen behind him, allowing the audience to fully experience his art. Douglas spoke of a widely unknown narrative, one seldom affiliated with the panthers: the community work the Panthers engaged in and the role his art played in further inciting change. He used his artwork “to enlighten, to educate and to inform” the community through the BPP’s newspaper– he worked “to create a culture of resistance” in his community. His art flashed across the screen behind him, branding the social commentary into the minds of his viewers. The stark images, in very little color, told stories of the social and political climate of the time, some very similar to that of our contemporary world. It was art based on necessity, what was the most impactful, made with the resources they had. As Douglas finished, the audience erupted into swarm of cheers and clapping as he left the stage.
UCSB student Devin Clark thought the event was awesome. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it was so enlightening.” When asked what was taken from the conversations, Clark replied “they played their part and now it’s our time and our responsibility to do our part”.
As the crowd calmed down, Akinsanya Kambon walked up the to the stage and proclaimed “art must be used to uplift and educate humanity”. Students and adults riled up once again, cheered as he began speaking. He spoke of the atrocities of his tour in Vietnam, exposing the discrepancies in society, juxtaposing those he saw in his day with those prevalent now. Kambon demanded respect as he stood tall, voice chiming through the room disregarding any politeness. His words, raw and unrestrained, were so powerful and inspiring, that his speech was continually interrupted by cheers from the audience. He spoke of the importance of culture and heritage and how that inspired his art. He spoke of how the BPP educated him, influencing the construction of his famous Black Panther Coloring Book.
The next part of the event was a “conversation with the artists”, Douglas and Kambon talked with Professors Diane Fujino and Felice Blake. They covered questions of how the BPP utilized and taught literacy, the influences of their art and the international reach of the Black Panther Party, comparing these to the issues today. The audience hung onto each word, dripping with eagerness to ask their own questions to the revolutionaries. Finally the questions were opened to all and a sea of hands sprang up; many were anxious with inquiry. Topics concerning Colin Kaepernick, imperialism and Donald Trump’s presidency arose, along with more broad questions of how to create political and social change, how to dismantle the oppressive systems and the purpose of protest.
The event was concluded as Emiliano Martinez, a representative of the American Indian Movement, played an honoring song to the Panther members, creating a lasting atmosphere of solidarity. UCSB student Kate Thorsland really enjoyed the event and was glad she came out. “It really resonated with me because of what is going on politically right now. Movements like this are deemed “radical” but are necessary. This event was definitely well timed for me as unfortunately the same issues are happening now.”
The Multicultural Center then hosted a reception afterwards to honor the artwork created by both Douglas and Kambon. I was able to speak to Kambon and ask him what advice he would give to UCSB students looking to create change. “Organize and change the world,” he said, “don’t worry about politicians, they’re a part of the system that wants to keep the status quo. Change is up to you”.