It’s Black HERStory month, and that means much for many and not so much for others–for varying reasons. Let’s choose to focus on both sides, since Black History is literally made everyday, and also because our history-making ways deserve to be celebrated for a lifetime, not simply a month.
In 2017, I started a painting of Kathleen Cleaver, Angela Davis, Elaine Brown and Assata Shakur– all influential women of the Black Panther Party (BPP) at one point or another– while I was on a personal journey to better understand the Black Power Movement from a factual standpoint (never learned it in school). As I went through, correcting jawlines, filling in afros, and color matching, I thought back to the narrative I was told about the Black Panthers vs. what their first-hand narratives told me. I grew up being told that the BPP was a militant, violent group of mostly men who ruled with an iron fist. It was not until the most recent 5ish years that I recognized that the Black Panther Party was a diverse group of black people (because, not monolithic), who were always FOR the people and moved with resolution to hold oppressive structures and systems accountable while improving the black experience in America by any means necessary.
Meet the Squad
Kathleen Cleaver was Communications Secretary and the first woman leader in the BPP; the party was actually at least 50% women. Kathleen went on to graduate Summa Cum Laude from Yale University and continued with her JD from Yale Law. Today, she’s a law professor. On a much viewed video of Kathleen Cleaver, she is cited say [in regards to black hair and blackness], “Ya dig it? Isn’t it beautiful? Alright…” I love this particuar snippet because it illustrates the warmth and pride that was and still should be felt regarding blackness today, tomorrow and everyday. “Isn’t it beautiful? Alright…”
Angela Davis is perhaps one of the most prominent past women of the BPP. I saw her as recently as this past Fall speaking with Nikki Giovanni to women of the GirlTrek, a movement rallying one million Black women to walk in their neighborhoods for radical self-care and healing. I’ve heard Angela Davis speak quite a few times, and what I can appreciate most is the undertone of convicted hope she embodies with each call to action. She speaks to the forever optimist in me, while also encouraging me to take action for the things that I care about. Known for quotes like, “We must learn to lift as we climb,” and “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change; I am changing the things I cannot accept,” Angela Davis’s life-giving words seem to always implicate ascension, resistance, autonomy, action and love. Today, Ms. Davis is a political activist, author and scholar, who continues to advocate for racial justice, women’s rights and criminal justice reform.
Elaine Brown is a previous chairwoman of the BPP. What I admire most about her is the conviction with which she uses her voice. She speaks up for us because she speaks up for herself. As a recovering people pleaser from the South, I can think of countless times when I did not correct someone out of caution to not offend them. I literally shrunk myself to be as palatable as possible for whoever, regardless of their (in)significance. As a woman working daily to define my own narrative, I can’t help but to meditate on these words by Elaine Brown, “You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” Today, Ms. Brown is a prison reform activist, lecturer, writer, and singer. She also retweeted my painting of her for anyone who cares :-).
Last but never the least, Assata Shakur, was actually only in the BPP briefly; however, her activism and commitment to the Black Power movement has deemed her a living legend. Depending on who is telling the story, Assata Shakur is either a criminal or a modern heroine. Currently in asylum in Cuba, she is often celebrated in the arts– especially through music. Between her autobiography and what I’ve come to understand as the truth, I choose to highlight Assata Shakur as a resolutionary who believes that, “…we need a r/evolution of the mind. we need a r/evolution of the heart. we need a r/evolution of the spirit. the power of the people is stronger than any weapon. a people’s r/evolution can’t be stopped. we need to be weapons of mass construction. weapons of mass love. it’s not enough just to change the system. we need to change ourselves. we have got to make this world user friendly. user friendly…r/evolution means the end of exploitation. r/evolution means respecting people from other cultures. r/evolution is creative. r/evolution means treating your mate as a friend and an equal. r/evolution is sexy. r/evolution means respecting and learning from your children. r/evolution is beautiful. r/evolution means protecting the people. the plants. the animals. the air. the water. r/evolution means saving this planet. r/evolution is love.”
As Resolute Rose continues to grow and bloom, I can’t help but to deem each of these women as my own #squadgoals. I give them their flowers today and everyday for their vision, their tenacity, and their action in spite of fear or naysay. They make me proud to be a black woman celebrating and creating history.
The Resolute Rose
Yewande K. Davis