Todays episode is with former chairman and the first and only woman to lead the Black Panther Party, Sister Elaine Brown. Elaine is a activist, writer, speaker, and songwriter known for her sharp wit and sheer intellectual voracity, but we all began somewhere, and Elaine is no exception.
Hailing from the streets of North Philadelphia, Elaine had a bit of trouble finding herself early on, some would call it an identity crisis. Her single mother, wanting to create a better life for her daughter, sent her to predominantly white schools, but once back home, Elaine found herself amongst the struggling denizens of a segregated north Philadelphia, allowing Elaine the experience, but not yet the words, of what it meant to be Black in America. An accomplished musician, Elaine fled to Los Angeles to pursue songwriting, but found herself at a Black panther rally within days of the assassination of Martin Luther King, despondent with the state of affairs in the country. Making her way up the ranks of the Black Panther Party, it was actually her songwriting that got her noticed by David Hilliard, the Party’s Chief of Staff, who made her song “the Meeting” from her debut album, “Seize the Time” the party’s official anthem. Her songs were also noticed by party Chairman and Elaine’s future lover, Huey P Newton, who placed Elaine at the top of the Party’s Leadership when he fled to Cuba in the 1970s to escape persecution.
While with the Panthers, Elaine helped set up many of the initiatives the party is known for, like it’s free breakfast For Children program and its Free Bussing to Prisons program, with prison reform becoming a lifelong pursuit for her.Since formally leaving the party due it’s patriarchal structure, Elaine has made activism, education, and revolution her life’s work. She’s the author of two books, A Taste of Power, her memoir, and The Condemnation of Little B, a nonfiction book charting the prosecution of young Michael Lewis, a 14-year-old sentenced to life in prison for a crime Elaine believes he did not commit. After founding multiple non-profits rooted in social justice, now at 78, Elaine is CEO of Oakland and the World enterprises, a non-profit dedicated to launching and sustaining for-profit businesses for cooperative-ownership by the formerly incarcerated, and others facing monumental social barriers to economic survival. Their multi-million dollar affordable housing complex in Oakland is slated to break grown in late 2021. And her album, Seize the Time was just re-released on Black Forum records, a division of Motown.
In this episode, Elaine and I discuss her bifurcated childhood in 1950s North Philadelphia, what it means to be seen for the first time, the way language shapes our sense of self, how the Black Panther Party used fashion and aesthetics as a signaling device, and so so so so much more. This episode is a history lesson, a sketch comedy, and manual on the vicissitudes that accompany a life of service and continual self-discovery. I hope you’re sitting down somewhere where no one can see the faces you’re about to make as you listen to this incredible conversation. It’s with gratitude we present to you none other than the indefatigable Elaine Brown.
Follow Elaine on Instagram: @sistaelainebrown
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