In 2013, in Portland, Oregon, U.S., I started talking to the people I was working with to start an A-APRP chapter in Oregon about the need for us to initiate a project that would boost up our community there. The people I was working with at that time would always nod agreement, but I knew none of them had any real organizing experience and most of them really didn't see doing much beyond talking.
Still, I knew that Black Panther Party co-founder Huey P. Newton was correct when he said the people need "observation and participation." Also, I had my ancestors within our Pan-African movement guiding my spirit. So, with the help of a few of the new recruits circulating at that time, by the end of 2014, I believed I had convinced a couple of people to help organize an African only community meeting to present the plan I had crafted e.g. engaging the African community with a project aimed around organizing for self-determination. I had done my research. I had determined that the neighborhood where I wanted to center our work consisted of the area of Portland that had the highest concentration of African people (19% in a state that is only 2% African). That neighborhood had the highest number of immigrants from Africa. The highest percentage of people where English was a second language. And, the lowest number of high school graduates and highest number of police calls in the city. My plan; build community capacity to build a conscious zone where the people could solve their own problems without having state sanctioned terrorists known as police involved. The African only meeting, held on December 22nd, 2014, in Portland, attracted almost 100 African activists and community members. We presented our case for the work in the neighborhood. We broke people into groups. We had discussions. And, we accepted input on our plan. The verdict was that the people wanted a program that reached out to children, but they didn't want the same tired ineffective non-profit model. They wanted something in the spirit of the Black Panther Party. The idea made sense. If we feed children like the Panthers did, we felt the children and the parents, would be very willing to listen to our political message that all Black people are really Africans and belong to the African nation and that until Africa is free, no African anywhere will be free. After finding out that a good friend was concurrently opening a coffee shop in the very neighborhood we were targeting, I had a series of meetings with him about us being able to use his space for our free breakfast program. He immediately agreed and then our preparations began.
I was able to initiate a series of meetings with some of Portland's best anarchists - not the mouth first variety that are everywhere in the Pacific Northwest. I'm talking about people who understand the principled way in which European activists should support independent African liberation work. These anarchists raised money for us, promised us regular food deliveries, and stayed out of our way. I also worked with several African organizations in an effort to solicit their support. This was an ongoing process. Then the real work started.
In February and March of 2015 we went to work attempting to inform the community in question of our intentions. We created flyers informing of the need for us to organize ourselves and that we were going to be there to help. I conducted a canvassing training one Saturday, and we proceeded to start knocking on doors and signing up children to participate in our free breakfast program. There were many problems. And, I mean many, many, problems. There were people who we had to ask to leave our organization because of their unprincipled behaviors. Tons of time, energy, and emotions were spent around these traumas. And, if you don't recognize the consistent trend of backbreaking organizational contradictions always appearing right when your work is about to reach its highest potential, then I have a seminar on cointelpro that you need to attend. For two days per week, we consistently fed those children. Dozens of them at a time. Sometimes we would have plenty of food. Often, I and others had to go to the store that morning to get things to cook. Community support was outstanding, especially from those anarchists as well as friends from the newly organized Marilyn Buck Abolitionist Collective. And, despite the many challenges, the constant physical presence of Portland Black Panther chapter founder Kent Ford at our breakfast program was a constant reminder to me of why I needed to wake up at 5am. Why I needed to take time to prepare creative and innovative curriculum for the youth, and why we needed to keep the program alive.
Every week for a year we did keep that program alive. There were additional canvassing sessions. There were certainly additional contradictions and problems, especially with our own people. Still, we persevered. And, for an entire year, we held that breakfast program together until some issues with the property management company forced the coffee shop to close. That didn't stop us though. I remember a very cold Sunday morning in May of 2016 when I walked up and down Lombard Street in North Portland. All I had was clipping of our work from the local media in a folder. I was searching for a replacement center. I found the Abbey Arts Center located in a church on Lombard. I ended up talking to Sister Karen Ward who ran the church/community center. By the time I left the facility that day, that wonderful woman had entrusted me with the key to their multi-purpose room and kitchen. This led to our decision to evolve the breakfast program into an independent Pan-African school. We tried our best to bring some of those other African organizations into this effort with us, but there was more drama and that coalition never materialized, but we did emerge with the School of African Roots (SOAR - even the name with that coalition group was a challenge to agree upon). Although I'm in Portland no more, SOAR and the A-APRP still exist there and are still struggling to fight and organize for our people.
Despite all the difficulty with this work, my experience was overwhelmingly positive. There are the organizers who trusted my vision to the point where they got up at 4am and caught buses to try and help out with the program. One organizer rode her bike every time to participate, even when it was 20 degrees out. And, the children came. Sometimes two or three. Sometimes 20 to 30, but they came. And, they still come to SOAR. And, we will keep fighting to move forward with SOAR as we do with all our projects around the world.
I have pointed out several of the steps to bring about this work. I did that not to bring attention to my personal role in the work. If I wanted personal attention, believe me, I could think of much more effective ways to get it that would exclude all the trauma. My point was to demonstrate the painstaking day to day work it takes to initiate and maintain a program like that. And, to do that requires extensive follow up, patience, and determination, the hallmarks of effective organizing work. If you have any understanding and appreciation of the Black Panther Party, then you know this is the example they provided to us. We can never repay them. We can never bring back Chairman Fred or Geronimo. We cannot undo the trauma Assata experienced. We cannot bring back Bunchy or John or Lil Bobby. We cannot give Mutulu or Sundiata, or any of our heroes their lives back. The only concrete way we can demonstrate our appreciation for what the Panthers sacrificed for us is to continue their shining example. You can criticize our efforts to do that, but one thing is clear, our sincere efforts at demonstrating our commitment gives us a much better understanding and respect for what the Panthers gave. Something all those people who came to meetings and took up so much space (but, never were willing to follow up with anything, even to the low level point of at least telling us they weren't going to do anything so reaching out to them further was useless) cannot possibly understand.
If we truly want liberation, all of this work is what's required to get it. And, if you aren't willing to do it, resign yourself to just being a blow hard. We already know that about you. Meanwhile, we wake up each day with renewed respect for our Panther elders and ancestors. We plan to continue to honor their example until the fruits ripen into justice for all of humanity.