At health fair, Black Panthers recall famous legacy

The Nov. 3 event one of many ahead of 50th anniversary of Fred Hampton's assassination

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By Bonni McKeown

Black Panthers and Black Panther Cubs from all over the city and country gathered at Stone Temple Baptist Church, located at Central Park and Douglas Blvd., for an all-day health fair on Nov. 3. The event is part of a series of happenings leading up to the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Illinois Black Panther Party Fred Hampton's assassination. 

Hampton was killed by law enforcement officials while sleeping in his West Side apartment on Dec. 4, 1969. 

Billy "Che" Brooks, the Panthers' former minister of education who lives in Bellwood said that the Nov. 3 event was reminiscent of the programs the Panthers provided back in their heyday five decades ago. 

"The Black Panthers provided services [for the] body and soul," he said. "We have to consistently do this, because conditions today are no different than they were 50 years ago, especially with a buffoon in the White House taking white supremacy to another level. Social justice suffered a major blow when we stopped talking to each other, stopped loving and caring about each other."  

The participants said that by including young spoken word, dance and martial arts performers in the program, they wanted to reconnect generations and pass on important history. Brooks said that movies like Black Panther tend to mask today's realities. 

"Our existence is threatened," he said. "Wakanda doesn't exist."

Paula Peebles, of Philadelphia, said that the Illinois chapter of the Panthers was known under Hampton's leadership for including Latinos, Native Americans and poor whites who fought side-by-side with blacks for justice. 

Lauryn Williams Jackson said that many Black Panther members were teenagers when they started out with the famous organization.

"Many of us joined the Black Panther Party at the age 16 or 17," she said. "We were just doing our thing, and it's amazing and humbling when 50 years later, people come and thank us. Now our kids, the Cubs, are taking over, not to copy us, but to do their own thing."

Linda Wills, the daughter of two Black Panther members, said that she has studied how government programs like the FBI's COINTELPRO — a counterintelligence operation that sought to undermine radical activist groups — exploited the weaknesses of many prominent activists. 

"Gossip was how most of these groups were destroyed," Wills said. "We should learn from this now."

Emory Douglas, of San Francisco, created many cartoons for the Black Panther Party's newspaper, from May 1967 to 1988-89. Douglas has traveled and collaborated with indigenous artists in Australia, New Zealand and Mexico.  

"We need coalition building," Douglas said. "We need work on local domestic issues, but in solidarity with struggles around the world." 

Some people shared copies of old Black Panther papers while giving out information on chronic conditions like asthma. 

Donna Calvin, a Black Panther, as well as a UIC nursing instructor, recalled planning the party's health clinic with Doc Satchell and Quentin Young. 

"Poor people have been dying disproportionately from preventable diseases," Calvin said. "Education can help, but first, healthcare workers must show the people they genuinely care. As the saying goes, 'Nobody cares what you know til they know you care.'" 

Preston Baker, a martial arts grand master, was one of the first people to bring martial arts to the black community. He noted that the self-discipline of martial arts tends to keep people away from street violence, but providing the important skill to people of color did not come easily for him. 

"Racism was embedded in martial arts too," he said. "Black people organized the United Martial Arts Association and that helped open it up." 

Fred Hampton Jr., who is trying to save his famous father's boyhood home in Maywood, called on people who know the true history of Black Panthers to defend the organization's legacy. 

"Our legacy remains under attack," Hampton Jr. said. "You've got to call out the contradictions and stand up, even to family members and friends."

CONTACT: bonni@barrelhousebonni.com

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