Perspectives – A Look Back – and Forward – During Black History Month

By Jim Wambach | February 22, 2021

“I think what motivates people is not great hate, but great love for other people.”  — Dr Huey P. Newton

Huey P. Newton Way in West Oakland

Through their toil, Oakland activists like Dr. Huey P. Newton nurture and empower communities, and challenge institutions to identify and eliminate institutional racism once and for all.

Each February we celebrate Black History Month. As we pause to reflect upon the rich, vibrant, and foundational role of Black people in our nation’s history, this year I feel a sense of urgency, coupled with a strong connection to our East Bay community. We should look back with pride at the anti-racist activists in California, and Oakland in particular. They were, and continue to be, leaders in the movement. Through their toil, they are nurturing and empowering communities and challenging federal and local governments to identify and eliminate institutional racism once and for all.

I recently viewed the Oakland Museum of California’s Black Power exhibit, which can be visited online. The exhibit “…will bring to light the tensions between a culturally and socially progressive California and examples of economic racism and oppression in the state.” And earlier this week, a street in West Oakland was renamed after Dr. Huey P. Newton, the revolutionary founder of the Black Panther Party.

“It is so important to look back in time and measure the progress we have made, while realizing there is still so much more to do.”

As I perused the Black Power exhibit, and read more about Dr. Newton and the Black Panther Party, two things struck me. The historic legacy of the Black Power movement is so often presented only through provocative, even sinister-looking photos of activists bearing guns and threatening violence. However, that imagery excludes so much of what the movement was able to achieve, including calling out police brutality against blacks, feeding, and clothing of children, establishing free clinics, and advocating for educational, housing, and employment equity. The disconnect is important to reconcile as we learn from the past.

Black Power Exhibit at Oakland Museum of California

Oakland Museum of California’s Black Power exhibit “…will bring to light the tensions between a culturally and socially progressive California and examples of economic racism and oppression in the state.”

I was struck by how relevant the concerns expressed by the Black Panthers in the 1960s and 1970s are to this very day. Indeed. Dr. Newton’s Ten Point Platform could very well be the current Black Lives Matter platform. It’s a reminder that meaningful progress can move so slowly, even as generations of children continue to be impacted by racism, poverty, violence, and inequity.

It is so important to look back in time and measure the progress we have made while realizing there is still so much more to do.

Seeking the shalom of the city – its health, welfare, and prosperity

As Children Rising celebrates 20 years, I also take this time to cast my eyes forward. I look to the shalom we envision for our community – one of health, welfare, and prosperity for all of us. I am reminded that “This City” is one of our core values.

“We believe there is something wonderful about the East Bay – this “city” where God has placed us. We are proud of the East Bay’s vibrant history, cultural significance and achievements, and the tenacity of our diverse people to not just survive, but thrive. We recognize the people of this city – from lifelong residents to newcomers – hunger for a future of equal opportunity and prosperity. We believe in our city and seek to work with other individuals, organizations, and institutions in our community to fight for our children’s futures so that the East Bay is a beacon of hope and light for the rest of the nation.”

We continue to strive for the shalom of our city. A healthy, vibrant community, where everyone lifts up their neighbor. As we reflect on the legacy of Black leaders, we believe that is a value Dr. Newton would embrace.

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