April 2008 marked the 40th anniversary for the founding of Seattle`s Black Panther Chapter. The chapter was the first ever outside of California. The anniversary celebration included a mobile display of Panther artwork, press, and photography that hit several campuses over the last week of April. It ended with an all-day Saturday event at Yesler Terrace Community Center that included workshops, panels, and speakers. The event was a chance for people to come together, learn about and celebrate the work of the Seattle BBP chapter, meet the local founders, and buy some BPP merchandise. But while this significant heritage event was taking place, another critical gathering was going down only blocks away.
“Power to the people,” Wyking tells the crowd of 40 or so people gathered at the Garfield Community Center; “Panthers are celebrating their 40th year reunion today. They say power to the people, but the people always have the power. We’re just tricked into believing we don’t. Right now, this is about reclaiming our power and getting to the power tables. That means those downtown associations, when they’re at their Monday luncheons, we’ll be making our rounds. Whether we’re invited or not, we’ll be at the table because it is our table, we finance that table.”
Saturday, April 26th, 2008 marked the first convening of the new United for Youth Coalition, initiated by Wyking of Seattle Hip Hop Youth Council. With youth violence progressing at an alarming rate in Seattle, tax dollars pouring into enforcement instead of prevention, and summer just around the corner, United for Youth is about community self-determination and wake-up call for those who are supposed to be leading the charge. “This Unite for Youth Movement is just a beginning, we’re gonna do for ourselves, but at the same time we are going to hold people accountable who are supposed to be doing for us, and taking the tax dollars. People are getting resources in the name of helping the youth, billions of dollars allocated to getting this problem solved, and it’s just been getting worse .” Unite for Youth has already surveyed 200 young people in the Central District and South End, doing the grunt-work that policy-makers simply haven’t taken the time to do, and the group plans to develop proposals as soon as the research is complete. Check out part one and part two of video Coolout’s Georgio Brown produced as a part of the Youth Stakeholders Project. In the meantime, Unite for Youth members will facilitate practical, community-based political education in town halls such as these, just as the BPP did with Liberation Schools four decades ago.
In Seattle, the economic agenda behind gentrification (or urban-ethnic cleansing) is the same agenda driving the Gang Bill and similar criminalization-heavy policies that are supposed to stop youth violence. ” Part of the problem is the division between people who’ve just moved into the community, and the people who have been in the community,” says Wyking. Rich newcomers believe that public safety can be increased by increasing enforcement. The Gang-Bill, which allocates large amounts of money to police departments instead of com-munities for prevention, was easily passed in the state with the same belief system. ” These policies are being written, signed, and passed with virtually no input from the communities that they will impact the most,” he says.
During the Hip Hop Youth Council Panel, young people voiced their perspectives on the roots of youth violence, stressing lack of culturally relevant education and economic opportunity. Toward the end of the panel, emotions ran high when a mother in the crowd said, ” I would just like to remind the youth to remember the people that have come before them who have worked so hard to create the opportunities that they have today. I still haven’t heard anyone up there address the question of how to stop the black on black crime. You can`t wait on someone to give you solutions. Challenge yourself on a personal level.” One young man, Will, responded by saying, ” People keep looking at the youth as being the problem, people are pointing fingers on the youth, but the community needs to be a family and start parenting better. How can you be ashamed about me when I’m a product of my environment? When I’m a product of you?” Genieva Arunga, another panelist, asserted that the expressed sentiment pointed to the roots of the issue. ” The ones committing violence are the ones with the time. If you love to learn, you`re going to spend your time doing that. Education addresses the problem. The schools have messed it up, saying the goal of education is to get money. Nah, you are going to school so u can get knowledge. Most of people shooting each other wasn’t going to school, because they could get more practical knowledge elsewhere. If school is supposed to prepare us for life, then in school we should be learning life skills. But not everybody looks at us like human, so that’s why they don’t portray us or treat us as humans.” Wyking reminded the group how necessary this type of honest intergenerational dialogue is, saying, “There might be heated disagreements, but we got to cool off and come back, ’cause at the end of the day, it’s just us.”
The next panel addressed economic em-powerment vs. imprisonment in the Black community. Although Black people only make up 4% of the total population in Washington, 25% of the prison population in this state is African American. The panel featured a diverse group of leaders including Sheley Secrest of the NAACP, Knowledge God Allah of the Associa-tion for Afrocentric Development, Charles Miaza from Justice Works!, Robert Jeffery from Black Dollar Task Force, Tramaine “Lil’ T-Kid” Isabell, from the Letting Our Violence End Foundation, and Cochise Moore from Seattle Hip Hop Youth Council. The conversation gravitated around how to change the economic and social conditions that create criminal behavior in young people.
T-Kid, who runs a mentorship program, says that in order to prevent youth violence, you must provide knowledgeable role models, who know the whole picture, have street influence, and understand the historical context of neighborhood battles. ” My uncle’s a pimp, my dad’s a dope fiend, my brother’s a gangster, I’ve been shot, had to relearn to walk. This Central District/ South End battle, it’s been that since I was a kid,” he says, shaking his head, ” You can go coach youngsters, but you really need original members. Get the head officials. Empower brothas getting out of the penn, lay down the law, branch off, and organize. We led you into what you’re doing and we’re trying to lead you out. Out of 28 little homies, ages 12-17, only 4 go to school. They all have probation officers, they all smoke weed and sell dope, but there’s more to them than that, they just don’t have no one to tell them there’s another way.
The last speaker was 37th district (South Seattle) district representative Eric Pettigrew, who spoke about growing up in South Central Los Angeles, stressed the importance of process and persistence in the state capital, and promised his full-fledged support for those who were willing to do the work. When confronted about his initial backing of the Gang Bill by a young person in the audience, Pettigrew assured the crowd that he withdrew his support as soon as the prevention money to community groups was pulled from the legislation. He also added that many politicians in the state legislature were quick to support the bill because they needed it for reelection.
In closing words, Wyking urged all organizations to take on the responsibility of implementing at least one program focused on youth this summer, and asked individuals to sponsor at least one youth or community-lead youth organization. This application of Harriet Tubman Code to the War on Youth is akin to the One Prisoner, One Contact mandate of Chairman Fred Hampton, Jr. and the POCC. It’s the work ethic of those leading the new movement in the era of what Chairman Fred calls, ” second-generation cointelpro“.