Activist Bobby Seale speaks at NAU
After starting the Black Panther Party (BPP) more than four decades ago, Bobby Seale visited NAU on April 3 to speak about social justice and his ideas for the African-American community. The BPP was founded in Oakland, Calif., but quickly spread across the country as it sought to alter the justice system and bring to light issues facing the African American community.
Justin Strong, an integrated master’s student in criminology, chose to bring Seale to campus to make students more aware of his work in society. He said Seale was involved in providing meals for children and transporting people to and from the jail to visit family members.
“The Black Panthers started in the 1970s as a revolutionary group that was focused on issues that were hindering the black community at the time,” Strong said. “They would do breakfast programs for children in the black community; he would take members of the community to go see loved ones in prison, and he would also do controls in the community.”
Strong believes the Black Panthers are a model of how society should address social justice issues. He said it is important for people to examine how the criminal justice system works and its legitimacy.
“There’s this history of the Black Panthers helping out as a model; providing a way to address social justice issues in a very democratic, grassroots way,” Strong said. “The response that the criminal justice [system] had in terms of the police and the FBI, to the Black Panthers, is an issue. A lot of the time the criminal justice system is taken as absolute or is taken as legitimate —natural. To be honest, I don’t think it should be given that legitimacy. I think that we have to acknowledge its history and who it actually works for.”
Strong’s attempt to bring Seale to NAU has been a long process. He said it was not easy to get the funding he needed, but was able to pull this event off with the help of the Student Activities Council (STAC).
“I went to ASNAU first to try to get the funding and they told me to seek funding elsewhere, which was disheartening,” Strong said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs but [the money] finally came from STAC, [and I] learned about [Bobby Seale] through my own study and education.”
Strong explained that his hope is for people to understand how the criminal justice system works, and learn how to work together to improve it. He has done a lot of work on his own to put this event together, but with support from others, feels good about this accomplishment.
“I’m not doing it solely for academic purposes,” Strong said. “I’m doing it because I want people to know that our society could be better and that the Black Panthers, as a model, are a very excellent [group] to pull ideas from. It was hard to have energy for all this [and] I’ve done a lot of stuff on my own. I’m glad if it’s making even one person excited for it and couldn’t believe it’s happening. That’s why I like to do these kinds of things.”
In an intimate gathering earlier in the day, Seale talked about his time in the BPP; using animated stories and expletives. He said the BPP was just like any other political party, in which he organized half a million members and multiple chapters across the country.
“We had started an organization called the Black Panther Party, and it was a political party — just like you hear about the Democratic Party, Republican Party [and] other people’s parties,” Seale said. “Before they put me in jail, I’d organized 5,000 panther party members and 49 chapters and branches throughout the United States of America. Plus some 22 national committees to combat Fascism chapters in the country, [and] I politically educated all of them.”
Seale explained that the BPP succeeded in their efforts because of how they went about demonstrating problems. He emphasized the importance of making sure people’s beliefs and ideas match reality; and unifying them in their efforts.
“On the one hand, you can have a march, a demonstration, speeches, et cetera,” Seale said. “On another hand, you can demonstrate with a program [for] a problem. You [have] to make sure that our ideas, our beliefs, our understandings, our realizations, as much as possible, correspond correctly to reality.”
Justin Strong said he would like to dedicate this event to the recently deceased Joel Olson, associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs.
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