UCI’s School of Humanities hosted a small panel of women who shared their unique experience as former members of the Black Panther Party to promote their new photobook “Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther Party” on Oct. 18.
“Comrade Sisters” uncovers an often overlooked history, uplifting the voices of and inspiring Black women in the process.
The panel consisted of three women — Ericka Huggins, Norma Mtume and Ruth Wakabayashi Kondom — who were accompanied by photographer Stephen Shames. The women shared their life experiences and the process that went into making the photo book.
An audience of about 60 UCI students and staff listened as Shames opened the talk and shared some photos that broke stereotypes about the Black Panther Party. One still image from the book showed a female member handing out food to a white child. Shames’ goal was to correct misinformation and break stereotypes pushed by the media that the party was violent and hated white people.
“To me, the most important thing about the Panthers was that they were motivated by love,” Shames said. “Here’s visual evidence to contradict the lies that have been told about the Panther Party.”
After sharing a few images from “Comrade Sisters,” the panel was opened to a Q&A moderated by doctoral student in culture and theory, Chasia Jeffries. She asked the panelists questions regarding their experience as Panthers and about their relationships with those they met while working with the Panthers. Huggins recalled instances when former president J. Edgar Hoover wanted to “get rid of” the Panthers because of their community work.
“The family I found in the Party [has] been absolutely intrinsic to my life,” Huggins said. “When you face death with another human being, I hope you can imagine how that bonds you to that person.”
The female members of the Black Panther Party are often overlooked when discussing the group’s history. Attendee Randy Felder, a PhD student at UCI, asked how men could be proper allies.
The panel of women highlighted the importance of uplifting the voices of women.
“Don’t leave us out,” Mtume said. “Bring us along.”
Following the Q&A was a book sale and book signing. Attendees lined up to purchase a copy of “Comrade Sisters,” although a few arrived to the talk with book in hand. Over 30 copies of the photobook were sold.
A line stretched out of the room as undergraduate and PhD students alike waited for these historical figures to set ink to paper. One such student was Jasmine Osei-Enin, another graduate student in the PhD program at UCI.
“What I took away from [the event] is that in a revolution, a lot of stories go unheard but that doesn’t make them any less important,” Osei-Enin said.
Asia Boyd is a Campus News intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Laiyla Santillan is a Campus News intern for the fall 2022 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.