August 28, 2008 - Issue 288
The Oakland Community School, Oakland, CA / The Hope is our Young People
In Struggle Spotlight
By Larry Pinkney Editorial Board

The following is Part 2 of an interview in late June 2008, with Ericka Huggins, former national Minister of Education for the Black Panther Party. [Click here to read Part 1] As the interview of Sister Ericka broadens in scope, she continues to elucidate brilliantly the historical beginning, objectives, and accomplishments of the Oakland Community School in Oakland, CA.

In the interview, Sister Ericka pointed out that early on it was recognized by certain members of the national leadership of the Black Panther Party, in conjunction with various members of the community, that “it was great for our children to have an educational program but we needed a full school with teachers and classes and a curriculum and a building that was designated for it.” Thus it was that Brother Huey P. Newton “immediately went about finding a way to develop a nonprofit corporation and to secure funding to buy the building that the Oakland Community School sat in for almost ten years.” This, in and of itself, is an important part of the not-so-distant history that is little known and even less understood.

Sister Ericka herself was one of the “teacher[s] in the Oakland Community School” and had attended college to become an elementary school teacher, though in later years she has also become a university instructor / professor. Sister Huggins explained that she “was profoundly moved by the quality of life of African American children but not only that – African American disabled….and the children who were called educationally retarded…Children with cognitive disabilities and  I wanted to start a school for children with disabilities. That’s why I went to college.” At that time however, (in the late 1960s), Ericka’s college education was interrupted due to her simultaneous commitment to the Black liberation struggle which led her to join the Black Panther Party. Nonetheless, in 1979, Sister Ericka returned to college and explained in this interview that she has “recently” again returned to school to get yet an “additional degree” so that she can “open another school like Oakland Community School.” Sister Ericka went on to emphasize that the Oakland Community School was initially created in order “to be a replicable community program” and that it was “the most exciting educational forum” that she “ever participated in” because “the children were not hand picked [and] the parents could not afford to pay tuition and the [Black Panther] Party did not request tuition from them.”

The teachers at the Oakland Community School came from the community and were Black Panther Party members as was the administration of the school. Sister Ericka indicated that she recently interviewed a former student of the Oakland Community School and asked her, “what could have been improved about the school?” The former student “became very quiet”, looked at Ericka with a “delightful smile” and said, “Nothing could have been improved about that school! If I needed a hug, before the day was out someone would figure it out and give it to me. If I was hungry and didn’t even know I was hungry, snacks would appear. When I was sad and brought that sadness to school from home because we were poor you all knew it and you devised ways in the curriculum to make my academic day exciting and to make the day spacious and full of great things.”

Listening intensely to Sister Ericka Huggins discuss the Oakland Community School brought chills of joy, sadness, and hope to me. Stay tuned for the third and final part of this interview with Ericka Huggins on the Oakland Community School in an upcoming edition of The Black Commentator. Editorial Board Member, Larry Pinkney, is a veteran of the Black Panther Party, the former Minister of Interior of the Republic of New Africa, a former political prisoner and the only American to have successfully self-authored his civil/political rights case to the United Nations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In connection with his political organizing activities in opposition to voter suppression, etc., Pinkney was interviewed in 1988 on the nationally televised PBS NewsHour, formerly known as The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour. For more about Larry Pinkney see the book, Saying No to Power: Autobiography of a 20th Century Activist and Thinker , by William Mandel [Introduction by Howard Zinn]. (Click here to read excerpts from the book). Click here to contact Mr. Pinkney.


Any article may be re-printed so long as it is re-printed in its entirety and full credit given to the author and If the re-print is on the Internet we additionally request a link back to the original piece on our Website.

Your comments are always welcome.

eMail re-print notice

If you send us an eMail message we may publish all or part of it, unless you tell us it is not for publication. You may also request that we withhold your name.

Thank you very much for your readership.