It was Tuesday evening, two days after Beyoncé's dramatic halftime Superbowl Sunday performance, when the Oakland community gathered at Grand Lake Theater to watch a screening of PBS's upcoming documentary, Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.
There was a palpable electric buzz (and debate) about what Beyoncé did in front of nearly 112 million viewers: declaring her love of being a black woman while dancing with afro'ed backup dancers clad in Black Panther gear. Beyoncé had managed to create a perfect pop culture segue for the dialogue slated for this evening, asserting not only the historical relevance of Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, but also why the themes that drove the movement then are still so painfully relevant to our discussions of race relations and gender today.
The night opened with a powerful musical performance by Antique Naked Soul, and remarks from Susie Hernandez (KQED, Director of Programming), Noland Walker (ITVS, Senior Content Director), Maira Benjamin (Pandora, Director of Engineering) and Lynette Gibson McElhaney (Oakland City Councilwoman, District 3). Hernandez and Walker both touched on how public media provides both an opportunity and a platform for communities to tell and share their own stories in an authentic way. Benjamin reminded audiences that the theme of the evening was “revolution” and highlighted her role as a woman of color in technology. Her message, “Bring revolution to all the spaces you represent," was met with cheers and applause from the crowd. McElhaney was hopeful about how elections and civic engagement can trigger change and she encouraged people to stay informed and embrace the possibilities.
Next, eight young black women walked in a line to the front of the theater, wearing t-shirts emblazoned with the words “The Black Woman is God.” Members of San Francisco-based Youth Speaks, the Black Sheroes delivered the most rousing performance of the night. The crowds whooped and hollered and shot their fists into the air. Older generations, including former Black Panther Party members, nodded and bobbed their heads as the women made it plain: our people are still in pain, and injustice is still alive. The performance, a mixture of spoken word and singing, started with a rendition of “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” and ended as the women roared out their love of being black women in the face of police brutality, intolerance and racism.
Just before the film screening, Ashara Ekundayo (Impact Hub, Chief Content Officer) moderated a dialogue with Ericka Huggins, a former political prisoner and Black Panther Party leader, and Cat Brooks, #BlackLivesMatter Bay Area member and founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project. Ekundayo opened with a brief moment of silence to honored activists who died after giving their lives to revolutionary causes.