I stand on the corner of 14th and Peralta in West Oakland, marveling over a mural painted on the broad side of the Sav-Mor liquor store. With a brilliant blue background, African Adinkra symbols along the top and the image of Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton squarely in the middle, the words “Serve The People” send a simple, clear mission statement.
“We are standing at ground zero, where the Black Panther Party started,” says Refa One, the artist behind the mural. “And there is nothing in this neighborhood of any consequence that is promoting the legacy of the Black Panther Party.”
Until last year, that is, when Refa painted the mural, giving visual honor to one of the most well-known organizations to emerge from the Bay Area.
Having his work on the walls around town isn’t new to Refa—he’s been active since the 1980s, when he painted with the graffiti crew BSK. You can see his work under the 580 overpass at Market, or on 8th Street, between Campbell and Willow. He’s currently working on a mural dedicated to the memory of Oscar Grant at Fruitvale BART station, where Grant was fatally shot 10 years ago.
Still, the Huey Newton piece is directly representative of the reason Refa, founder of the AeroSoul art collective, is invested in art. Both of his parents were Black Panther members, rank-and-file, as he called them. His dad, Ducho Dennis, served as official photographer for the Panthers, and walls of his photos transform Refa’s living room into a sort of mini-museum.
“Yeah I'm a collector of many sorts, mostly related to art. Whether it's sculpture, paintings, music, you know, I’m also an archivist,” says Refa as we walk into his house. “There's times where I will meet rank-and-file panthers, and this documentation may be the only physical documentation that records their involvement in the party, and that means a lot to their family.”