“A school to serve the people.”
These are the words written boldly on a wall at the Huey P. Newtown Foundation’s headquarters in downtown Oakland, where they’re surrounded by a wealth of artifacts from the Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community School’s archives.
There are notes on the school’s pedagogy and practice, and clippings from old periodicals. A black-and-white photo of Rosa Parks accepting flowers from a young student. A list of cultural icons — James Baldwin, Willie Mays, Maya Angelou, to name a few — who once visited the campus.
The Oakland Community School, preceded by other Black Panther led-schools (The Children’s House and the Intercommunal Youth Institute), opened in 1973 at 6118 E. 14th Street in East Oakland, where it operated until its closure in 1982. At its height it enrolled more than 150 students, and throughout its tenure maintained a waitlist that included unborn children, according to school director Ericka Huggins. A partial list of its alumni boasts San Francisco Foundation CEO Fred Blackwell, actress Kellita Smith (The Bernie Mac Show, Roll Bounce) and Money B of Digital Underground.
More impressive are the ways in which the school changed American education.
The Panthers, whose free breakfast program for schoolchildren pushed the U.S. government to adopt a similar policy, are credited with designing an education system in which the community and school are not separate, but united. This paved the way for the model formally adopted by the Oakland Unified District in 2010, with its initiative to transform all schools into “full service community schools.”