It has been said before that young people have the power to turn the tide of any social catastrophe when they become involved. An example of this include the protests led against the Vietnam War when American teenagers saw thousands of their fellow classmates and neighbors shipped off to die in a war most wanted no part of.
Parallel to the war protests, the height of the Civil Rights Movement in America was in full swing, led by leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. The heroes of the Civil Rights Movement inspired a generation of young African-Americans to become organized and take to the streets to peacefully protest to the people in powerful positions.
One of those young men who answered the call to action was Bobby Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, or B.P.P. Seale was once in the Air Force, a sheet metal mechanic for various aerospace companies, an employee for the city of Oakland, and a self-proclaimed barbecue expert.
Seale and Huey Newton founded the Black Panther Party with “power to the people” as the goal in mind. Many of the Party’s members were young adults around 17 to 20 years of age, including young black women who rose to leadership positions within the party. The further advancement of young people to powerful seats in society is something that Seale spoke at length about during his address to the public at Salt Lake Community College.
“I have to help inspire the students to understand that we have a crisis on our hands and we need to get more and more progressive politicians elected,” Seale told The Globe. “In this upcoming election, several months from now is important, that’s why I’m speaking and making sure in these particular speaking engagements. If they get inspired to get involved, I want more of these young folks to be politicians and get themselves some progressive programs and get elected to political office, create committees to elect someone or support someone whose progressive in the whole political arena, state level, local level, city council, county supervisorial seats, sheriff, etc. I call them ‘political power seats.’”
In 1973, Seale ran for Mayor of Oakland and lost in a run off with Mayor John Reading. There were nine candidates, and Seale earned the second-most votes.
Seale has gone to colleges to speak for decades now. Reaching out to the youth to create “future guards” for society is Seale’s hope for generations to come. Seale is 81 years old but has plans to continue speaking to young people and sees the importance of his presence and speeches to inspire others.
“It’s necessary on the one hand, I love doing it. I’ve spoken now at over 700 colleges and universities throughout the United States of America since 1967 … When I came out of jail, in one year, I spoke to 110 colleges. The next year, 50 colleges, the next year 30 or 40 colleges,” Seale told The Globe.
During Seale’s speech in the Grand Theatre on Monday, Feb. 26, he mentioned two social issues in 2018 that need to be addressed first by young Americans: climate change and ecology.
“These are issues that affect everyone,” Seale said. He challenged the next generation to take immediate action against climate change while denouncing the current administration’s plan to address it.
Among the crowd was Amelia Hansen, North Region VP for the SLCC Student Association, who was encouraged by Seale’s test to the students in attendance. As a woman in a position of influence at SLCC, she was moved by Seale’s call for more women and diversity in powerful seats.
“As a student, it means so much to me to hear people who have been in positions where oftentimes it feels like you’re fighting against something so big that you can’t make a difference … you kind of have that revolving door [where] you get rid of one problem and you find another problem,” Hansen told The Globe. “When we band together as a group, we are so much stronger, we’re so much more beautiful and diverse. We’re this beautiful tapestry at Salt Lake Community College.”
SLCC Student Life & Leadership in conjunction with the SLCC Black Student Union organized the event with hopes of Seale’s talk being a nice close to Black History Month.
Co-President of the Black Student Union, Sharifa Harrigan, reflected on Seale’s treatment in his famous 1969 trial, where Judge Julius Hoffman denied Seale’s Sixth Amendment right to represent himself in a trial. Rather than retreat and slump in his chair, Seale protested against the Judge for not honoring his Constitutional right and called his actions racist. After the continued outbursts, the Judge responded by having Seale forcefully bound and gagged in his chair. Seale was sentenced to four years, which ended up being three months each on 16 counts of contempt. Due to the unconstitutional nature of the Judge’s actions, the U.S. Court of Appeals overturned the contempt charges.
“It’s just not only him, but so many people back then, they go through so many things just because they’re African-American in the court, just to get a trial to go away or even for people to be on their side just because of the color of their skin. I think that was one of the most interesting stories from him … To hear from him, it was like a shocker type of thing, like wow that actually happened, and it was brutal,” Harrigan said.
Harrigan analogized the event to a “mini-history class” and said the information she learned are things she can keep for herself for the rest of her life but also share with fellow members of the Black Student Union who were not in attendance.
Seale is encouraged by young Americans’ efforts to protest now in many different ways and different topics. He’s seen the technological evolution from the very beginning and looks to Silicon Valley as the next resource for people who want to speak out.
“It automatically makes me hopeful to that extent,” Seale said. “I’ve even spoke to several tech people in the last year or so, young men and women who work for Google, [who] want to know what they can do to help what I call the ‘human liberation struggle.’”
Seale once said, “I think the American Dream should be about a greater progressive legislation that allows for what I call a necessary future world of cooperational humanism.”
At the conclusion of the event, Seale was awarded a gift from the Black Student Union. It was a trophy with a rotating planet Earth, symbolizing Seale’s dedication to making the entire world a better place for all in the years to come.