Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther PartyBy Suzanna U. Wed, March 22, 2023
Over the years, the Philadelphia Commission for Women has partnered with the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women on vital programs to elevate the voices and aspirations of women.
In 2016, the Commission hosted its very first program bringing together women from all parts of city government to participate in a national read-out of Chanel Miller’s “Victim Impact Statement.” At the time we only knew her as "Emily Doe," the young woman who was brutally assaulted by Stanford University student Brock Turner who left her by a dumpster as if she were trash. In four days, Miller’s statement went viral and was viewed by eleven million people. Her powerful words were heard on the floor of Congress and in Philadelphia’s City Hall. A couple of years later along with Philly NOW, the Commission hosted Michele Dauber, the Stanford law professor who spearheaded the successful recall campaign against the judge that gave Turner a light sentence for his horrific attack on Miller.
In the same spirit of collaboration, the Philadelphia Commission for Women pivoted from an in-person 2020 Summit for Women and Girls planned for the Free Library of Philadelphia to a virtual partnership as part of a year-long commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment with a series Suffrage. Race. Power: Making Democracy Work, and a program tie-in with the library’s exhibit, Making Her Mark — Philadelphia Women Fight for the Vote.
And on March 22, 2023, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Commission for Women, and the Philadelphia chapter of NOW present what might be our most ambitious and inspiring collaboration yet – a panel discussion with authors of the book, Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther Party. However, this event is so much more than a discussion.
We’ll hear from photographer Stephen Shames whose hundreds of remarkable photographs document the women who comprised at least 66 percent of the Party. Comrade Sisters is his third book of photographs featuring the Black Panther Party. His photographs, along with artifacts and materials from Temple University’s Special Collections Research Center, Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, and the African American Museum in Philadelphia will be on view in the library’s West Gallery One through April 27, 2023. Additional resources are available online, including a discussion and resource guide created by Angela D. LeBlanc-Ernest.
Angela Davis wrote in the foreword to Comrade Sisters…
"We must bear in mind that the new radical linking of anti-racism with anti-capitalism that characterized the Party’s approach to Black Liberation was matched by a tenacious dedication to Community Survival Programs. These programs demonstrated that freedom is more than a checklist of formal rights. Freedom involves free breakfast for children, free groceries, free education, free transportation to visit incarcerated loved ones. Altogether, there were over 60 Community Survival Programs, and they were primarily run by women."
In her own words, we will hear from author Ericka Huggins, who describes her comrades as:
"...the family we choose, a bond that defies location, time and biology, a life well lived."
Philadelphia was a very active and vibrant chapter of the Black Panther Party. Former Party members Dr. Regina Jennings and Ethel Paris will tell their stories of activism then and now. The Wednesday, March 22nd conversation will be moderated by award winning broadcast journalist and filmmaker Karen Warrington. Warrington adds another layer of lived experience to an era of Black empowerment, as her own son was a member of the Party.
Woven together, these experiences are the fabric of an integral part of the Black Liberation Movement that informs today’s Black Lives Matter movement. It bears mentioning during Women’s History Month that Black Lives Matter was founded by Black women — Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. Moreover, they are the women of yesteryear and today who intimately know injustice, and whose dynamic work charts a path towards what it means to be truly free.
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