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Ex-Black Panther draws parallels to current politics

Civil Rights group leader says Obama campaign mirrors Black Panthers' spirit

 by Celeste Sepessy
 published on Tuesday, February 12, 2008

<b>LOOKING BACK</b>: Black Panthers founder David Hilliard talks to students at the University Club Monday afternoon.  /issues/news/703585
Kaitlin Ochenrider / THE STATE PRESS
LOOKING BACK: Black Panthers founder David Hilliard talks to students at the University Club Monday afternoon.
 

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One of the Black Panthers' founding members gave insight to the party's inner workings, which he said closely reflect the platforms of current Democratic presidential candidates.

Former Black Panther David Hilliard spoke in front of more than 100 students and community members at ASU's University Club in Tempe. He addressed a group at the Downtown campus Monday afternoon and is speaking at the Polytechnic campus at noon Tuesday.

Hilliard, who was the former chief of staff of the Black Panthers, said the party was a "precursor" to modern public policy concerning education, health care and housing.

"We've inspired new generations," he said. "The same program and ideas that we were put in prison and exiled for are now public policy."

During Monday's lecture, Hilliard referred to the party as a "militant group" and said the party is generally misunderstood as an exclusively black movement.

"The politics were totally based on the idea of ending oppression," he said. "The cat was black, not our politics."

Hilliard said Huey Newton, former leader of the Blank Panthers, recruited him one month after the group's formation in 1966.

"Huey Newton came by my house with a Japanese guy and a Jewish guy to draft me in," Hilliard said. "We never promoted separatism."

Lisa Aubrey, an African American studies and political science professor, said she encouraged her African diaspora studies class to attend the lecture.

"It was interesting how he drew in the support the Panthers got from the Jews, for instance, and how they worked in coalition with Latinos," Aubrey said. "I'm hoping that [students] understand the international scope of their movement."

Breeching ethnicity lines like this will lead to a more positive future, Hilliard said.

"I think the spirit of our movement is manifested in Barack Obama," he said. "[He] is building a movement across racial, culture, gender, class and party lines."

This progress, Hilliard said, depends on those willing to make change.

"Obama is not going to change anything," Hilliard said. "It's the movement that Obama is building that is going to be impacting."

And college students are fueling this progressive movement, Hilliard added.

Ashlie West, an African American studies and nonprofit leadership and management senior, said Hilliard's lecture motivated her to help those around her.

"Seeing the larger image of the Black Panthers how far they went and how many people they helped inspired me," she said. "Even in today's time, I can do something that can be on an even larger scale."

Hilliard, who has taught classes about the organization's history at universities for nearly 10 years, said he enjoys the university setting because the Black Panther Party began at Oakland City College.

"[My students] are inspired to take their educational skills and tools and go back to the community in the spirit of our movement," he said. "I hope students take a page out of our history and use our model as a tool for meeting today's challenges."

Reach the reporter at: csepessy@asu.edu.



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