Jenea Robinson, 34, Owner of Marsh + Mane
I learned about Elaine Brown probably right before I went away to college. I grew up in Connecticut and went to Howard University in D.C.
She was born and raised in North Philly.
She went to Temple University for a little while, left and then moved to Oakland, California.
When people talk about her story, they start with when she was in Oakland, but she actually started as a young Black girl from Philadelphia who had access to great schools while she was here. She received a great education but was struggling with this balance between living in an impoverished community in North Philadelphia but having access to all these great schools. She was figuring out her identity as a Black woman going to school with all these Jewish white kids.
She moved to California and got connected with the Black Panther Party earlier on.
Elaine Brown actually got her start with the Black Panther Party by writing for their paper and people knew about the Panthers’ involvement with journalism. They had several newspapers that were well-read, greatly distributed. A lot of the women wrote for those publications.
Elaine Brown was actually one of the people who started that free breakfast program.
Then she eventually meet Huey P. Newton. People know all about their love story. You look her up, you don’t see that too much, but when you read her autobiography [A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story] she talks a lot about that. People think of her as Newton’s girlfriend, but when Huey left the country, Elaine became the first female chairperson of the Black Panther Party.
She ran the party on a national level for a couple of years until Huey came back. It’s something people don’t think about because when you think of the Panther Party, a very specific image comes to mind. You think of fros, glasses, men, and then maybe think of women second. She is a badass. In the ‘70s, she ran for a seat on Oakland City Council. She ran twice.
I’ve always been fascinated with that era of civil rights starting from the Black Arts Movement to the formation of the Panther Party, which is such a radical time. Growing up in the ‘90s and the early 2000s, I was always fascinated with that story, but I only knew the male part of the story. We know about Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale, but no one was talking about the women.
There was a lot of sexism within the party, but when you think about it, who was doing all the organizing on the back end? We’re the ones doing that. Women handled the programming, community outreach and they were organized in hundreds of chapters across the country.
I had a couple of family members who were involved with the Black Panther Party and just talking to them and hearing their stories, that just ignited my fascination even more. Then when I found out I was going to Howard University, The Mecca, I thought I’m about to be a part of every organization, every protest and I was like, I’m going to join the new Black Panther Party.
I get to school, it was 2003 and that was the year that they had that big affirmative action march. At the march they had a lot of current Black Panther members who are older and they were handing out information about the new Panther Party. I’m thinking “Okay, I’m Black, I’m at Howard University, this is great, I’m about to join the Panther Party.” Then I read the book.
The level of respect I had for the organization, what it meant to people and its impact didn’t change but for the first time, reading that book, I thought of my [Black womanhood].
You hear of all the great things that the Party accomplished, but you really didn’t hear about the mistreatment of Black women within the Black Panther Party.
This is not to take away from the praises they gave Black women, but I think what stuck with me about the book is that was the first time I started to think about feminism. I’m like, this is a woman who was smart, educated, knew her stuff, was running the Party and then she was dealing with sexism within the organization from Black men.
So now, I’m trying to wrap my head around this idea of all of me. The Black part and the woman part. That’s really what I love most about the Elaine Brown story. It kind of shifted my thinking quickly about the organization, but I don’t think it was just about the organization. After that, I joined The National Council of Negro Women and then The Rainbow Coalition. I was very involved in those organizations because they were more inclusive.
Now, I try to be conscious of my womanhood within my Blackness. Our issues go hand in hand. You can’t even get to my issues as a woman without addressing my Blackness.
Jenea’s Revolutionary Picks:
“Elaine Brown actually got her start with the Black Panther Party by writing for their paper and people knew about the Panthers’ involvement with journalism. They had several newspapers that were well-read, greatly distributed. A lot of the women wrote for those publications. Elaine Brown was actually one of the people who started that free breakfast program. “