Huey Newton: One of us
It was my man Iles who hipped me to Huey P. Newton way back in 1986. "You will love this brother," he said affectionately. He showed me the cover to "Revolutionary Suicide." It was an iconic picture and one that is synonymous with the Black Power movement. We didn't have google back then, so a brother had to make a trip to the library which to this day is one of my favorite places to be. The copy I checked out was torn in so many places. It had excessive water damage but most of the books in the library I wanted to check out were in the same condition.
Looking back, 1986 was a crazy time. Reaganomics was in full effect. One could feel the bombardment of the war on drugs as NYPD's TNT would raid entire blocks arresting everyone in sight. Shootouts became part of the Bronx Borough anthem alongside police sirens. So Huey came to me at the right time. Growing up black or brown in NYC, one becomes very familiar with police brutality.
It was no surprised that I found Huey and Bobby Seale's approach to police brutality to be mind blowing.
"Wait a second," I debated Iles, "you tellin' me these guys used to follow the police? Can we even do that?"
While I learned that it was perfectly legal, we all knew you had to be half way crazy to even suggest such a thing but the Black Panther Party for Self Defense did that. And it paid off. You all know the story, I would hope.
What intrigued me about Huey was that he graduated high school as a functional illiterate. He spent a great portion of his time, fighting in the street due to his physical size and his voice. He earned a reputation as a street fighter. What stood out the most was his love for the brothers on the block, or the lumpen proletariat. He reminded me of many brothers I hung around with. He reminds me of many brothers I came up with who are no longer here.
What I learned about Huey helped me so much in life. When I walk down the street and see a group of youth, I see Huey. When I help young children how to read, I see Huey. When I build with young brothers at a bus stop, at a supermarket line, a b-boy/b-girl battle, I see Huey. Huey represents the potentiality of all the young brothers I interact with.
We are not here to hero worship. Huey suffered from many mental illnesses. It was clear his time in prison had a profound affect on this mental health. Many of the people watched him spiral into bouts of paranoia and depression. Later he developed a drug addiction which led to his tragic demise. I also saw the same happen and continue to happen to brothers I know and love. Many succumbed to drugs or gun violence.
I learned that our children, no matter what background, can meet those fates. It's up to us to nurture their potential early. It is important to note that with Huey, his community work came from the love he had for his community. I think that is vital and it is something we miss. Our efforts should be out of love. If there is any example we can find from Huey, is that love is our greatest weapon. We don't have to know political theory frontwards and backwards. While it is great to study philosophy, military tactics, and organizational skills, we must know that without love, those things are empty.
Young people can recognize that from the door. If they sense that you do these things out of love and express that love as much as possible, they will return that love in kind especially those who don't get it at home. From experience, I have learned that it is even those hardcore brothers, love comes back the hardest.