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ISSUE 115 VOL 12 PUBLISHED 2/22/2002

Activist Brown speaks out

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 22, 2002

Elaine Brown was a Black Panther.

Hear those last two words and an image of young, hateful African-American males comes to the minds of many.

Brown, however, a former Black Panther Party leader and author, does not fit that image, and she is working to dispel the images that many people have of African-Americans. She spoke in the Pause last Wednesday night of her work, her life and the history of social issues surrounding race and class.

Much of Brown’s talk was framed by an explanation of her current book, "New Age Racism and the Condemnation of ‘Little B.’" Brown currently sits on the Legal Defense Committee of Michael "Little B" Lewis, who is serving a life sentence for his conviction of a 1997 Atlanta murder. Brown’'s book focused on the reasons for Lewis’ condemnation.

"By the time he was 11, he was living in a crack house, his mom a crack prostitute," she said. "He ran away from foster care, but no one looked for him – the Department of Family Affairs, the church across the street, his school, the court – none of them followed up on his disappearance. He had no safety net."

"This represents a couple million kids in America," she said. "The system paid no attention to him until he was charged with murder at 14."

She argued that Lewis’ condemnation came not only from the legal system’'s decision to try him as an adult and his subsequent conviction, but that he was also condemned from the moment he was born. He was born into the ghetto – a place Brown said cordons African-Americans off from the rest of society.

"People say to these kids, ‘'What’s wrong with you, with blacks? ‘Cause there isn’'t anything wrong with America. If you really want it and really, really try, you can be Michael Jordan'."’

"No," Brown said, "you can’t."

Brown used the story of Lewis to frame the remainder of her talk, speaking from there on the subjects of standardized tests, health care, welfare, poverty, affirmative action and African-American history.

After her 90-minute talk, she fielded questions from the audience.

One student asked if Brown had any regrets about her involvement with the Black Panther Party.

She said in response that, overall, she does not.

"If we can’t criticize whatever the Black Panther Party did, we’'d be stupid," she said. "But those were the proudest years of my life. I have regrets about ‘'I could have said something but I didn'’t'’ situations regarding the [male] chauvinism and Huey [Newton]’s cocaine use, but the [free] breakfast program and the free clinics that we established. I know we did a lot of good things."

She spoke of serious issues and backed them up with facts, but she also engaged the audience with humor and mild sarcasm. She was interrupted by laughter many times, but the audience also recognized the issues as important.

"I really liked her," Diversity Celebrations Coordinator Angelica Moreno ’02 said. "I felt she focused on issues that at Olaf you don’'t ever hear about." Moreno said also that she was impressed with the number of people who attended.

Brown also expressed her happiness with the audience.

"I had no idea. – I was shocked to see the amount of consciousness here," Brown said. "You know, what with Betty White [of ‘Golden Girls’] and everything."

Brown spoke as part of Black History Month events.

Remaining events are the Gospel Choir Concert and Soul Food Theme Meal on Sunday, a showing of "Malcolm X" on Monday and Black History Jeopardy Feb. 28. The events conclude with the Black History Month Banquet Mar. 3.

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