Acknowl edgments
I took my first research trip to the Bay Area in the summer of 1996. Melvin
Dickson, a Panther rank- and- file member and lifelong community or ga-
nizer, invited me to come along with him as he did some community work.
Eager to meet people and immerse myself in unfamiliar Oakland neigh-
borhoods, I said yes without hesitation. It was just me, him, and a folding
table, intrepidly set up on a street corner in the hood, with the Panthers’
well- known powder blue banner hanging on the front. We set out lit er-
a ture, a newspaper dedicated to commemorating the Panther cofounder
Huey P. Newton, a few pamphlets about po liti cal initiatives, and a dona-
tion can. Melvin engaged every one who walked by with humor and sincer-
ity, and soon enough so did I. One woman literally stumbled by, barefoot,
her face marred by addiction. She ignored my hesitant “Excuse me, sis” as
she went by. She went into a liquor store and emerged minutes later with a
brown paper bag. As she went by this time, I caught her eye again and she
stopped. “Ya’ll the Panthers?” she asked. “Yeah” seemed to be the simplest
answer. There was a long pause as she took us in from head to toe. “Well,
right on,” she said. “We need you out here.” Then she dropped a fistful of
precious coins into the can. Later Melvin and I went to the nearby housing
proj ect and knocked on doors to offer people ser vices at a free health clinic.
Explaining to people that the clinic, with limited hours and a modest array
of ser vices, was 100 percent free, remains one of the most politicizing mo-
ments of my life. That summer I met almost a dozen Panthers and logged
seven hours a day going through the newly deposited Huey P. Newton
Foundation rec ords and visiting other local archives. I earnestly wrote in
my journal, “I feel like I am writing a book for the first time.” I could never
have imagined that half my life would unfold between that first unforget-
table summer and the year of this book’s publication.
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