The Black Panther Party took over the month of March at UT in hopes of bringing about a more correct understanding of their part in and impact on American society. In doing so, they hope to motivate students to get involved in current events.
David Hilliard, Fredrika Newton and James Calhoun led the Black Panther forum "What Was the Black Panther Party?" on March 31 in the UC Auditorium. The forum was part of the month-long Black Panther Party event.
Each of the speakers provided a unique perspective on the issue, as they all experienced the party in different ways. David Hilliard was a founding member and chief of staff of the Black Panther Party. Fredrika Newton joined the party as a youth member and later married Huey P. Newton, who was the founding member of the Black Panther Party, according to Hilliard. James Calhoun was born into the Black Panther Party, as both of his parents were early members.
[The event's purpose] is to bring to light a misunderstood and neglected part of history. Michael Skladany, sociology lecturer and event faculty organizer
"Hopefully this conversation that we have today will motivate you to get involved to get on the political process, going and registering your vote, but it is important to understand that nothing is going to change no matter who the president is if you are not engaged," Hilliard said.
The event pushed for a better understanding of what the Black Panther Party stood for. "[The event's purpose] is to bring to light a misunderstood and neglected part of history," Michael Skladany, a sociology lecturer and one of the event's faculty organizers, said.
Skladany said it is a great event because it exposes students to a piece of history and provides opportunity for students to interact with the people of that history.
The speakers said many people have a negative opinion about what the Black Panther Party did while in existence. They ask that people reassess their views.
"Just put aside all the misinformation you've been fed over the past 30 some odd years about an organization that existed for you," Calhoun said.
The Black Panther Party is no longer in existence, but on the foundational level their platform represents issues that are as relevant today as they were 40 years ago, Hilliard said. Some of the issues Hilliard referred to are universal healthcare, jobs and education. Hilliard said the organization does not exist anymore but the ideas still do.
"I think that young people especially should take a closer look at our program; the ideas that we stood for in terms of social standing, and use it as a road map for building on new programs here in Tennessee in their own communities," Hilliard said.
"It's a real landmark event for UT," said Skladany of the forum. In total, there are 34 sponsors that played a part in getting the month-long program about the Black Panther Party initiated.
A reception was held directly after the forum. During the reception students had the opportunity to have dinner and talk about politics with the faculty and speakers, said Skladany.
All Black Panther events are free and open to the public.