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“Culture is a weapon.”- Emory Douglas

Emory Douglas is an artist, illustrator and the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. He’s a published author, as copies of his book “Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas“ can still be found online. 

His art is evocative. I dare you to look at his images and not feel them.   

Whether the people like it or not, you’ve got to bring it to their attention,” Emory Douglas told a room full of students and faculty during a presentation at Merritt College’s Student Lounge on February 18th, 2014.

His art is social commentary.  

I wonder if Nixon is bothering us now,” Douglas said as he showed an image of the former President in a menacing manner. He clicked to the next slide and said, “I wonder if Obama is spying on us now”. As the image of Obama replaced the image of Nixon, someone in the crowd let out an “Ohhhh!”

"We’re talking about the real deal!” exclaimed Douglas.

His point: the same thing he saw back then, he sees going on today. And it’s his job to show that connection to the world.

His presentation was full of words like: Freedom, Slave ships, Obama, Nixon, Panthers, Sickle-cell, Oakland, Atlanta, Vietnam, Terrorism, Media, Government, Police, Pigs, Politics and Power. 

He talked a lot about politics. And power. 

When the question/ answer portion of his presentation came about, I asked Mr. Douglas: if he had the chance to give the youth a piece of advice, based on his experience, what words of wisdom would he give them?

OG Told Me: 

“Stay inspired. Stay focused. Have fun, at the same time, be focused on what you need to do. Study, learn your craft or whatever you do,” Emory Douglas told me (and a room of people).

He concluded with saying,”be able to work with a group of people.”

….

After answering my question, he recited a poem.

(The following is the final segment of his poem.)

“…It is our duty as the makers of the art of resistance to always recognize the oppression of others. The goal should be, to make the message clear— so that even a child can understand it. Don’t be fooled by deception. Know the rules before you break them. Don’t lose sight of what the goal is. All power to the people.” 

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**Editor’s note: after I interviewed Watani Stiner, a man who is serving time in San Quentin State Prison due to his connection to the murders of Bunchy Carter and John Huggins (former heads of the LA Chapter of the Black Panther Party), Stiner wrote about our interview in the April 2013 edition of the San Quentin News as a part of his ongoing column: “From an OG’s Perspective” … Here is the article. 

An ‘OG’s’ Perspective: What To Tell Young Offenders. 

By Watani Stiner, Staff Writer

Recently I sat down with Pendarvis  Harshaw,  a  24  year-old Oakland freelance writer who met with the San Quentin News staff. In a one-on-one conversation, Pendarvis asked me a simple, but profound question that caused me to really think about my answer. 

It was a rather straightforward question that I should not have hesitated to answer. After all, it wasn’t that I hadn’t thought about the question before. Nevertheless, I found myself scrambling for words that could adequately capture my thoughts.

As I sat with Pendarvis, he turned to me, with a serious expression, and said, “In your article you say you have something relevant and important to say to the younger generation. Then tell me, if you had the ear of the youth, what wisdom would you bestow upon them – what would you tell them?” 

At that very moment, I wanted to deliver several meaningful messages all at once. I wanted to say something truly relevant, something that would inspire and provoke conversations.  But, the more I thought about the question, the less precise I felt about the answer. I realized that the diffi culty of answering this question was not due to lack of knowledge and understanding. Rather, it was from an inability to communicate a message and meaning in a language and logic that could be understood by young people.

As I thought about the question, I looked at Pendarvis and finally responded by saying, “I would tell them my story and have a conversation. ”  

I am writing this monthly column because I want to let young people  know  that  my  story  is part of their story, and all of our stories have a meaning and a message. Each story is part of the human experience. For even a sad and tragic story has its lessons. We must hear those stories and connect with them in the process of moving toward a better self, society and world.

If  we  understand  the  responsibility we have to share the lessons of our stories, we can  realize that we are generational teachers  and  students  to  each other. We are heirs and custodians of a legacy. We must receive it and pass the historical baton.  Passing the baton is something I have come to understand about life. It’s what brought me to meet Pendarvis who has a photo essay project on his website called “OG Told Me.” 

Armed with poignant questions and a camera, Pendarvis described his activities by saying he “moves about the community  of  Oakland,  snapping photos and gathering snippets of wisdom from ‘OGs.’”  He goes through Oakland, sees an “OG,” and asks them questions—inviting them into a conversation.  From their conversation, he takes a picture and quote to post it on his site.  

After learning about “An OG’s Perspective,” Pendarvis said he liked both the concept and content of the “OG” column.  He told  me  that  he  sees  this  column as a creative and effective way to generate conversations between the older and younger generation

The more I talked to Pendarvis, the more questions he asked. He asked me about my views and values on a range of critical issues.

He was particularly interested in the perspectives of OGs and how they interact with the younger prisoners here at San Quentin. He was also curious about the degree and manner of respect younger prisoners elect to show the OGs. What do young prisoners want to know? What and how much are OGs willing to share? Is there a distance or a sense of generational obligation and responsibility on the part of OGs?

Talking to Pendarvis made me feel like I had another connection to the younger generation—to someone in the community trying to make a difference.  In addition, our conversation helped me realize what I want to share with the next generation.

For the youth, I wish to pass  on personal and social stories of struggle and sacrifice—stories of family and community and of violence and reconciliation. I tell these stories, not in any self-righteous, preaching or condescending manner.  I tell these stories in a manner that raises critical questions, inspires dignity and determination, and invites dialogue, debate and conversation. I realize that once a generation falters or neglects to pass the torch, a disconnection and a generational breakdown inevitably emerges.

Now, I ask the OGs the same question Pendarvis asked me. If you had the ear of the youth, what would you bestow upon them – what would you tell them? Send your answers and your age, so we can put them on the table for a dialogue. Once a few of the answers have been considered, this column will be open for the younger generation to respond. 


What to Tell Young Offenders?

OGs, please put your answers in a U-Save-Em envelope addressed to San Quentin News, Education Department, and drop it in the mail. 

**Editors note: responses can be sent to:

San Quentin News

1 Main Street

San Quentin, Ca. 94974

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The 86 year-old man was decked out in motorcycle club paraphernalia, as he sat in the back of the bus riding through East Oakland. After introducing myself to Mr. Edgar Mitchell, he briefly shared with me tales of working at Southern Pacific Railroad, the benefit of self education and his experience with the Bible. 

“You shouldn’t have got me started– I gotta get off,” said Mitchell, as he rang the bell to request a stop and prepared to exit the back of the bus.

OG Told Me: “I can tell you a story that is true, cause I was there.”