Point 5: The Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community School

OCS sign on building
The Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community School. (undated photo, courtesy Ericka Huggins)

Angela LeBlanc-Ernest and Mary Phillips are currently producing a sixty minute documentary film on the history and legacy of the Oakland Community School, a landmark community program of the Black Panther Party (BPP).

In 1971 the BPP decided to open a school for their children who were experiencing harassment in the Oakland School system. Initially known as the Intercommunal Youth Institute, by the 1973-1974 school year, the Black Panther Party’s Oakland Community School, an elementary level institution, opened its doors in East Oakland with 50 students and, within 1 year, enrollment had grown to 150 students plus a waiting list. In existence for almost a decade, OCS was the BPP’s longest-running community Survival Program. As told through the lens of former students, teachers, administrators, and community supporters, this documentary draws connections between past and the present systemic educational inequities. OCS was unique and precedent-setting at a time when African Americans in Oakland (and nationally) were considered uneducable and did not receive a quality education. OCS modeled innovative approaches to student learning: critical thinking skills, yoga, mindfulness, and restorative justice, among others.

OCS offered a variety of youth and community leadership opportunities as well as after school and weekend activities for its students and the broader community. The Panthers’ approach to education generated national and international interest as a replicable program and leading BPP members were intricately engaged in and had an impact on local and national discussions about bussing and other educational inequities, including the growth of a law enforcement presence in schools.

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