Ericka Huggins is a former leader in the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party and a former leader of the New Haven, Connecticut chapter along with Kathleen Neal Cleaver and Elaine Brown. She attended Cheyney State College (now Cheyney University in Pennsylvania) and Lincoln University -- the latter is where she met her husband, John.
Huggins ran the Black Panther Party's free breakfast program and served as director of the Oakland Community School, which focused on providing an affirming curriculum in which Black students could see themselves; Huey P. Newton, one of the Party's founders, was illiterate until college, because he wasn't interested in reading or learning, since he never read about anyone who looked like him or saw his history accurately reflected. This became one of the inspirations for the Oakland Community School's curriculum. The school set the blueprint for modern-day charter schools.
As high school student in Washington, D.C., she attended the 1963 March on Washington, which she said inspired in her a lifelong commitment to serving her people. While serving as a leader within the Black Panther Party, she became both the first woman and the first Black person to be appointed to the Alameda County Board of Education, which serves children with cognitive, emotional and physical disabilities and incarcerated youth. She also served as an elected member of the Berkeley Community Development Council.
She is currently a professor of sociology at Laney College in Oakland and Berkeley City College and remains actively engaged in discussions about liberation for Black people, particularly through education.
Young Students (K3-2nd Grade)
Ms. Huggins believes it is important for students to be able to see themselves in their schoolwork. Do you see characters who look like you in the books you read? How does it make you feel?
Middle Students (Grades 3-8)
Who are you? Where do you come from, what are your interests, what excites you? What scares you? How would you define your place in the world if someone asked you today? Do you like that position? Why or why not?
High School Students (Grades 9-12)
The Oakland Community School was built around Point 5 of the Black Panther Party's 10-Point Program, which says: We want decent education for our people that exposes the true nature of this decadent American society. We want an education that teaches us our true history and our role in the present-day society. We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of self. If you do not have knowledge of yourself and your position in the society and in the world, then you will have little chance to know anything else. This point is the same idea that is at the center of today's debate around critical race theory. Why do you think it is important for people to learn even the parts of history that don't look or feel good? How do you think people who are taught a history that is different from their lived experiences feel about their place in society and the world?
The Black Panther Party pioneered many of what are now federal programs around basic needs, including the free lunch program and what has evolved into the federal women, infant, and children (WIC) program, because they believed you can't care for or educate a community if their basic needs are unmet. We now lump this under the umbrella of taking a trauma-informed approach to education. In what ways are you incorporating a trauma-informed approach in your school to make sure students' basic needs -- including the need for belonging -- are met before teaching each day?
About the Series
A Black Child Can was founded to create a better world for students by empowering the adults around them with the knowledge they need to advocate on their behalf. The 2022 blog series builds on this foundation, encouraging educators to participate in the discussion and reflect on the ways they're showing up for their students.