Yeah, that’s Angela Davis, and I am glad to finally scratch that meeting off of my bucket list. Word of the opportunity arrived from @marcus.books, which hosted her and other contributors to the new book Comrade Sisters: Women of the Black Panther Party for presentations, conversations, and book signings.
Arriving 20 minutes early, I stood at the end of a block-long line that eased into the bookstore’s cozy confines. Maybe 200 or 300 folks packed the place for Marcus Books’ first in-store event since the pandemic started.
- Blanche Richardson, owner of Marcus Books, the nation’s oldest Black-owned bookstore, whom I met while working on At the Cookout
- The author of Comrade Sisters, Ericka Huggins, a prominent Panther, whose husband, John, was assassinated in 1969 in a plot allegedly hatched by the FBI’s COINTELPRO
- The book’s photographer, Stephen Shames
- Several women of the Black Panther Party on a panel that Angela Davis moderated.
Each speech inspired more than the one before. Angela Davis told the story of an illiterate 14-year-old boy, who grew so enamored of John Huggins’ leadership that he borrowed books and a dictionary and taught himself how to read in order to improve his effectiveness in the movement. Off to the side, whenever so moved, an old man leaned on his cane and muttered through his mask, “Power to the People.”
In-between, there were personal reunions, handshakes, hugs, back-slaps and shouts. Blanche ran out of copies of Comrade Sisters to be sold and signed. Fortunately, I’d brought my dog-eared copy of Freedom Is a Constant Struggle, so I stood in line for an hour after the presentations until it was my turn for Angela Davis to sign.
Like most book signings, it was hurried, without enough time to tell the author exactly how the work moved you. Like all book signings, sharing any space and time with an author who moves you to stand in line leaves you feeling you’ve stood with greatness.
The next day, Jilchristina Vest hosted another signing for Comrade Sisters at her home, which houses the Women of the Black Panther Party Mural and Museum. Arriving even earlier than the day before, I had a chance to catch up with Jil on our work, help her set up for the event, and give her one of Brandy’s candles that I wrote about in At The Cookout.
Held outdoors as a block party with food and a DJ, Jil’s event brought the book’s author and photographer together with even more of the women of the Black Panther Party. My favorite presentations, featured below, came from Cheryl Dawson, Ericka Huggins, and the Oakland School for the Arts.
In the picture above, Ericka holds one of the posters that Jil had left out on tables for the public to ponder. Its message holds particular meaning for me as a writer and reminds me to aspire to more.