‘Black history is American history’: Black Student Union presents on Black Panther Party


Photo credit: Alexis David

Photos of important female figures from the Black Panther Party hang in the Zimmer Family Lounge in honor of Black History Month. This is one part of a larger gallery created for the month of February. “There’s a lot of history on those walls,” Bowman said, “so, take the time to read through that.”

By Alexis David, Staff Reporter

The month of February marks Black History Month, a month focused on learning about and honoring Black history. On Thursday, Feb. 3, Archer’s Black Student Union presented to the upper school about Black History Month, focusing specifically on the Black Panther Party.

The Black Panther Party, which was founded in 1966 by Huey P. Newton, Elbert Howard and Bobby Seale, was made to patrol African American neighborhoods to counteract police brutality. The Black Panther Party also focused on social and survival programs, including providing free breakfast to school children and free health screenings.

Senior Lexi Tooley, co-president of BSU, spoke about the goals of the presentation and the message they hoped to emphasize to the greater community.

“We just wanted to inform the Archer community because, very frequently, during Black History Month, there aren’t really any resources that are going out to the entire Archer community,” Tooley said. “So, this year, we really wanted to teach them something instead of saying ‘Happy Black History Month’ and moving on.”

During the presentation, BSU shared a video that discussed the history and goals of the Black Panther Party. Tooley said she believes it’s important that all people learn about Black history so everyone can have a greater understanding of different people and cultures.

“Black history is American history,” Tooley said. “Especially at schools, we’re always told history from a one-sided perspective … Learning about Black history is so important so that everyone just has a greater understanding of the world around them, but also has a greater understanding of the history of some of their peers.”

After presenting about the Black Panther Party, BSU asked mentorships watching the presentation to answer discussion questions. One of the questions BSU posed was, “Why is it important to learn about ALL aspects of Black History?” One of the mentorships responded about the importance of looking through multiple perspectives.

“It’s important to learn about multiple perspectives so that we have a nuanced understanding of Black history and avoid just one single story that could never be representative of all stories,” BSU board member Evan Bowman (‘22) recited from a mentorship response in the chat.

Another question posed by BSU was, “In what ways has media impacted the way the Black Power Movement been portrayed in history?” In response to this question, another mentorship commented on the media’s villainization of the Black Power movement. 

“The media throughout history has villainized the Black Power movement,” Bowman read. “By portraying the movement as primarily violent, some media has defaulted on stereotypes.”

Tooley said this inaccurate portrayal of the Black Panther Party impacted BSU’s leaders’ decision to present about the Black Panther Party. Tooley also discussed how certain aspects of Black history are portrayed as something they’re not.

“I thought that it was really important for the school to learn a lot about something that’s often portrayed as something that it’s not,” Tooley said. “The Black Panther movement was seen as something that was very violent. But, in all honesty, it wasn’t. We just wanted everyone to learn the whole spectrum of everything that was going on.”

BSU also provided resources to learn more about the Black Panther Party. Some of the resources they provided were “Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers,” a book by Bobby Seale and Stephen Shames, “Assata: An Autobiography,” a book by Assata Shakur and “Judas and the Black Messiah,” a movie directed by Shaka King.

Additionally, Bowman informed the student body of events BSU will be hosting throughout the rest of Black History Month.

“We have events this whole month to talk about the Black Panther movement and Black history,” Bowman said. “We have our gallery exhibit at the front of the school … And, BSU will hold a pancake breakfast in honor of the Black Panther free breakfast program [on] Feb. 24 at lunch.”

To conclude the presentation, BSU member Marley Mills (’22) implored the student body to continue thinking of the Black Panther Party and what they stood for. 

Aislinn Pulley, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Chicago stated recently, ‘The Black Panther Party exists as a continual barometer to measure ourselves against,'” Mills said. “As we continue to reflect and build on the work that the Black Panthers started 56 years ago, we must understand that the fight for liberation for oppressed people is a fight we all must join.”