It is well-known that the Black Panther Party's [BPP] rallying call was “serve the people, body and soul”. According to sociologist Alondra Nelson, the phrase was far more than a rhetorical flourish. In fact, Panther co-founder Bobby Seale made sure it was taken literally when, in the spring of 1970, he ordered all party chapters to create free breakfast programs for children and health centers to serve the medically needy.
It was a tall order, born of the belief that theory and practice need to work in tandem, with tangible benefits being given to under-resourced communities. The clinics were called People's Free Medical Centers [PFMC] and eventually were established in 13 cities across the country, from Cleveland to New Haven, Connecticut; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; and Los Angeles. One facility, in Portland, Oregon, offered dental as well as medical care; all relied on donated supplies and volunteer labor. Women, Nelson writes, were the backbone of the effort - not surprising, considering that approximately 60 percent of BPP members were female.
The ethos of the PFMCs was simple: “Your body belongs to the revolution, so you have to take care of it.” Reality, however, made this nearly impossible because most African-Americans were unable to access affordable, high-quality health care, thanks to racism and classism.
One of the political and philosophical role models for the Black Panther Party was Chairman Mao of the Peoples Republic of China. Part of Mao’s cultural revolution was to sort of change the way the health care operated in China. And, that included the emergence and training of the members of society from people who were not the elite in any society who wanted to train these people called Barefoot Doctors. That was meant for two things; one, is that there are some Chinese medicine and daily practices that we should attend to and keep and we shouldn’t get rid of these practices and go to a Western scientific model.
And, it was also the case that these barefoot doctors were meant to valorize the role of the people, as the people’s experience with illness as being important for the healing process.
I think two or three Panthers go, between the course of 1970 and 1972, to China. And, during one of these tours, a doctor named Dr. Tolbert Small [went]. He never formally joined the Black Panther Party, but he worked with them for years.
Dr. Small goes on one of these tours of China and he get’s introduced to acupuncture, a traditional form of Chinese healing and medicine. And, Dr. Small comes back to the U.S. and he opens the Harriet Tubman Clinic in East Oakland that still runs today
Although, never officially a Black Panther member, Tolbert Small was the official physician to Oakland’s chapter of the Black Panther Party. Tolbert Small continues to serve the community now as “the people's doctor” at the Tubman Medical Office, where he has a new extern program that encourages people of color to join the health care field. His poetry, reflecting his many life experiences and the people he has met along the way, can be shared with everyone here.
(from:Poetry of Dr. Tolbert Small)
Not a panther himself, Milford Graves is a free jazz drummer and percussionist, music teacher, therapist, acupuncturist… He is considered to be a free jazz pioneer, liberating the percussion from its timekeeping role. In fact, many of his music contemporaries, musician inspirees, and fans world-wide would argue that Graves is perhaps the most influential known musician in the development and continuing evolution of free-jazz/avant-garde music, to date.
A devout Muslim, poet, acupuncturist, and martial art exponent (a practitioner of a form of Bak Mei), he was incarcerated and was given early release on condition that he join the US Army, where he trained as a paratrooper but was imprisoned again within the Army for refusing to salute the Flag. He is often dubbed “The Grandfather of Rap” (from Wikipedia)
is an inmate at the Federal Correctional Facility in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a former member of the Black Panther Party incarcerated in federal prison for over 37 years making him one of the longest-held political prisoners in U.S. history.In the 37-plus years of his confinement, Veronza has become a “model “prisoner. He is an author, musician, a student of Asian healing arts and has a strong interest in Buddhist meditation as well as “hands-on” healing techniques which he practiced at the various facilities in which he was incarcerated. Veronza is also an honorary elder of the Lompoc Tribe of Five Feathers, a Native American spiritual and cultural group. He is a mentor and founder of the All-Faith Meditation Group, a non-denominational spiritual organization devoted to healing meditation using the traditional Japanese shakuhachi flute. (fromhttp://www.veronza.org/Veronza Bowers, Jr.)