Activist and former Black Panther Ericka Huggins speaks at USC event

Huggins discussed injustice and self defense with USC professor Catie Saralegui.

Human rights activist and poet Ericka Huggins joined the Black Panther Party in 1968 when she was only 18 years old, dedicating her life to empowering herself and others. Today she continues that empowerment.

On Apr. 19, Huggins joined USC professor Catie Saralegui for a discussion that touched on a wide range of topics — from her own life story to the Black Panther Party to current injustices against the Black community.

“[Black Power] isn’t an invasion of American culture,” said Huggins. “It isn’t a threat to humanity. It is just people of African descent declaring that the innate power they are born with is worthy of reclaiming.”

The Black Panther Party, initially known as the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, was founded in Oakland, California in 1966 following the assassination of Malcom X and events of police brutality. The early history of the party consisted of monitoring police activity in Black communities and creating community-based programs that provided free meals and healthcare. Later in its history it became known as a revolutionary socialist organization.

Last night, Huggins served as a guest speaker for a course called Communication Management 578: Non-profit Advocacy, which is taught by Saralegui at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. During this class discussion, she spoke about some of her own experiences in the Black Panther Party and her career in advocacy.

Huggins explained that Black Power is really about self-defense. “And there’s another one of those terms we get allergic to: self defense. We think it means that somebody is going to do something,” Huggins said. “Self defense is looking out for one’s community.”

Huggins acknowledged that many don’t see Black Power this way. “You might be thinking that’s not what I was told that Black Power is, but that’s intentional too,” Huggins said. “Sometimes we are told things, even in the academy, that aren’t true because it meets with the need to control history and sometimes to control others.”

Among those in attendance was Isabella Onken, a student majoring in global communications, who took a lot away from the discussion.

“We all agreed that she was really impressive in the way that she was able to eloquently and so clearly talk about her personal hardships, but also how they’ve informed her life,” Onken said. “...It was a really positive response. Everyone seemed to really enjoy the event.”

Onken went on to say that while much of the discussion was historical, so much of it was still very important to modern social issues.

“People had great questions. It was pretty varied, some based on her experience and what she’s been through and others about more relevant topics kind of related to everything that she’s worked on, but more timely for today,” Onken said. “So it was cool to hear a mixture of her experience and how that we’re still seeing that reflected in our current world.”

Huggins identified parallels between the networks of the Black Panther Party and the current day Black Lives Matter movement.

“I think that when we try, we can reach back into history and bring forward all that is good,” said Huggins about modern movements. “But we have to be careful that when we look at what’s in our hands, it really is something that will serve now.”

Huggins spends her days writing poetry and facilitating learning labs and workshops for World Trust educational services. She focuses on initiating conversations surrounding the importance of self-care and creating social change.

“I believe that there is an endless reservoir of power,” Huggins said, “which expresses as love and can express as joy, even if the circumstances around us are not joyful.”