When James Henson started teaching self-defense classes, he was usually seen in the leather jacket and beret associated with Black Panther Party founders Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale. Henson had revered the party growing up, and what finally pushed him to start a group in the original Black Panthers’ image was the police killing of George Floyd and the protests against racial injustice that followed.
Henson, a 22-year-old former student at Lansing Community College, created the group, known as the Young Black Panther Party, in June 2020. The party already has chapters in Ohio and Washington, D.C. and its aim is to teach teens and young adults about self-defense, Black history, and how to survive without depending on the government, said Henson.
“I always wanted to start something like this, but I never really had the time,” he said, according to Lansing State Journal. “Since there was COVID with everything on pause, I found this opportunity to bring Black people hope in Lansing.”
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Henson’s party is not aligned with the New Black Panther Party, which has been described as a Black separatist hate group. The Young Black Panther Party identifies itself as anti-fascist, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist just like the original Black Panthers.
The original Black Panther Party was formed in 1966 by Newton and Seale to fight police brutality against the Black community in Oakland. The party took on a militant stance coupled with the burgeoning pride associated with the black power movement. The Black Panther Party became infamous for brandishing guns, challenging the authority of police officers, and embracing violence as a necessary by-product of revolution.
The Panthers were not just about being menacing, however, as the group introduced a series of goals such as fighting for better housing, jobs and education for African Americans. In this regard, it opened free health clinics and gave out food.
Henson wants to do the same with his Young Black Panther Party. At the moment, he hopes to get space for a community garden in Greater Lansing that will provide free food and herbs to Black people, Lansing State Journal reported. “Right now, I am donating some seeds to Black families that know how to plant,” said Henson, whose main goal is to improve Black communities.
The Young Black Panther Party is open to people who are 16 years of age and older. Young Black Panthers must be Black. To Henson, Black here means Black, half-Black or albino. Some producers and designers have also expressed their readiness to help Henson create a theme song and merchandise to promote his party.