Meet Elaine Brown. She is an activist, writer, singer, and former chair of the Black Panther Party. Now 80, the activist has reinvented herself as a real estate investor, leading an $80 million affordable housing project in West Oakland.
“Don’t misunderstand me,” she told the Guardian, sitting in the office of the multimillion-dollar project. “I’m still the same person I was in the Black Panther party – though maybe more ruthless.”
Brown’s project is situated along Seventh Street in West Oakland, California, where a shootout occurred involving the co-founder of the Black Panther party, Huey Newton. According to Brown, the decision to choose this historical location for her real estate project was coincidental.
The project, dubbed the Black Panther, is entering its final months of development, according to the Guardian. She plans to open the complex in May, with the name proudly embossed above the main entrance.
Black Panther will have 79 units of affordable housing that will fill the upper stories of the building. Moreover, it will offer studios, one-bedroom, and two-bedroom apartments to very low and extremely low-income people, with a maximum limit on their earnings set at 30 percent of the area’s median income, about $30,000 a year.
She will open restaurants, fitness and tech centers, and a grocery store on the ground floor of the building. According to the writer and singer, her target is to resurrect some of the economic vitality of the Harlem of the West by opening spaces for new Black-owned businesses.
Brown said that what inspired her to build the 32,000 sq ft project in West Oakland was the same motivation that propelled her leadership of the Black Panthers in the 1970s. “My goal then and my goal now is to create a model and an idea that will raise consciousness and give people something to fight for,” she said.
She noted that she wants Black people to have economic power. “We live in an environment where we have nothing. Black people don’t own anything in America. Not a goddamn thing. We are still an oppressed people, but we won’t recognize it.”
Brown was chosen to lead the Black Panther Party in August 1974, at a time when no woman was leading any major civil rights group or political organization.
Brown took over as chair of the party when founder Newton went into exile in Cuba to avoid murder charges, according to reports.
When she was made leader of the party in 1974, she got involved in “electoral politics and community service” and helped develop the Panther’s Liberation School, which the state of California recognized as a model school. But when she began placing women in key administrative positions, she incurred the wrath of some men in the radical organization.