“Breakfast for Bobby Seale”

Michelle Johnson,

On a recent cold Friday morning at the The Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, the nonprofit group “For Richmond” hosted “Breakfast with Bobby Seale,” its 2nd Annual Black History Month celebration breakfast.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party, created the first jobs program in the city of Richmond and the Free Breakfast for Children Programs for low-income children in Oakland. Eventually the program expanded to cities across the country during his time in the Party.

The Black Panthers cooked and served food to the poor in city youth of Oakland and neighboring urban communities. By the end of the year, kitchens were set up in cities across the U.S. feeding over 10,000 children every day before they went to school.

His work with the “Free Breakfast for Children Program” in the ‘60s and ‘70s, inspired “For Richmond” to create a new breakfast program “Soleil for Kids” in partnership with Soliel Cafe of El Sobrante this year. The program will provide free breakfast Monday through Friday for school-age children and their families at Pullman Point Apartments, an affordable urban housing complex in south Richmond.

A diverse crowd of Richmond residents, current and former city employees and teachers attended the event. There was a strong sense of community: some were friends, family or coworkers and some were strangers who just met at the breakfast. There were smiling faces and warm greetings that made the room feel inviting.

Each table was released one by one to a buffet of breakfast food including eggs, bacon, potatoes and french toast. Smooth sounds of piano keys and drums from the live entertainment also provided filled the space as guests dined.

First on the podium was host Kyra Worthy, executive director of “For Richmond,” who had asked Seale to speak at the breakfast event. “For Richmond” offers programs that focus on jobs for local young men, health, education and public safety, according to Worthy.

“To have Mr. Seale here today to talk about the work he has done in Richmond — he started the first jobs program — really is in unity with what we do with ‘For Richmond,’” Worthy said.

Seale began his speech by paraphrasing the first paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, which was used at the tail-end of the ten-point program established by the Black Panther Party. The ten point program dealt with employment, housing, education, black representation during court trials, among others.

Seale mentioned that during the civil human rights protests in the 1960s, he became interested in civil rights. After reading about African-American history, he decided to see a Martin Luther King Jr. speech at the Oakland Auditorium where King spoke on how companies across America refuse to hire people of color. This inspired Seale in his mission to help end institutionalized racism.

Throughout his speech, Seale expounded on his role in organizing community programs and the importance of grassroots community efforts. He discussed the year 1972, when the party provided 10,000 full bags of groceries to community members at the Oakland Auditorium and registered over four thousand people to vote on the same day. Seale also spoke on the misconceptions about his background and intentions in the party.

“A lot of people think I was just some guy on the street that had some guns. No, I wasn’t about that,” Seale said. “My struggle was all power to the people. We want to make legislation and policies that empower the people, that give the people their rights.”

Before his involvement in civil rights, Seale had a background in carpentry and building, as well as tech. In 1960, he worked for the Kaiser Aerospace & Electronics Corporation, after doing four years in the U.S. Air Force. He emphasized to the crowd how his background in many trades and his skills as an organizer allowed him to organize the many efforts to carry out his objective in helping his community and striving for the rights of the people.

After the conclusion of the speech, the crowd gave a standing ovation leaving many impressions on the special event and Bobby Seale.

“What impressed me the most was how sharp he was. How he was able to tell his story as if it happened yesterday and to have so many details — how he put programs together and how he served the people of his community,” said Cheryl Odom, former Richmond Police Department employee and resident.