In the 1960s, the Black Panther Party introduced a program in the United States that was unheard of at the time — a free breakfast initiative for school children. At least 20,000 kids in 19 cities in the country were offered eggs, toast, grits, and other food every school day.
The program, inaugurated in 1969 in Oakland, California, was just one aspect of the Panthers’ wider community-based movement, which emphasized self-determination.
As the publication Black Perspectives explained, “One of the fundamental aspects of the [Panthers] was their commitment to serving black communities through a variety of social programs including ambulance services, health clinics, and the creation of schools. One of the most successful of these social programs was the Free Breakfast for Children Program, which provided food for children all across the United States.”
A new movement growing in Oakland aims to recreate this approach, filling in the spaces where the state has so clearly failed to provide for the people.
Twenty-four year-old Blake Simons and 25-year-old Delency Parham, who are Oakland organizers, started the People’s Breakfast Oakland as a way to give back to their community.
“We both have organized before, mainly black student organizing, but we wanted to make more impact in the community,” the organizers shared. “We wanted to make sure our organizing centered the masses. We both spend the majority of our time working with the youth of our community. We wanted a way to get involved with those became before us.”
After Simons and Parham discussed how they wanted to feed Oakland’s homeless community, they put their words into action. They drew direct inspiration from the Panthers.
“Both of us had family in the Party, and we thought about how we can, in a sense, begin to carry the torch. People’s Breakfast Oakland is the first of many People’s Programs that we plan to launch.”
“While we founded the organization, we would be nothing without our volunteers. Our organization relies on Black intergenerational organizing, and we would be nothing without it,” the organizers added.
So far, People’s Breakfast Oakland has fed at least 300 people in Oakland, and during the organization’s first breakfast, volunteers fed the people a warm breakfast: eggs, sausage, toast, and water.
In addition to food, they have given out hundreds of menstruation products, deodorant, and other hygiene products, and handed out hundreds of water bottles during a recent heat wave.
As to why People’s Breakfast Oakland is necessary, Simon and Parham argue that “the state has continually failed our people.”
“Libby Schaaf, the mayor of Oakland, as well as the city council, has showed us their politics. They are fascist neoliberals, who only care about developers, and not the people. They regularly bulldoze houseless encampments to make Oakland feel more ‘safe’ for the cities new, rich white residents.”
“You can look around the city, and it’s clear to see, that government officials and the Oakland Police Department are picking and choosing what people deserve to thrive. And it’s clear that Schaaf doesn’t give a damn about Black people.”
“We have people that are living without the bare necessities. That is not only unacceptable, but it’s criminal. And Libby Schaaf should be held accountable,” the organizers contended.
Both make the case that People’s Breakfast Oakland serves as a grassroots intervention intended to model what a revolutionary socialist state can look like, “and we do this through our free breakfast program. In order for the people to free themselves, they have to be fed.”
“Many of the people we fed were black seniors. When we supplied the people water this last time, many of the elders told us that they feel people don’t care about them. It’s clear that the government doesn’t, but we want to show them that there are still folks out here who will always do what they can for them,” they concluded.
The impact of this grassroots work is not lost on anyone, and they’ve been told on numerous occasions by those receiving aid that they are saving lives. This is no exaggeration as some homeless encampment residents were passing out from dehydration. Seeing the immediate effect of their program on their community showed them “how important it is to serve the masses of people who are most impacted by this white supremacist capitalist state.”
The organizers hope the breakfast program “will eventually transform into something that allows us to be a resource in every way for the people of our community.”
Those wishing to support People’s Breakfast Oakland can give to their funding initiatives and volunteer if possible.
*Photos by People’s Breakfast Oakland