(U-WIRE) ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. Though David Hilliard doesn’t hold a college degree, he has considered himself a teacher since 1966 when he co-founded the Black Panther Party.
Hilliard said he will use his experience with the party to teach two courses on the Panthers at the University of New Mexico this fall.
“It’s my history. It’s my experience. It’s my passion. It’s what I like doing,” Hilliard said. “I like sharing knowledge. I couldn’t think of a more rewarding and self-gratifying experience than being in the midst of new minds young people who are really eager to learn.”
Hilliard is no stranger to UNM. He was a guest at the 40th anniversary of the Black Panther Party that was held on campus in February, and he taught a summer course about the party and its relation to hip-hop music.
Hilliard was asked to teach the same course this fall. Hilliard said his course on hip-hop and the Black Panthers will focus on rap music’s role in continuing the party’s legacy. Class discussions include topics like Tupac Shakur, a popular rap artist from the early ’90s, and how the artist’s music was influenced by the party because of his mother’s involvement in the Panthers.
In the course, Hilliard will discuss how hip-hop music fails to address issues in society but has potential to form a strong movement.
“We have guys who get $500,000 to talk about so-called consciousness and end up on a shelf in a record store,” he said. “I hardly think that is revolutionary. It’s a category of music.”
The second course will focus on African-American resistance movements, especially the Black Panther Party, Hilliard said. The party’s history is shunned in school, so his course will help bring light to its past and the people who influenced it, he said.
“Hopefully through these courses students will realize they are getting a limited approach of what history is about,” he said. “We want to expand that to include who we were, because we were a part of it.”
The Black Panther courses are taught differently than other classes because more than half of the curriculum involves going out into the community and starting social programs just as the party did in the past, Hilliard said.
During the three week summer course, students planted a community garden at Project Share, an organization that provides food for people with low incomes. The garden is maintained by the people with low incomes and provides them with vegetables they can either eat or sell.
A Class That Comes to Life
Student Chrissy Edwards, who took Hilliard’s summer course, said she never knew the party was involved in creating social programs before she took the course. She said Hilliard is knowledgeable in what he teaches.
“It was really cool because he had the first-hand experience from the Black Panthers,” she said. “He just knew so much about community outreach and black history as well, which was really cool.”
Hilliard’s teaching style and enthusiasm helped create a learning environment, she said.
“The stories and experiences he went through really made his class come alive,” Edwards said.
Student Gurdeep Singh, a biology major, said the class was a great departure from the average science courses he is used to taking.
“Lots of science classes are cut and dry. You can’t really change things. You aren’t doing anything too groundbreaking,” he said. “This is interesting stuff. With this class I was able to make a plan and see it through and see the effects in the community.”
Help from a friend
Elaine Brown, the only woman to lead the party, will help Hilliard by serving as a visiting lecturer several times through
out the semester. Brown will lecture on women in the party.
Hilliard said he wanted Brown involved in the course because of her experience in political reform. Brown was the chairwoman of the party from 1974 to 1977, and she ran for city council in Oakland, Calif., in the early ’70s.
Brown said Hilliard has the advantage of teaching the courses because he participated and observed the party from its inception. By teaching, Hilliard is able to preserve and guard history, she said.
“It’s an incredible thing to have someone who is both an observer and a participant,” she said. “It’s very difficult to be both an observer and participant. Most of the academics who have attempted to address the history of the social movements of blacks have been observers.”
Hilliard said he is qualified to teach the courses even though he doesn’t have a college degree.
“I think I have some real connection, and certainly I have some authority for speaking for the Black Panther Party,” he said.
This is not Hilliard’s first time teaching at a college level. He has been a guest lecturer at colleges in California since 1996.
Hilliard said he wanted to teach courses at UNM because of its diverse student population. He said Albuquerque feels like home to him.
“Albuquerque has the possibilities to be a model for how multiculturalism can really manifest itself, and hopefully we’ll be part of making that process come to fruition,” he said.
Preserving History at UNM
Hilliard initially came to the University to talk about depositing the Black Panther archives, something he plans on bringing to UNM within the next year.
The archives contain manuscripts, video footage, photos, newspapers, FBI logs, legal transcripts and a library of books.
Brown said the most powerful piece is audio tapes recorded when Huey Newton, the party’s co-founder, crafted the party’s vision while in jail.
“There are a lot of tapes like that, that are historically significant and need to be salvaged — and they will be salvaged,” she said.
UNM and the Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation Inc. are in negotiations to transfer the archives from Stanford University to UNM, Hilliard said. He could not estimate how much the archives would cost, but he is optimistic they will come to the University.
“This University has the opportunity to attract students from all over the world and certainly attract some of the brightest minds from the African-American community,” he said.
In the meantime, Hilliard said he can borrow material from the archives and use it for his courses.
Brown said teaching courses and bringing the archives are important at UNM because it pushes the party’s agenda of helping the oppressed people. Because Albuquerque has a progressive mind-set, it would be the best place to do that, she said.
An Essential Course
The two courses are part of a new program at UNM called the Research Service Learning Program, designed to get students involved in research projects. However, the courses are still part of African-American Studies.
Dan Young, director of the program, said he wanted Hilliard to teach a course because students can get involved with the same issues the party addressed.
“He is the history of the Black Panther Party — he was from the beginning,” Young said. “I think students are going to see that the Panthers are not just doing history — it continues today.”
Hilliard’s courses are essential to the program’s success, he said.
“I see him as a way to connect a very effective historical movement with revitalization with student interest in activity,” he said. “He’s a model.”
Brown said the courses haven’t been filled yet, and students are already asking about the availability of night classes. Hilliard will teach courses at UNM through May.
Hilliard said many people have misconceptions about the party, but he hasn’t received any complaints about the course.
“I’m sure we will get these attacks. They’ll appear in editorials in the Albuquerque Journal and all over the place, probably O’Reilly on Fox,” he said. “But I welcome that because wouldn’t it make an interesting conversation for my students?”