The Black Panther Party: Acts of Compassion that Changed America
February 18, 2021
By Theron Hobbs, Jr. ©2021
Dictionary.com defines compassion as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”
The Black Panther Party was established in 1966, and their compassion for poor and hungry children would transform the way American public schools would ensure free meals for all children. This was done through the formation and implementation of their Free Breakfast for Children Program.
In January of 1969, the Black Panther Party started a program in Oakland, Calif., to ensure that the poor children in the community would have a hearty and nutritious breakfast before going to school. Despite the label of being divisive, the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for Children Program united churches, local grocery stores, local businesses, and community members to donate food and supplies as well as volunteer to make sure impoverished children could have what was once considered the most important meal of the day.
These efforts weren’t limited to just the City of Oakland or to Black children. By the end of 1969 there were 23 cities operating the Free Breakfast for Children Program, and by 1971 children were being served in 36 cities. Also, Bobby Seale, one of the Black Panther Party founders, spoke of how the program was designed to serve mothers struggling on welfare, poor White families, poor Spanish speaking families (Mexican, Chicano, and Latino), and poor Black families.
Their acts of compassion gained great attention by the American government. A disappointing consequence of this attention is tied to then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. He inspired persons and agencies of authority to see as well as treat the Black Panther Party as a threat to America because of their food program.
An eventual positive consequence of the attention that their breakfast program gained is tied to how the government now funds public schools when it comes to providing free breakfasts and lunches. Prior to 1969 there were very limited opportunities nationwide for students to have free breakfasts and lunches in public schools. However, due to the massive impact of and appreciation for the Black Panther Party’s Free Breakfast for Children Program, pressure on Congress grew to do more to serve all marginalized families. Therefore, by 1973 Congress greatly increased funding for free lunches in public schools, and by 1975 they expanded a free breakfast program for public schools.
Though the Black Panther Party’s acts of compassion are no longer being felt in America through a current Free Breakfast for Children Program, the legacy of those acts can be currently felt throughout America when every child benefits from a free breakfast or lunch in the public schools.
Happy Black History Month!
Theron Hobbs Jr. is a Christian minister and humanitarian. Hobbs has a Bachelor's in Communication, Sports Broadcasting Certificate, Pastoral Ministry Certificate, and Master's in Pastoral Ministry. He served as pastor of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on Puget Island from 2013-2017. He and his family live in Des Moines, Iowa, where he is a community school coordinator.