West Oakland mural first to honor women of the Black Panther Party

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- ABC7 News is celebrating Black History Month by highlighting people in the community who are working to Build a Better Bay Area by making black history right now.

It's not only what Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith is painting on the side of this house in West Oakland that's left a mark.

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"I've drawn this drawing like three different times," Rachel Wolfe-Goldsmith of Wolfpack Mural Arts says. "So by the time I get to the wall it's almost like it's engrained in my memory."

It's who.

"I just felt honored to be able to represent these incredible women," Wolfe-Goldsmith says.

She is painting the first mural to honor the women of the Black Panther Party on the corner of Center and Ninth streets.

"Just getting deeper into the work that they did," Wolfe-Goldsmith says. "It's inspiring me to think about what we can do, organizing and, you know, fighting for our rights here in this present day."

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Images most often connected with the Black Panther Party show men in berets and black leather jackets. But photos of women, who made up two-thirds of the party by the early 1970's, that inspired the mural.

JilChristina Vest never intended to have a mural this big on the side of her house.

"They drove the vans," Vest says. "They fed the kids, they printed the paper. They were the editors. They were the teachers. They literally did everything."

After the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Vest wanted to create something to bring her joy.

"I didn't want to memorialize things that had been done to us," Vest says. "I wanted to find a way to honor what it looks like when we do things for ourselves when we fight for our liberation."

The mural was the result. It highlights the women of the Black Panther Party who provided food, education, health care and more in local black communities.

The mural will eventually list more than 300 women by name and be one of three memorials in this neighborhood to honor members of the Black Panther Party.

While beautiful and larger than life, Vest and Wolfe-Goldsmith say the mural pales in comparison with the women who inspired it.

Ericka Huggins was a leading member of the Black Panther Party.

"I was so touched," Huggins says.

Huggins talked about why the mural is so meaningful.

"The reason we're doing this is not because men in the Black Panther Party didn't acknowledge us," Huggins explained. "But because we live in a world that doesn't give a central focus to the intelligence, the brilliance, the imagination of women, quite often. And so we just wanted to hold that up. And I think we are."

"This mural is for the community," says JilChristina Vest. "And it's for everybody who walks by it, and it's for everybody that can look up at it and say, I know exactly what those women did."

In addition to the mural project, the Women of the Black Panther Party have created a children's book and other items to raise awareness. You can find more information about the group here.

You can see more photos of the Black Panther Party and learn more about its history here.

See more Black History Month stories here
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