Passionate About Inspiring Transformation
I am a human rights activist, poet, educator, Black Panther Party leader and former political prisoner. For the past 36 years I’ve lectured throughout the United States and internationally. My life experiences have enabled me to speak personally and honestly on issues relating to the physical and emotional well-being of women, children and youth, whole being education, the incarceration of men and women of color, and the role of the spiritual practice in sustaining activism and promoting social change.
As a result of my 14-year tenure as a leading member of the Black Panther Party I bring a unique perspective to the challenges and successes of the Black Panther Party and, its significance today.
My desire to serve humanity began in 1963, when I attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. There, I committed to serving people for the rest of my life. In 1968, at age 18, I joined the Black Panther Party. I soon became a leader in the Los Angeles chapter of the Black Panther Party with my husband John Huggins.
Three weeks after the birth of our daughter, on January 17, 1969, my comrade, Alprentice “Bunchy Carter” and John Huggins my best friend, and the father of my daughter, was killed. That day I became a single mother and a widow.
After returning to New Haven, Connecticut to be with John’s family, I was invited by community members and Yale University students to open a party chapter there. I accepted the invitation. In May 1969, Bobby Seale and I were targeted and arrested on conspiracy charges sparking “Free Bobby, Free Ericka” rallies across the country.
While awaiting trial for two years before charges were dropped, including time in solitary confinement, I taught myself to meditate as a means to survive incarceration and separation from my baby daughter. From that time I’ve incorporated spiritual practice into my community work, as a speaker and facilitator, teaching as a tool for change - not only for myself, but for all people, not matter their age, race, gender, sexuality or culture.As a lifelong writer, upon my release from prison in 1971, I became writer and editor for the Black Panther Intercommunal News Service. In 1974, the book of poetry chronicling my experience of incarceration and liberation, Insights and Poems, co-authored with Huey P. Newton, was published. My poetry and other writings have appeared in numerous magazines and books.
From 1973–1981, I was the Director of the Oakland Community School, the groundbreaking community-run child development center and elementary school founded by the Black Panther Party. Working with a team of incredibly talented party members and local educators a vision for the innovative curriculum for the school was written. This curriculum and the principles that inspired it became a model for and predecessor to the charter school movement.
During that time, with community support, I became both the first woman and the first Black person to be appointed to the Alameda County Board of Education, which serves children with cognitive, emotional and physical disabilities and, incarcerated youth in the county’s many school districts.
Ten years after my release from prison, in 1981, I returned to California state, county, and federal prisons and jails to share my experiences of yoga and meditation. A focus of my volunteer efforts has been with incarcerated youth. I have continued this work with adults and, in addition, I have continues this work in homes for foster and adopted children and teens. For the past 20 years, I’ve also taught relaxation and mindfulness in California youth correctional facilities, in addition to many California public school districts and community colleges.
In 1990, at the height of public awareness of HIV/AIDS, I was the first woman practical support volunteer coordinator at the world-renowned Shanti Project. I also developed a unique volunteer support program for women and children of color, living with HIV, in the Tenderloin and Mission districts of San Francisco.
During my time at Shanti Project and later Aids Project of Contra Costa County, I helped develop citywide programs for the support of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender and questioning youth and adults with HIV/AIDS.
From 2003-2011 I was a professor of Women and Gender Studies at San Francisco State University and California State University, East Bay. From 2008-2015 I was professor of Sociology and African American Studies in the Peralta Community College District.
Currently, I am one of the facilitators with World Trust. World Trust uses films that document, through story, the impact of systems of racial inequity. These films are tools to foster conversation about race, and all structural inequities. These conversations are powerful to personal and global transformation. Below are the films that I use to stimulate dialogue as I travel and speak to audiences large and small:
And coming soon in September 2017: Healing Justice: Cultivating a World of Belonging
In addition, I am available as a keynote or guest speaker through The Institute for Democratic Education and Culture, Speak Out Now.