Former Black Panther Elaine Brown Gives Ex-Cons a Second Chance with Community-Based Farm in Oakland

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Black Panther Elaine Brown

Elaine Brown, a former Black Panther, turned her activism into a career in agriculture, continuing the Black Panther’s legacy of providing food services for the community.

As a Black Panther, Brown served as the chairwoman of the Oakland branch from 1974-77. Her time as chairwoman focused on political involvement and community service. In 1977, Brown managed the campaign of Oakland’s first Black mayor, Lionel Wilson.

The West Oakland Farms is a passion project for Brown. At the age of 72, Brown has made it her duty to make the community better by providing jobs to people society has left behind: ex-cons.  She employs people who have records but want to get back on track. Many former inmates don’t get second chances to earn a living or have a career.  Brown wants to change that.

She turned a vacant lot into 40 raised beds that produce tomatoes, peppers, kale, squash, corn and more.

“I’m in the farm business,” Brown told Civil Eats. ”I’m in the business of making opportunities for Black men and women who are poor and uneducated. I’m not a farmer; this is not just another Band-Aid.”

Jennifer LeBarre, Oakland Unified School District’s director of nutrition services, has teamed up with Brown to improve lunches by providing nutritious options for the school children.

According to Eater, “LeBarre’s district is now working with West Oakland Farms … LeBarre runs an after-school produce market which sources its wares from Brown’s farm.”

This partnership reveals that many urban school districts are not providing the best food options to help students prepare for effective learning.

Brown’s non-profit is one of the few prisoner re-entry programs in the city. The company’s future plan is to have classes in farming, bookkeeping and entrepreneurship and to expand into a fine-dining restaurant that will be offered from seed money from the organization.

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