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SUNY Brockport continues social justice conversation
“The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” was the topic of a discussion on Wednesday, Feb. 24. (Photo credit:

By Ellen Paddock / Copy Editor

BROCKPORT N.Y. — Over 30 students gathered virtually to continue the conversation of social justice in America and on SUNY Brockport’s campus on Wednesday, Feb. 24.  

The discussion, led by Assistant Professor Elizabeth Masarik, Ph.D., of the history department, was about the film, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, and was the first of the three-part series, Examining Gender and Race in the U.S.   

Students weighed in on the Black Panther Party, a political organization founded in 1966. Originally known as The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the controversial group was formed in Oakland, California in response to violence and police brutality towards African Americans.  

The conversation challenged the preconceptions of the party that can be attributed to how little students knew about the topic before receiving a college education. Some students never learned about the party in high school, and others only received a brief overview  

“I am often surprised at how little students know about the Black Panther Party or Black Power in general,” Masarik said. “You shouldn’t have to wait until college to get this information, and so many of us are.”  

The film highlights a period towards the end of the Civil Rights movement that tends to be overshadowed in the classroom by the Martin Luther King Jr. era. It served as a learning tool to help fill in the gap students pick up in junior high and high school between the Civil Rights movement and what was happening in America throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

The Black Panthers were a political party that helped to shape the Civil Rights movement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Students appreciated learning about the Black Panther party without it being juxtaposed with the King-led movement. This helped them understand the dynamics of the organization, how they were involved with local communities, and their founding ideologies.   

One of the goals of the Black Panther Party was to educate people on Black history during their free breakfast programs and in their community schools. Masarik credits the AfricanAmerican and women and gender studies that we have today to their activism.    

Considering current racial tensions and the Black Lives Matter movement, students were inspired by how the Black Panthers established nationwide movement with most of their members being their late teens and early 20s. They created chapters in nearly every American city without the mobilizing force of social media that we have today.  

“Think of the leg work that was involved in that. Nowadays we just put it on Facebook, but it takes work. Activism is work,” Masarik said.   

She encourages students not to stop with the film, but to use it as a jumping-off point and to continue learning about AfricanAmerican history.  

The three-part series on race and gender in the US will continue March 23 with a discussion of the filmWarrior Women, about the American Indian Movement in the 1970s.  

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