On March 2, the writers of the novel “Freedom! The story of the Black Panther Party,” Jetta Grace Martin and her father, Waldo E. Martin, presented at the Berkeley High School library. The author’s visit included a small-sized discussion between the authors and BHS student book club as well as a Q & A led by BHS African Diaspora dance teacher Dawn Williams.
Jetta Martin is a BHS alumna, dancer, choreographer, writer, and recipient of the Cornel West Prize and the Kathryn Ann Huggins Prize. Waldo Martin, is a professor of History at University of California, Berkeley, with a focus in African American history. The pair published the novel in January of 2022 along with Joshua Bloom, Director of the Social Movements Lab in Sociology at University of Pittsburgh.
Jetta Martin explained how the book, which reads almost like a movie, is rooted in the chronology of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense. It begins with the party’s foundation in 1966, and, from then on, covers its history, goals, and ideology. According to Jetta Martin, a wish to have been able to have access to an in-depth history of Black Panther Party as a young adult fueled her desire to create the book. This wish also inspired a sense of urgency in her writing process and led her to cater the story towards a younger audience.
Jetta Martin expressed her goal for the impact of the book on all audiences. “We are still witnessing the very real effects of police brutality and violence against Black people,” Jetta Martin said. “The revolution, the act, and the remaking of our world is not a static thing. It is changing and evolving with us and around. My hope is that this book can be an inspiration, a small seed planted to help activists of all ages grow, aspire, and work toward their best lives, and as individuals and as members of a community to participate work to make the kind of world we all want to live in.”
After giving a brief synopsis of the book, the authors discussed the most challenging aspects of writing the book, from developing themes to surprises found in their research.
Both Martins talked about the difficulties of having multiple collaborators on one project. In their eyes, contextualizing the thoughts of three different people and putting them down on paper was one of the more challenging aspects of working on the book.
“The biggest challenge I would say, was trying to synthesize everyone’s thoughts and ideas to try to make the book better,” Jetta Martin said. “And unfortunately, I’m just gonna be real with y’all. I write out of order, which is really not great for a mostly linear book … So that was also a little challenging, like trying to piece it all together at the end.”
When it came to research, both Martins had moments of surprise and inspiration. The young age of many members in the party was a surprising factor for Jetta Martin and was another influential factor in catering the book towards young adults. Aside from this previously unknown factor of the party’s past, Jetta Martin explained how growing up in a household with two professors, one being a historian, allowed her to obtain knowledge of the Party before beginning her research. Waldo Martin found surprises in the enormity of the Black Panther Party’s impact.
“When I initially started the project, I had a limited idea about the global impact of the party,” Waldo Martin said. “The party had influence on virtually every continent in all kinds of ways, some of which we were able to understand and unravel and some of which I continue to learn about.”
As the presentation went on, the Martins discussed thematic topics explored in the book, including the Panther’s belief, “All power to the people”. Ending the presentation, Waldo Martin shared his own hopes for the impact the book might have on audiences.
“We want people to go out there and as John Lewis would say, make good trouble,” he said. “We need a lot of good troubles in this country. And so we hope this book will inspire them because Huey and Bobby and the party are deeply inspirational. So the struggle continues, my brothers and my sisters,” Waldo Martin said.