Oakland, CA – Westlake Middle School is no longer alone on its Harrison Street campus. It now shares space with the MetWest High School ninth grade expansion which is named for former leading Black Panther, Ericka Huggins. During the second week of school, the campus near Lake Merritt held a ceremony to declare that the campus is named for Ericka Huggins, who is a college professor, former member of the Alameda County Board of Education and former director of the Oakland Community School which was created by the Black Panther Party in 1973.
“Thank you for allowing me to visit your cohorts today, thank you for all the dreams you have that we are bringing to reality and thank you for taking care of one another,” Huggins said to an auditorium packed with students and staff from her campus, Westlake Middle School, and the main MetWest High School campus which is named for activist Dolores Huerta.
Before the assembly, Ericka Huggins, two of her children, fellow former Black Panthers Fredrika Newton and Malik Edwards, who works at MetWest, along with staff members toured the new campus and met with students. Knowing that professional internships are a big part of what draws students to MetWest, Huggins asked them what they want to be when they grow up. They responded that they want to be doctors, artists, and chefs, among other things.
Ericka Huggins meets with students.
When Ericka Huggins walked into classes and when she was introduced during the assembly, she was welcomed with standing ovations. “We must be aware of the impact of history on us, and this is the awareness that the Black Panther Party had, when we said, ‘No, this isn’t working. People with no health care, we’ll start free clinics. Children with no school, we’ll create one. Babies dying of rat bites? We’ll create a pest control program.’ We had 64 community survival programs, and the Oakland Community School was flagship of all of them.”
The emcees of the program were two students, Angel Ortega and Marquesha Taybron. They also helped guide Huggins around the campus. Taybron was thrilled to have the time with her. “Meeting and being able to introduce Ericka to everyone was amazing really because she’s been through a lot and has had a very long journey to get where she is today,” she said. “Our school is very lucky to be named after such power.”
MetWest Principal Michelle Deiro says Oakland students will benefit greatly from attending a school named for such an important figure in Oakland and U.S. history. “Ericka Huggins is someone who has always dedicated herself to lifting up young people, to educating them, to providing them with ways to improve their lives. We are thrilled that we could name our campus in her honor, and that she could join us in more than just spirit to help prepare this generation of Oakland youth to continue the fight for social justice.”
“When I think about MetWest today… I realize what an impact we can have on the future, by doing what is right and good… The right thing to do. Don’t you always know what is the right thing to do in your own heart? Even if you’re veering toward that other thing? The right thing will call to you. So, I want to remind you to do that,” Huggins told the students.