Ex-Black Panther Elaine Brown Has a New Kind of Activism

Elaine Brown is helping transform Oakland, Calif.

Elaine Brown is a seasoned activist. Brown chaired the Black Panthers from 1974 to 1977 in Oakland, Calif. While Brown left Oakland nearly 30 years ago, she returned in 2010 to helm a new cause that’s near and dear to her heart: Turning a vacant lot into an urban farming company that will hire former offenders.

Brown’s project, the Oakland & the World Enterprises, was founded last year and is in its first stage of growth. So far, Brown has established the “for-profit West Oakland Farms.” The “Farms” contains 40 raised beds that are growing tomatoes, peppers, kale, squash, corn, and more. The next step is to add “a juice bar, fitness center, grocery store, and tech design space, along with affordable housing on the city-owned property under the umbrella of the nonprofit organization,” Civil Eats reports.

While Brown is off to a great start, she needs to raise about $30-40 million to fund the entire project. So far, she’s only earned about $300,000, which has come from county funding and grants.

Brown stresses that while she’s creating a farm, she isn’t “in” the farm business. Her goal is to create great opportunities for “black men and women who are poor and lack the education, skills, and resources to return to a community that is rapidly gentrifying without economic avenues for them in mind,” reports Civil Eats.

The main population she wants to reach, though, is the prisoners who are re-entering society. Brown thinks that prisoners can succeed if they are allowed to become self-sufficient, self-determined, and empowered.

Currently, Brown’s farm employs 10 former inmates “on a part-time, rotating basis,” explains Civil Eats. She pays them about $20 an hour. And because Brown isn’t a farmer or a cook, she’s recruited the kelp of Kelly Carlisle, a Master Gardener.

So far, the farm is performing quite well and even has a culinary client: the Pican Restaurant. The Pican is a southern-influenced, black-owned restaurant.

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Image of Oakland from Shutterstock

Abbie Stutzer

Writer, editor, and owner of Ginchy!, a freelance writing and editing company, and home funeral hub. Adores smart sex ed, sustainable ag, spooky history, women's health, feminism, horror, wine, and sci-fi.