When asked what guidance he would give to a young person, OG Told Me:
“The first thing I would tell him is, if he lives in the Black community, is to look around, just look around you and see what’s going on. Just look around. And then, I would tell him to figure out how they would be able impact that situation—how he would they make it better for the people who live in that?”- Ronald Freeman, AKA Elder Freeman.
He sat on the end of his twin-sized bed, as the sheets pulled back to reveal the mattress and box spring. He held up a picture from the late 60’s. He pointed to the faces in the crowd “that’s Angela Davis right there,” he said, pointing to one of the most notorious afros in the world. And then he pointed to a young lanky kid in the just behind Ms. Davis, “that’s me!”
The two were a part of a pack of Panther brothers and sisters making their way through LAX on that day. He said they had just arrived from Oakland, where they participated in the Free Huey Rally in front of the Alameda County courtroom on Feb 17th, 1968; Huey P. Newton’s birthday.
Ronald Freeman, who goes by the title “Elder Freeman”, says it was the day after the rally in Oakland, when the Los Angeles Chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense officially started. Freeman would become a Field Secretary.
On a Saturday morning in March of 2013, Freeman opened the doors to his apartment in West Oakland, and let me into his world of pictures with historical figures and tales of community wars; many of which he says are still going on.
“We knew about the KKK and the lynchings they were doing to Black men,” said Freeman, as he explained the societal conditions that lead him to join the Black Panther Party at the age of 23. “By me seeing the women and kids get murdered, they wrong for that, I just couldn’t get past that.” He said the he joined the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in response to what was happening in Watts in the 1960’s; he felt this was the answer to the police brutality and the over all socioeconomic conditions of his community.
Since his time in Watts, Freeman has been incarcerated for attempted murder with a deadly weapon. He has been shot. He has been featured in a documentary (41st and Central). And now, Freeman is fighting cancer.
As his skinny frame moved through his apartment; a nice little spot on a well-known block in West Oakland’s Lower Bottoms, he searched for his misplaced medicine.
His neighborhood, like much of West Oakland (and for that matter, most of urban America), is undergoing a massive socio-economic overhaul. As tech workers, cool hip young people on bikes, and artists flow into the land that once housed the initial chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, an organization created to advocate for people subject to the oppression of the American government.
Freeman continued to look for a prescription pill, or maybe an over the counter pain reliever; he couldn’t remember. He was just focused on finding this medicine. “I’ve got Cancer,” he said in a straight-forward manner, as he pointed to his stomach.
He said he planned on going to Cuba in June in order to get a second opinion on what doctors told him was Colon cancer, before deciding on a medical procedure. He said he doesn’t much care for the American Medical system. He takes medicine to relieve the pain, he self-medicates by way of marijuana, and eat as best he can to keep his weight up until he leaves for the doctor’s of Cuba.
He began showing me photo after photo. Artistic portraits his mother gave him when he got out of San Quentin in the 70’s. Photos of deceased family members. Photos of him as a young beret sporting, black jacket-wearing Panther.
“Police, you don’t need that many really—they’re overrated. We need social programs and unity. If you change the conditions that people live up under, you change their behavior,” said Freeman, as he put his photos away, postponed his search for his medicine, and focused on the conversation at hand.
He says he always knew there was something wrong with his community, but couldn’t fully identify it until he heard Malcolm X’s speak. “When Malcolm used to talk, he would bring it to your attention that these socio economic conditions weren’t fit for human beings to live in, and we need to climb out of this,” said Freeman.
He continued, “You didn’t need to read a book, you just needed to turn around and look down the street.”
“If you understand what a democracy is, we’re far from one,” Freeman said in a stern tone.
He followed that with saying, people in power know that, and therefore make access to education and jobs unattainable, “the prisons play a large part in the social structure of our community and needs to be addressed in totality.”
Freeman believes that change comes about when young people get involved. He urged me to understand that.
Freeman’s wiry frame illuminated as he talked about young people getting involved in the community. He almost bounced off the springs in his twin-sized mattress, as he told me:
“If you think that the system doesn’t work, then show that it doesn’t work,” Freeman said.
After the thirty minute delay to converse with me, Freeman showed me to the door, and continued his search for his medicine.