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  • Black Panther - Denise Oliver-Velez - Black History and Literature Library
    Black Panther - Denise Oliver-Velez - Black Activist, Black Panther, Black Woman - Black History and Literature Library

    Black Panther - Denise Oliver-Velez

    Denise Oliver-Velez (born August 1, 1947) is an American professor, Contributing Editor, activist and community organizer. Specifically, she is a Contributing Editor for the blog Daily Kos, and is a former adjunct Professor of Anthropology and Women’s Studies at SUNY New Paltz.

    Born Denise Roberts Oliver on August 1, 1947, in Brooklyn, NY, she is the daughter of George B. Oliver, an actor and professor of Dramatic Literature at Nassau Community College, and a Tuskegee Airman, and Marjorie Roberts Oliver, a teacher in the New York City school system.

    Oliver-Velez was a member of both The Young Lords and The Black Panther Party. While in the Young Lords, according to herself she and others challenged one of the organization's points in their 13-Point Program and Platform. As she states, "I was in the Young Lords, and one of the points in the original program was ‘Revolutionary Machismo.’ Machismo is reactionary, so you can’t have revolutionary machismo. We women weren’t having it. So we made a very different kind of statement. ‘We want equality for women. Down with machismo and male chauvinism.''

    The women’s caucus issued demands to the Central Committee of the Young Lords that called for an end to sexual discrimination and the full inclusion of women into the leadership of the Lords. The Central Committee reacted by quickly promoting Oliver-Velez and Gloria Fontanez to the Central Committee. They also adopted a new slogan, ¡Abajo con el machismo! (Down with Machismo!). However, these changes did not happen immediately and women still faced sexism within the party regularly. Oliver-Velez became aware of gendered assumptions made by the central committee about who could and could not perform certain tasks. Even when women were assigned to posts in various ministries, including the Defense Ministry, they were disproportionately assigned traditional "women's work" like child care and secretarial tasks.

    By May 1970, the New York section of the Young Lords followed its then Central Committee (which included Oliver-Velez, Officer of the Day) and decided to break away from the national Young Lords' office in Chicago, renaming their new group the Young Lords Party. The separation was never a hostile one and had more to do with the rapid development of the group—or "growing pains"—a natural friendly competition between cities, and primarily by infiltration and repression by government groups that were trying to create conflict between the chapters to divide and ultimately destroy the newly formed movement. Despite their considerable presence in the Young Lords Party, female members were consistently overlooked to occupy high-ranking leadership positions. However, in 1970 Oliver-Velez was appointed as Minister of Economic Development and became the highest ranking woman in the party.

    One of the major contributions women made to the success of the Young Lords Party included publishing its Position Paper on Women, which was later included in The Young Lords: A Reader (2010), edited by Darrel Enck-Wanzer. Oliver-Velez helped construct the paper and theorized the intersection of race and class in the lives of women of color for it. She and another former Young Lords member, Iris Morales, wrote a foreword for The Young Lords: A Reader (2010).

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