Lansing Man wants to bring back the Black Panthers – gun rights, martial arts and everything

Growing up, James Henson adored the Black Panther Party. Attracted by the group ideal of a self-sustaining black community – one trained in hand-to-hand combat and licensed to carry firearms – he applied for his clandestine pistol permit, began teaching self-defense classes, and even donned the beret and leather jacket made famous by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.

However, last year’s death of George Floyd was the final straw for the 22-year-old Lansing resident. In response to “injustices that have been going on for a long time,” he formed a group based on the original image of the Black Panthers: the aptly named Young Black Panther Party.

“I’ve always wanted to start something like this, but I never really had the time,” he said. “Since there was COVID where everything was on break, I found this opportunity to bring hope to Lansing to the blacks.”

Chapters have already been created in Ohio and Washington, DC, with more to come, said Henson, the group’s leader.

Henson’s goal is to restore hope lost in black communities in the greater Lansing area and across the country, he said. He wants the Young Black Panthers teenagers and young adults to learn about black history, self-defense and how to make a living without relying on government support, he said.

With the exception of a minimum age of 16, membership has one requirement: Young black panthers must be black.

For Henson, that means black, semi-black, or albino. The latter two groups face a unique type of discrimination, Henson said.

“(Many) blacks see mixed people almost like traitors because they are partially white. Some whites don’t like mixed people because they see them as inbreeding of another race,” he said.

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Henson, top left, speaks during a rally at the East Lansing Police Department in East Lansing, Michigan on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. [MATTHEW DAE SMITH/Lansing State Journal]

Henson’s party is not affiliated with the New Black Panther Party, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as a black separatist hate group. This group, which was founded in Dallas in the late 1980s, campaigned for the murder of Jewish and white people, as well as law enforcement.

Several founding members of the original Black Panther Party have denounced the NBPP in the past.

Like the original Black Panthers, the YBPP identifies as anti-fascist, anti-racist, and anti-capitalist. According to the party’s website,, they believe in black pride, gun rights, and African American socialism.

Henson has no electoral policy, he said.

The YBPP specifically targets adolescents and young adults to keep black youth away from violence – or to better spread violent situations, Henson said. The group keeps members updated on Concealed Pistol License (CPL) classes in the area as well as melee classes.

James Henson (left) of the Young Black Panther Party demonstrates some self-defense techniques at the rally against Anthony Hulon's death on Saturday April 3, 2021.

Henson’s former CPL instructor Stephen Alexander said knowing self-defense gives people an edge when they are spreading a physical altercation.

“The basis of personal defense is situational awareness,” he said. “If you are aware of the potential threats, you may be able to avoid the conflict.”

Firearms, he added, are a last resort when faced with deadly threats.

Henson’s stance on gun rights comes from the fact that more and more minority activists are open during protests against the State Capitol. Following last spring’s protest against Governor Whitmer’s COVID-19 restrictions in that building, three armed black activists returned the following month to escort lawmakers inside.

On Saturday, Henson taught hand-to-hand combat to attendees at a rally for Anthony Hulon, who died in Lansing City Prison last year.

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So far, Henson has drawn the attention of Jerry Norris, the founder of Lansing Community Center The Fledge, who hooked him up with several producers, designers, and business owners to start the Young Black Panther Party. Producers and designers will help Henson create a theme song and merchandise to promote the YBPP.

Henson and Norris hope that the local landowners will make room for a community garden that will provide free food and herbs for the blacks in Greater Lansing. In addition to being a source of healthy food for the community, the garden would also serve to teach Lansing’s young people discipline and self-acceptance, Henson said.

“There are many good reasons not to trust big grocery chains – especially in the Black Community, the grocery stores are liquor stores or just pop and candy,” said Norris. “That leads to health problems later in life.”

Henson and Norris have not yet decided on a location for the garden.

“(Henson) believes in this cause to help blacks move forward by using their own strengths and energies and not being dependent on people who have persecuted them for centuries, and that excites me,” said Norris.

James Henson, 22, of Lansing, founder of the Young Black Panther Party, poses for a portrait at a barber shop in Lansing on Wednesday March 31, 2021.

Most of all, Henson wants the Young Black Panthers to be a team for the Black Community.

“He is committed to improving the Black Community,” said Alexander, the CPL instructor, of his former student. “By engaging in food redlining, improving members’ defense skills, and educating our staff about our rich history of excellence and self-sufficiency.”

Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.

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