We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, the value of a well-balanced breakfast flew under the radar for nutritionists and public policymakers for many years until radical efforts from the Black Panther Party emphasized the significance of having breakfast.
Though The Black Panther Party’s initial objective was to end police brutality against the Black community, the party also developed and served many other social programs. One of the programs developed was the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for School Children Program, which fed more than 10,000 students every day from 1969 to the early 1970s.
Party members and volunteers gathered donations and purchased healthy breakfast options for students. The group prioritized serving underprivileged inner-city youth and eventually set up kitchens across the United States.
The public recognized the success of the Black Panthers’ breakfast program as school officials reported better results in academics and behavior in kids who received free breakfast before school. Studies also showed that tasks requiring attention, cognitive function, and memory are better facilitated by those who consume breakfast.
Despite the program’s success, the FBI wanted to tarnish the Black Panther Party’s reputation by making false claims of the party inciting violence and racism. Food from the breakfast program was even rumored to be infected with diseases. Authorities were also said to have raided program locations while children were eating.
As a result, the breakfast program was dismantled, and the public criticized inadequacies in existing government breakfast programs, pressuring the United States Department of Agriculture to provide better meals for students. The USDA’s School Breakfast Program was not permanently authorized until 1975, after the impact of the breakfast program by the Black Panthers.
Today, the School Breakfast Program is currently one of the largest U.S. government welfare programs, serving 14.7 million students in the fiscal year 2021. Without the Black Panthers’ initiative, the school breakfast program may not be operating with the success it does today.