I graduated from Radford University in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in Media Studies and a Minor in Political Science. During the annual Multicultural Ceremony, more commonly known as the Donning of the Kenta, held the day before graduation, I was asked to submit two photos of myself – one young and one old. Along with the pictures, I was to include accomplishments during those four years. Finally, I was to present a quote that best described the undergraduate experience. “By any means necessary,” seemed the most fitting.
That day I reflected why I chose those words and why they ignited me so. Was it because those words took me to college as I strived to provide a better future for my mother and sisters? Did those words lead me to become the president of the largest multicultural organization on campus? Did those words provide the strength for me to hold my ground the night two friends and I got into a brawl with some whites for calling us n – – – – – -? Did they bestow courage in my heart the day candidate Trump came to campus and I was thrown out of the rally? Or ultimately, were those words the fire that got me across the stage to receive my diploma? Unequivocally yes to all.
For anyone who does not recognize these words, the quote I have given so much credit to actually was spoken from the mouth of one of the greatest men to ever walk this earth – Malcolm X. College life was the condition in which I studied Malcolm the most. The public school system has an infamous history of teaching only white history, apart from a few honest Negro leaders such as Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King. In higher education in order to get a full taste of black history, you must visit the drinking gourd yourself. In grade school, he seemed more than just a man, more than a legend. I recall engaging in debates on purpose with other kids who saw him as radical, uncouth and unnecessary to the plight of the black man. To me he was more than just necessary, he was required.
The lessons he spoke seemed to have come from another world. The overflowing of energy caught my attention, the intense vocabulary he used and his tenacious delivery sent shivers down my spine whenever I watched a video of him speaking. And the onslaught of articulation, especially when he was outnumbered, made me more than a fan, it caused me to be a follower. I believe in Malcom X, in his words and his thought processes. I believe what he was communicating was a way out of the ghettos, drugs and the catacombs that plague black and brown communities. He is my hero and his words seem to have been and were written and spoken just so I could absorb them. They led me to be undeniably pro black, a proud African American, an unapologetic civil and human rights activist who served his undergraduate campus well. A question remains, though, upon the evolution of my identity. If Malcolm said this more than half a century ago, way before I was imagined, why does it all feel so familiar?
That led me to further research on Malcolm. He was born Malcolm Little on May 19, 1925, in Omaha, Neb., to Earl Little and Louise Norton. He had seven siblings, Wilfred, Hilda, Philbert, Reginald, Wesley, Yvonne and Robert. He also had four half siblings, Ella, Earl Jr. and Mary. His home in Lansing, Mich., was destroyed by the Ku Klux Klan and his father was taken away from him by these same people when he was the ripe age of six. He was a thief, stealing food so that his family could have “full bellies.” He eventually moved to Boston to live with his sister Ella. I was called n—– so much he became completely desensitized to it. Malcolm got into trouble, drinking, smoking, running numbers, etc. He wasn’t the best physical fighter and was nicknamed Red and later Detroit Red because of his brownish red hair. He once loved a white woman. He burglarized richer neighborhoods, and was sentenced to jail. He was stripped of his human dignity and became number 22843 in the penal system. He found faith in the Nation of Islam while in prison and once he was released, he became one of the most powerful ministers the world has ever seen. He was betrayed. He fathered six children with his wife Betty Dean Sanders (Shabazz) – Attallah, Qubilah, Ilyasah, Gamilah, Malikah and Malaak. He journeyed to the Mecca in his holy pilgrimage and became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. He was assassinated in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965, while delivering a speech.
I was given the opportunity to host one of his granddaughters, I lyasah Shabazz. I had the privilege of delivering a speech I had written as a dedication to my hero in the presence of Iyasah. Nothing can describe the experience. That moment allowed a concrete, living, breathing example that everything he said was indeed as real as his daughter before me. And through her talk that day, I noticed that Malcolm was not just her’s alone, despite being a seed from the family tree. He was and still is within everyone who is for the natural rights of every human being, man, woman, child, brother and sister who pledges to tame racism and inequality.
Malcolm X will forever have a place within my heart as one of the greats of all mankind. His fierce leadership reflects traits I wish to imagine within the depths of my skin. The brain power of an individual man without a college degree shames non-believers and discredits collegiate haters. The initial pro black, pan Africanist mind-set lulled this black boy into a coma every night. Later evolving into an entire human rights agenda only furthers my respect for him not just as a civil rights leader but a human’s rights advocate. Admiration is too few a word to fully contextualize why I love Malcolm. Perhaps in another half century there will be more to say about this man and more practitioners of his good word and perhaps even less polarization to talk about. Until then, I don’t know for sure, but for the better socio-economic status, self-love and identity for the black man, woman and other oppressed people, one can only hope.