Why Now is the Time to Celebrate Malcolm X
It must have been a very sad and difficult day for those who insisted on believing the world was flat to discover that the world is indeed round. But round it is, and this radical paradigm shift reminds us that throughout history the illusions of human culture must at times give way to proper alignment with the demands of the real world.
The legacy of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) represents one such shift, and today his legacy is more relevant than ever. Because like the discovery of our spherical Earth, his life and his work represented a movement away from the tired and unjust distortions of human ideology, and toward a restorative relationship with the truth that sets all people free. This can be summed up in the three critical components that Malcolm X believed would strengthen and fortify the African American community. They were: 1) the need for Blacks to become educated, 2) the rights of Blacks to defend themselves, and 3) the urgent requirement of economic development in the Black community.
In his critically acclaimed autobiography, Malcolm X recites his own journey to these positions. He reflects on his life and the lives of his various personas (like "Detroit Red," and "Hustler”) recounting how he dated White women, lied, cheated and became a drug-selling brawler, all to remove himself from the pains of poverty he had experienced as a child. Climbing from the pit of oppression, Malcolm X eventually converted to Islam while serving time in prison for burglary. Upon his release from prison in the 1950s he became a steadfast disciple of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and overtime he became a bitter taste in the mouth of White America, unleashing unabashed criticism of classism and White supremacy.
Naturally this gave momentum to a White backlash already moving against Martin Luther King's gentler and less radical criticisms of American public life. Adding insult to injury, Malcolm X's polished, pearlized echoes of The Honorable Elijah Mohamed's "blue-eyed devil dog" (the Myth of Yacob's portrayal of White people) and his frequent insistence that Black communities had to be protected "by any means necessary," marked him as a threat to White society. Soon the name “Malcolm X” represented a rebel force that White nationalists feared as an imminent danger to the United States.
But Malcolm X’s thinking continued to evolve. In 1964, he began to question the Nation of Islam's leader. Unearthing the truth of Muhammed's improprieties, and pushing back against what he saw as a flawed ideology, eventually he parted ways with the Nation of Islam. This break led him to a pilgrimage in Mecca - a requirement of all Muslims who are physically able — after which Malcolm X rejected the racially divisive teachings of the Nation of Islam. In a letter written at the time, he said that seeing Muslims of "all colors, from blue-eyed blondes to black-skinned Africans,” helped him to see the Islamic faith as a way in which racial problems could be reconciled. But it also helped him distill the critical components listed above, and this refined focus, and his dedicated example, became his great gift to American history.
Malcolm X spent the rest of his life trying to build a new organization, all the while being harassed by serious and credible death-threats. Ultimately, on February 21st, 1965, at the beginning of an Organization of Afro-American Unity meeting in Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm X was gunned down by assassins affiliated with the Nation of Islam. Later, in eulogizing Malcolm X, the great African American thespian Ossie Davis dubbed Malcolm X, "A prince... our own Black, shining prince, who didn't hesitate to die because he loved us all." But I am even more moved by Malcolm’s own words in the conclusion of his autobiography: "If I can die having brought any light, having exposed any meaningful truth that will help destroy the racist cancer that is malignant in the body of America, then all of the credit is due to Allah. Only the mistakes have been mine."
This is why we celebrate Malcolm X. He reframed the work of empowering marginalized communities not just as a dream, but as an immanent reality that must be lived into in the here and now. Today our survival depends on seeing the world in its three-dimensional, rounded, and fully realized existence — understanding that we are all of us the same distance from its luminous center. In the name of righteousness, now is the time we must walk the unbroken circle that binds us together. Joining our commitment as we join hands around this miraculous, shared, and collective globe.
— E.D. Mondainé; President, NAACP Portland
“When you educate a girl, you raise a nation,” says ILYASAH SHABAZZ.
She is an inspirational role model and advocate for women and girl empowerment. Her lifework is devoted to helping others find inner strength and purpose. While she is frequently asked to speak about the legacy of Malcolm X, she shares that it is her mother Dr. Betty Shabazz's wisdom, courage and compassion that guide her.
Ilyasah is an educator, activist, motivational speaker, and author of four award-winning publications: Growing Up X (Random House 2002) a coming of age memoir; Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X (Simon & Schuster 2014) a children’s illustration book; X, a Novel (Candlewick Press 2015) a young adult historical fiction, and her newest release, Betty Before X (MacMillan 2018) a middle school historical fiction. She has received two NAACP Image Awards, Walter Dean Myers Honor, Library of Congress Inaugural Award, American Library Association Coretta Scott King Honor, and has been long listed for The National Book Award.
Ilyasah promotes higher education for at-risk youth, interfaith dialogue to build bridges between cultures for young leaders of the world, and she participates on international humanitarian delegations. Ilyasah produced training programs to encourage higher education for the City University of New York Office of Academic Affairs. She served twelve years where she was raised in the city of Mount Vernon, New York on the Executive Youth Board, and served 12-year appointments as Director of Public Relations, Director of Public Affairs & Special Events, and Director of Cultural Affairs. She mentors at Nile Rogers’ We Are Family Foundation, group homes, lock-up facilities, high schools and college campuses through production of her exclusive production, The Wake-UP TourTM.
Ilyasah retraced her father’s footsteps to the Holy City of Mecca, explored religious and historical sites in Egypt and Jordan as the guest of Princess Alia Hussein, participated ininterfaith dialogue study programs under Rabbi Nancy Kreimer and Dr. Aziza Al Hibri,and served as member of the American Interfaith Leadership delegation that participated with Malaria No More Foundation in Mali, West Africa. Ilyasah also served as a member of the United States delegation that accompanied President Bill Clinton to South Africa to commemorate election of President Nelson Mandela and the economic business development initiative.
Ilyasah serves as a Trustee for the Harlem Symphony Orchestra, The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, and The Malcolm X Foundation. She is a member of the Arts Committee for the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center and aproject advisor for PBS award-winning Prince Among Slaves documentary. She holdsMaster of Science in Education & Human Resource Development from Fordham University; Bachelors of Science in Biology from SUNY/New Paltz; and is currently anadjunct professor at John Jay College for Criminal Justice in New York City.
For further information, please visit www.ilyasahshabazz.com