“Education is an important element in the struggle for human rights. It is the means to help our children and our people rediscover their identity, and thereby increase their self-respect. Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs only to the people who prepare for it today,” determined Malcolm X at the O.A.A.U.’s [Organization of Afro-American Unity] founding forum at the Audubon Ballroom. (June 28, 1964).
The legacy of the fearless icon who gave so much to his people will be commemorated this weekend with various events acknowledging the 88th anniversary of his physical birth, May 19th.
The recent tragic murder of his grandson, Malcolm Lateef Shabazz, has put Malcolm X’s name in the national media once again, although, locally surviving comrades and supporters ensure to keep his legacy alive year-round.
“Malcolm’s life is an example of how you go from having no consciousness, to having extraordinary-consciousness,” explains O.A.A.U. President, James Small. “…and how you act on it to help others grow.”
Some often speak about his development throughout his various incarnations: from… Malcolm Little during his childhood, to Detroit Red when he was a Harlem hustler as a young man, to Malachi Shabazz once embracing the Nation Of Islam’s teachings while incarcerated, to Minister Malcolm X upon his release, to being bestowed the attribute Omowale in Africa, to El Hajj Malike El Shabazz, the name he chose himself.
After his March 1964 departure from the N.O.I., his new organization was more politicized.
“We don’t mix our religion with our politics and our economics and our social and civil activities—not any more,” he explains during his Ballot or the Bullet presentation (April 3rd, 1964). “We keep our religion in our mosque. After our religious services are over, then as Muslims we become involved in political action, economic action and social and civic action. We become involved with anybody, anywhere, any time and in any manner; that’s designed to eliminate the evils, the political, economic and social evils that are afflicting the people of our community.”
Traveling abroad expanded his experiences. He continued evolving as his comprehension grew. He saw the commonality amongst the planet’s oppressed indigenous people, while attempting to unite them.
“I met Che Guevarra, he wanted to come to the Audubon, Malcolm wouldn’t let him, so Malcolm had him write a letter,” shares O.A.A.U organizer, Abdullah Abdur-Razzaq, (f.k.a. James 67X), recalling the December 13, 1964 meeting. “Che said slavery in Cuba was different from slavery in the U.S…. you have Africans in Cuba who still have their African names and religion, and still speak Yoruba, better than they speak it in Africa, because the language hasn’t changed in 300 years.”
Following Shabazz’s February 21st, 1965, execution, his sister Ella Collins became O.A.A.U. President, and began conducting annual pilgrimages to his gravesite in Westchester County’s Ferncliff Cemetery. The longest-running tribute to an African ancestor in the U.S., is currently in its 48th year.
“It was created not just as a pilgrimage to Malcolm X’s grave, but as a holiday on the part of Black people,” stated Small. “In 1965 the O.A.A.U., on our seal and stamp, issued a declaration that was sent to all Black organizations, and the U.N., declaring May 19th, ‘Malcolm X Day’, our national holiday! We didn’t want the government, and don’t want them today, to declare it… we declared it, and it’s so! Adding, “We hope our people have the courage to celebrate a holiday without waiting for their enemy – people who murdered their leader – to validate them having the right to do so.”
Malcolm X’s impact is still felt today… thousands having refined themselves by embracing Islam, while many furthered their education. The legendary Last Poets and revolutionary Black Panther Party came together in response to his execution.
“Malcolm was speaking to young people, he was causing them to question the institutions they were living under,” concluded Small. “Malcolm’s legacy today is that you have to fight to change your world to be what you want it to be. If you don’t fight to change it – and he was very clear on the areas to be changed; economics, politics, cultural – then you will suffer the consequences of oppression. He’s the best example of the courage Black people need to develop if they’re going to change the world for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren!”