Social activist and spiritual leader, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, would have been 95 years old today.
As we approach his centennial, it is appropriate to point out how relevant his message is now, decades later.
With an incredible transformation story that has inspired generations, Malcolm X’s legacy is rooted in struggle. The son of a pastor and loving mother, then Malcolm Little learned early about the social politics of America.
Growing up in Omaha, Nebraska, young Malcolm’s father was murdered for being a follower of Marcus Garvey who preached black entrepreneurship. From there his family was split up as his mother was admitted into a mental institution.
As he bounced around from homes, he developed a street edge rooted in survival and began a life of crime. From Boston to Harlem, “Red”, a nickname derived from the copper tone of his hair and skin, was a whole enterprise.
Along the way he met and had street dealings with future stars like Red Foxxx, who was also still in “the life”.
The Tipping Point
However, when life caught up to Malcolm and he was imprisoned, time stopped so he could become enlightened. Regardless of how one feels about The Nation of Islam’s or the Honorable Elijah Muhammad himself, they are certified life-changers.
Malcolm’s story of uplift after prison through ministry is very common for The Nation and a blessing for impoverished communities. However, his spirit was larger than anyone’s organization and spilled into the politics of the day.
From delivering a hard-line stance during the Civil Rights movement to his commitment to African-American empowerment, Malcolm was God sent. Like most modern-day prophets, his energy was infectious and effective. So much so that he scared the American government and then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
Malcolm had to contend with government-sanctioned surveillance via the COINTELPRO program. He had to work amid dissent amongst the spiritual ranks due to his highly effective and passionate speech-making.
Also, he had to live fearlessly in a world that hated everything about his truth.
It is that spirit of fearlessness and advocacy for community no matter the cost that we celebrate the life and work of this dear soul. He made phrases like, “By Any Means Necessary” a lifestyle, inspiring many.
Today, as uncertainly looms over communities of color with the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affecting us, Malcolm X’s words are like a salve.
In life and now in spirit, he continues to motivate the world to be better and want more for themselves ad community. He is the embodiment of resilience and wisdom through experience, and we are all his extended congregation.
Happy Birthday to ya! (Stevie Wonder voice).