Column: Transformational Journey Of Malcolm X

February 26, 2020

[Opinion column written by Glenn Fubler]

February 21st was the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, also known as El Hajj Malik El- Shabazz.

Two days before his death in 1965, the iconic photographer Gordon Parks interviewed him. Malcolm’s words follow:

“Listening to various African leaders awakened me to the dangers of racism. I realized that racism is not just a black and white problem.

“Brother, remember the time that white girl came into the restaurant and asked how she could help [black] Muslims and whites get together and I told her that there wasn’t a ghost of a chance, and she went away crying?

“Well, I’ve lived to regret that incident. In many parts of the African continent I saw white students helping black people. Something like this kills a lot of argument.

“I did many things as a [black] Muslim that I’m sorry for now. I was a zombie then – like all [black] Muslims. I was hypnotized, pointed in a certain direction and told to march. Well, a man is entitled to make a fool of himself, if he is prepared to pay the cost. It cost me 12 years.

“It was a bad scene, brother. The sickness and madness of those days – I am glad to be free of them.”

Most readers will be surprised that this quote is Malcolm. His media-generated-image is that of the strident lieutenant of the Nation of Islam – Malcolm 2.0. This anniversary, rather than focus on his death, let’s take the opportunity to examine his transformational journey out of which emerged Malcolm 4.0, as evidenced in that reflective quote.

This milestone has personal significance, since reading Malcolm’s autobiography as a teenager was a key transformative experience in my life. Leveraging my appreciation of my ancestry and fostering my sense of independence and interdependence, my responsibility to community. Time Magazine included the autobiography in its ‘Ten Most Important Books of the 20th Century.’

Malcolm’s parents were involved in the Marcus Garvey movement, which spoke to personal empowerment. However, the family was subjected to the terrorism of the day and his father was killed in suspicious circumstances when he was 12. The pressure of the circumstances resulted in his mother’s protracted hospitalization and the children ending up in foster care.

The adolescent Malcolm eventually slipped into a life of crime and incarceration. His conversion into the Nation of Islam [NOI] is well known. By the time he left prison, he quickly became a trusted lieutenant of Elijah Muhammed – Malcolm 2.0. He demonstrated courage and spoke truth to power. That was exemplified in 1957, when Malcolm was able to require NYC police to allow a victim of police brutality to gain hospital care.

However, Malcolm possessed personal integrity which led him to begin to question the rules of the organization. This Malcolm 3.0 especially emerged when he visited various countries planning for Elijah Muhammed’s world tour. That big picture perspective allowed him to appreciate those of diverse views in the wider community.

Subsequently, Malcolm became aware of personal impropriety by his leader and he subsequently made a formal break with the Nation of Islam. This led to Malcolm 4.0 emerging, which was especially leveraged by his visit to Mecca; this Hajj was not only a religious but also a spiritual experience.

As El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, he not only inspired African Americans, but in light of the many college invitations he began receiving, he was increasingly resonating with the wider, diverse student movement which was blossoming globally at that time.

The firebrand who once referred to whites as devils had undergone significant transformation. Hence those reflective comments that he made to Gordon Parks, 48 hours before his untimely death.

I had been disappointed that we had overlooked this milestone, so that when a group of us visited Westgate on Thursday, February 20 for the personal empowerment circle, we had not included this milestone in our dialogue. However, we did have a meaningful session and interestingly one of the team made the comment-on our way home that he didn’t believe that the dialogues that he normally has with most of his acquaintances are as reflective as the ones we have in the circle, something that resonated with me.

That comment reinforces my view that the transformative life or spirit that Malcolm had exhibited lives on in this current generation. It is evident everywhere: in Westgate; Greta Thunburg and the teens championing urgent climate action; Bryan Stevenson, who has liberated 140 prisoners from U.S. death row; the ‘Squad’ in the U.S. Congress; and others around the world, too numerous to mention.

- Glenn Fubler


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