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“I’m not an American—I’m one of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of Americanism,” said Malcolm X.
Local admirers of Malcolm X reflect on his continuous cultural and political influences throughout the past five decades as they prepare to commemorate the 89th anniversary of his physical birth this Monday, May 19.
On that day, people from across the county will make the 49th annual pilgrimage to Malcolm X’s gravesite in Ardsley in Westchester County, N.Y.
During the early 1960s, Malcolm X sparked “the brothers,” local youths who witnessed his inspirational speeches at the Nation of Islam’s Temple No. 7, then at 116th Street and Lenox Avenue, and other Harlem streets. Afterward, they spread the motivational messages with friends on their nearby blocks, enticing them to stand up against police brutality and attend future speaking engagements.
“People in Harlem loved Malcolm. He was well-spoken, very educated,” recalled Eye God Allah, who regularly visited Malcolm’s Organization of Afro-American Unity offices at the Hotel Teresa in early 1964. “Because at that time, Malcolm was the only one speaking up for Black people in Harlem.”
Those impressionable youths were referred to as “the blood brothers” by the media and in Malcolm X’s autobiography and were the predecessors to the Five Percenters, who continued Malcolm X’s do-for-self advocacy.
During October 1966, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in Oakland, Calif. Their platform was modeled after Malcolm X’s political ideologies at the time of his Feb. 21, 1965, execution.
“Malcolm X’s teachings from yesteryear is relevant today because he was training us to think of ourselves as an African who thinks of him or herself as intelligent, courageous, as confident and with high esteem,” said Brother Tarik, an original Black Panther.
Former Council Member and fellow Panther Charles Barron mentioned Malcolm X’s influence on the Freedom Party and how he globalized the liberation efforts.
“Malcolm X, like no other figure in our history, had a powerful impact on the international organizing of our struggle, raising it throughout Africa, the plight of African-Americans. He moved it from civil rights and nondiscrimination to human rights and self-determination. Malcolm X is the consummate, ultimate revolutionary … honest, sincere, radical agent for change!”
Although President Barak Obama is often compared with civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., the United States’ first African-American president cites Malcolm X as one of his major inspirations. “Only Malcolm X’s autobiography seemed to offer something different,” Obama said in his own autobiography, “The Bridge: The Life & Rise of Barack Obama.’” “His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me.”
Hip-hop progenitors the legendary Last Poets established the cornerstone to the cultural phenomena by reciting revolutionary poetry in Central Harlem’s Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park) on Malcolm X’s 43rd physical day, May 19, 1968, the month after King’s April 4 assassination.
“Malcolm is the centerpiece of the formation of our group,” said Abiodun Oyewole, founding member of the Last Poets. “There were some values that Malcolm upheld and lived and was willing to die for, that we should all consider as an example for us to follow. Malcolm X was the one who exposed all the ills, the hypocrisies that were going on, and demanded that we respond accordingly. That’s one reason why he’ll never die, because of the imprint that he left on our minds and spirits.”
Oyewole closed by suggesting: “Each one of us should take a piece of Malcolm, Harriet [Tubman], Martin [Luther King Jr.] …. take a piece of whoever that we can understand and relate to, take them into our hearts and try to carry on the work, because we still got work to do!”
Buses for the 49th annual pilgrimage to Malcolm X’s gravesite leave at 10 a.m. from 126th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, the very corner where Malcolm once addressed the Harlem community from in front of Lewis Michaux’s bookstore. Upon their return to the city, in order to show respect for the day, the December 12th Movement leads their annual “Shut ‘Em Down” closure of businesses along 125th Street from 1-3 p.m.
There will also be events at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center in Harlem. For more information, visit http://theshabazzcenter.net.