Five school buses, one charter bus and a dozen or so vehicles trekked from the Harlem State Office Building up to Ferncliff Cemetery this past Tuesday morning for the 50th annual pilgrimage to Malcolm X’s and Betty Shabazz’s burial site. After the half-hour drive up to Hartsdale, many activists who have been immeasurably influenced by Malcolm X’s legacy advocated a common theme during their presentations.
“Malcolm left all of us a great example so we can have a better tomorrow,” said educator Dr. Leonard Jeffries as he began the ceremony with libations, directing his message to the several hundred students present. “Education is the key to the future.”
“I want to address all the youth in the audience, all you young fruit for tomorrow, you’re our future,” said Malcolm X’s nephew, Rondell Collins. “It’s important that you look around at your elders and realize that you need to tap into that source. Sacrifice is what our duty is to you. Learn; education is key. Tomorrow belongs to you. You’re here to grab the future.”
Next, Sister activist Iyaluua Ferguson advised about the importance of education and the relation between generations. She stated, “If we don’t understand the legacy of those who came before us, then we’re lost. This is the first year my husband [Herman] is not here, although he’s here in spirit. Please keep it going. Let’s build our movement.”
Next, the event’s moderator, professor James Small, said, “The Sons of Africa are the children of the O.A.A.U. When we’re gone, they’ll continue on … not just the ceremony, what it implies.
“Malcolm made the choice—freedom or death! The life that he gave us, the values that he left us with, the courage that he set the example with, that’s what lives in the rest of us. All of us are Malcolm X because he was every ancestor that ever stood up against tyranny, and that’s what we have to do if you want your children and grandchildren to be free.”
Dr. Rosalind Jeffries followed up by saying, “We stand unified as elders to say to you youths that you must be educated about the life of Malcolm X, not by what you read in the newspapers about him, but by what you learn about him from us. Look to make significant contributions to the generation that will be coming up under you. We want you to be encouraged.”
Sister Dequi Kion-Sadiki, chairperson of the Malcolm X Commemoration Committee, declared, “We all stand on the shoulders of people who have given their livers, made tremendous sacrifices, have done the work, laid down a blueprint. Not that we do the exact same thing, but that we all do something in the name of freedom, justice and liberation for our people. We must prepare our children for the next seven generations. We have to do the work. I’m so glad to see all these children. I love you young people!”
Her husband, Sekou Odinga, mentioned how he attended the first three pilgrimages with Malcolm X’s sister, Ella Collins, before his circumstances drastically changed.
“In ’68 I was with the Black Panthers, struggling to free the land,” he said. “From there, my struggles took me underground, through Africa and back. This is the first chance, since ’68, that I’ve been here.
“To the youth, it is so wonderful to see all of you out here. Today is your day, not just tomorrow. You have to step forward today and take leadership. We’ve been waiting on you. Come forward and take responsibility and lead us. We’ll be here to help you.”
Two students from Brooklyn’s Benjamin Banneker High School shared what Malcolm X’s legacy means to them, and then Dr. Akil Kokayi Kalfani, director of the Africana Institute at Essex Community College in New Jersey, led the youth in attendance in a call-and-response chant of “We will transform the world, because we are following in our ancestors footsteps!”
AmNews Editor Nayaba Arinde concluded the event by saying, “I studied Malcolm when I went to college, and it changed my life. Malcolm’s daughters want us to really focus on getting people to understand what he meant, and we can do it. Look at all the babies here!”
Upon returning to Harlem, participants joined the self-determining December 12 Movements’ campaign that requested all businesses along 125th Street close from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. as a demonstration of respect for Malcolm X. All complied except U.S. Polo at 136 W. 125th St., prompting repeated chants of “No disrespect for Malcolm X! Polo must go!” from the hundred or so demonstrators who advised potential customers not to spend money there until they issue a formal apology and agree to comply during next year’s acknowledgement.