May 19th was the 95th anniversary of the birth of the late, great Malcolm X. Malcolm X changed my life. The Autobiography of Malcolm X written with Alex Haley literally put the Black in Led Black. The book which has sold untold millions of copies and influenced everyone from Huey P. Newton to Spike Lee to Public Enemy, among many others, seemed to materialize out of nowhere at a crucial point in my development as a person and as a thinker. It was during my years in the Bronx High School of Science that the book found its way into my life and thank God that it did.
Coming from P.S. 143 in Washington Heights, I didn’t know I was poor until I attended Bronx Science. As the only one from my junior high that year to make it to the prestigious public high school, I had no choice but to make the trek every day from the hood to Bronx Science on my own. All of a sudden, I was attending school with kids whose backgrounds and socioeconomic status were vastly different from mine. Culture shock was an understatement, which resulted in some existential angst and serious soul searching on my part. I felt adrift and ensnared in a downward spiral of resentment and alienation.
And then it happened. A fellow Bronx Science student, Harlemite Ben Talton, gave me his dog-eared copy of the Autobiography. I read it transfixed. I could not put it down. Malcolm’s singular fixation with history spurred my own and gave me the impetus to read, learn and grow with reckless abandon. The lessons I learned from studying the trajectory of his life gave me the werewithal to decide, right then and there, that I and I alone, would determine my destiny. That excellence was a choice that was mine to make, that I could not and would not let my circumstances define or defeat me.
The study of the life and legacy of Malcolm revealed to high-school me that there was immense power in intelligence and critical thinking. It is a lesson that has served me well to this day. Malcolm spoke truth to power unflinchingly with conviction, eloquence and erudition. We need more of that as we confront Tyrant Trump during this pandemic. Malcolm X Lives!
Pa’lante, Siempre Pa’lante!