LOS ANGELES, Calif. - People across the U.S. are remembering the contributions and spirit of a man who stood out during an era of lynching, Black Nationalism, and valiant struggle, El-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X.
Community members gathered the weekend of Malcolm's birth at the African Firefighters In Benevolence Association Center on Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles for the Malcolm X Village festival to honor the life and legacy of one of history's most prolific leaders, revolutionaries, and man of standards.
He was commemorated with ballads of revolution, traditional African dances, and artistic culminations and praises. Malcolm X admirers also participated in in-depth discussions about his legacy and current events surrounding Black progress.
"He is a hero, a lion," said 'La'Moomba' Jimmie Lewis, festival coordinator. "He is a person that was an example for Black men and African people in the United States. He stood for justice, always did what was right, acted from his heart, and was able to use his intelligence to make decisions."
Malcolm X was born May 19, 1925, in the city of Omaha, Neb., to Baptist Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) preacher Earl Little and his wife, Louise Little. Malcolm's father was a bit of a wave maker himself during the 'Back to Africa' movement with his involvement with the UNIA.
He was killed and run over by a streetcar when Malcolm was very young, but controversy clouded the truth behind Earl's death. The Little family believed a White supremacy group was responsible for their father's horrific murder, however the coroner ruled his death an accident.
Some time after the death of his father, Malcolm's mother was institutionalized in a mental hospital, where she remained for 26 years. Malcolm and his siblings were separated and sent to different homes. He eventually ended up in Harlem, where he went to the school of hard knocks.
As a young man, a few years under the legal adult age, Malcolm started out working odd jobs, and then became consumed by negative influences, including coordinating narcotics, prostitution, and gambling rings.
In 1946, he was arrested in Boston for burglary; this incident would turn out to save his life. He used his seven-year sentence to reach a new level of enlightenment, empower himself, and deny the ways in which oppressive society subjected him. He then became a devoted member of the Nation of Islam (NOI) under the direction of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad.
Malcolm's determination and undeniable resilience and transformation in his short lifetime fueled a revolutionary movement among Black people, nearly sending fearful White people running to the hills.
His passionate public addresses, inspiring words of wisdom, and new, transformed, strict lifestyle was the new face of revolution, Blackness, and freedom. He did what the Nation of Islam taught without wavering or folly. Some would say he did it the best. In fact, he was celibate for 12 years, before he married his dynamic wife, Betty Shabazz, and created a family of five girls.
As a man of valor and excellence, Malcolm influenced young men and women of his time to make transformations in their own lives, join the struggle, and contribute to the liberation of Black people.
In the last days before his death, Malcolm was diligently working to unite all African people. He began talks with leaders on the continent, bringing together the African revolutions taking place across the Atlantic and the movement here in the U.S. to establish a synchronized front against White supremacy and oppression.
Okera Damani, a tajedi (griot, lecturer and researcher) of African history, says Malcolm was onto something and someone did not like it.
"People don't know that he was never a civil rights leader. He was a human rights leader," Damani said. "He knew how certain government organizations (FBI, CIA, etc.) operated, unlike the political science class version ... when people know how the oppressive system works, they can counteract it."
Damani says Malcolm's influence was lethal to a system of racism and division, so members of various organizations, people with money, and a few jealous followers of the NOI, collaborated to successfully assassinate him and attempt to diffuse Black elevation.
The 13 days before his murder, Malcolm's behavior changed tremendously. He became extremely distant, frantic, and isolated himself. Damani says he knew he was going to be killed. On the day of his assassination, according to the tajedi, 21 officers were assigned to protect him at Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom on February 21, 1965. A few of the men were casually standing in front of the building, while the rest were waiting for his body to arrive at the Presbyterian Hospital. He was shot at and killed by three men from NOI. Thomas Hagan, now 69 and the only man who admitted to his role in Malcolm's assassination, was freed from prison this past April.
After his death, Malcolm sparked revolutionary thoughts and actions in Black people across the nation, setting grounds for the formation of the Black Panther Party, the growth of NOI, and even planting seeds in the hearts of leaders like Khalid Abdul Muhammad.
Malcolm X's legacy lives on in the hearts of revolutionary thinkers and doers in the Black struggle. Damani believes that if he was still alive today, Malcolm would be transforming again and he would be hard at work trying to free his people.
"Malcolm X is the personification of the transformation of Black men from boys to men, from feelers to thinkers, from unconsciousness to consciousness," Damani reflected. "He is that energy that we tap into when we stand up and shake off that weight, fear, and uncertainty ... With the African spiritual movement and historical knowledge that is now available, this is the next frontier, and we have to be just as diligent as Malcolm."