By: Damien Thaddeus Jones (Written February 21, 2010)
There have been several great men that have influenced and still influence my life in a major way (Bill Jones, Jesus, Muhammad, Gandhi, Malcolm, Martin, and Cornel West). These men have changed the world as we know it, and the least I can do as a student of truth is to absorb as much as possible from these prophetic servants. On this day, February 21, 2010, one of those men stand out to me because he touched my life in such a glorious way. He helped shape the foundation of who I am today and will be in the future. He told me who I was and more importantly, who and what I was not. He gave me tremendous pride and confidence; he helped me with my homework and writing assignments; he showed me what evolution was all about. I never met this man. Never dined with him or ever heard him speak in person. The day I read his autobiography, I was around 16 or 17 and it changed the landscape of my life tremendously. So on this enlightening day, February 21, 45 years after his untimely assassination, I honor El Hajj Malik Shabazz (Malcolm X) for his massive contributions on my existence.
Did Malcolm have an impact on my spiritual life? I'm from a small, (sometimes) narrow-minded city called Jackson, MS. As you know, in the rural south, if you're not Christian, you're going to hell (according to zealots) and many offer zero respect for other religions. Everything was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, and more Jesus. As a bright kid, I questioned everything, in respect to the Socratic method of questioning. When I stumbled across The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I was about 16 and knew nothing of Islam or Muslims. My only narrow view was that they wore bow ties and peddled the freshest fruit on the corners of our inner cities. My schools didn't talk about Malcolm, nor did my parents. Everything regarding black history was surrounded around MLK and this passive image the media had created along with the "I Have a Dream" speech. By that juncture in my life, I was fed up with Martin and I longed for something with a little edge. Who was this Malcolm X guy that people like to sweep under the rug and dismiss? I read his book and got as much understanding from it that a naive, southern African American kid could get from it at that time. The story made me want to find out what Islam was all about. If it changed this man so drastically from his troubled past, what could it do for me? After much study, I was ready to convert to Islam all because of Malcolm, but amid so much criticism and ridicule in my family and community, I was afraid. Later I got the guts to convert and it was a beneficial decision. I found a small pocket of Muslim brothers and sisters and we gathered in an office building as a mosque and my relationship with God (Allah) grew in levels. The leader, Imam Muhammad, was a former NOI member who told me the stories of how they impacted the black communities they lived in and also the hate they endured. He talked about the profitable businesses they ran and so forth. I would sit and absorb wisdom from this respected elder. He encouraged me to get in school and better myself. Imam Muhammad introduced me to the old adage "opportunity costs", which led me to quit a dead end job and pursue my political aspirations. I love that brother for that. Being a part of that mosque taught me tremendous discipline. It takes discipline to acknowledge God 5 times a day in a uniform fashion, reciting "The Opening" each time. It takes discipline to stop eating pork when its 80% of your diet. It takes discipline to give up alcohol at the age of 22, a very difficult task. Those were the most loving, non-judgmental religious affiliated people I had ever met. No longer did I make the racist 9/11 anti-Muslim jokes. True Islam is a beautiful religion and way of life. I love and adore all my Islamic brothers and sisters all over the globe. All of that never would have happened if I never picked up Malcolm's book. For helping me to find spiritual clarity, I thank you Brother Malcolm.
Now if you've ever read or listened to any of Malcolm's speeches, you would be astonished to know that he never earned one single collegiate credit. Later on, he lectured at many institutions of higher learning and starred on many panels, but he was never a student at any college or university. Malcolm's oratory was so polished and fine. He enunciated words such precision and possessed a special knack for wordplay, however you could still hear the hustler in his delivery. He never lost his everyday connection with the streets; the people he called "those stuck the deepest in the mud". When I discovered this fiery speaker was educated in the school of hard knocks and studied the dictionary back to front while incarcerated, I figured a free black student could do the same or better. I began to feverishly study the English dictionary. If you ask any of my classmates from my years at the Piney Woods School, they would tell you that I always carried a bible in one hand and a dictionary in the other. I would challenge my peers to pick any word in the dictionary and I would know the meaning and word origin. No lie. I would be right 80% of the time. I almost never misspell words. Many times I have been accused of being an elitist because of how I speak. I would search far and wide to provide a defense to their accusation and now I've found that answer. It is all Malcolm's fault. He inspired me to want to improve my vocabulary and my diction by way of his real example.
Malcolm gave me tremendous confidence. There was no better person to play him in the movie "X" than Denzel. Denzel's natural walk displays immense swagger, which was a carbon copy of the real Malcolm. For a kid growing up in a racist Mississippi, Malcolm's voice saying "hold your head up high and to be proud of who you are" was something young black males needed. He provided that bravado for me. He told me to love the women/children and protect them. He taught me never to fear any man or any obstacle. His story taught me to seek the truth, no matter who criticizes or how you may look to the natural world. Malcolm taught me to always seek God. Malcolm taught me to love myself in the midst of racism that wanted me to hate myself. I used to be ashamed of my course hair and wide nose, but when Malcolm finished with me, I was borderline arrogant.
Malcolm is to the thugs and underprivileged what MLK is to the Rhodes Scholar. With most black people being poor and our men being hustlers and ex-cons, his story was a real story that spoke to that hollow space of hope inside them. His story said that one can overcome no father, rampant racism, drug use, imprisonment, and hate from your fellow brother (all of which our men still endure). His story said that black men can have a genuine relationship with God. His story bled with evolution. His downfall, in my opinion, was he felt he owed his life to the Hon. Elijah Muhammad and therefore never questioned the teachings of his teacher. That is the worst attribute of a teacher/pupil relationship. Malcolm always sought truth and righteousness. Truth eventually showed him he had been teaching hate, all within his genuine message of love. A flawed man he was. How real is that? Malcolm was real. That's all we ever asked for, reality. Thank you Brother Malcolm for keeping it real. We love you. We miss you. Salaam Alaikum.