What WE Owe Malcolm


“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.”

I was first introduced to Malcolm X during my junior year of high school. I was the only upperclassman in an Earth Science class assigned to freshmen. The teacher taught us everything but science and I am forever grateful for that. I looked forward to going to 5th period every day. Mr. Edmonds transformed his classroom into a lecture hall. It was in his class that I first heard the name “Malcolm X”, it belonged to a man who did not have a face, let alone a voice in my changing world. The next week, I walked back into his class with Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Reinvention of Life and asked him why the N.O.I. chose “X” as their last names. I never finished Marable’s book because I soon learned that I was reading out of order.

After spending the entire school year learning about everything in Black history, I was ushered into an entire new world of “wokeness”, of course, this was before being woke was even a thing. Being in that class, something awoke in me that was dormant. Something that I didn’t know was inside of me, something that hasn’t been allowed to rest since. On the last day of school, Mr. Edmonds implored us to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X for summer break; 99% of the class ignored him. The summer of 2013, I finally read The Autobiography of Malcolm X for the first time. The entire time I was reading his autobiography, I felt his presence there with me. I heard his voice guiding me through his book and his voice has remained with me for the last six years.

My entire world changed. Everything that I once thought was right, was essentially altered after my first reading of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I turned my back on organized religion, which was extremely radical due to my Catholic upbringing. I began to finally be aware of White supremacy and oppression in my everyday life. I realized how deeply white supremacy and oppression played a huge role in keeping me (and countless others) ignorant on just about everything.

In January of 2014, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X for the second time. It was then that I decided to do something that many considered to be a daunting task; I decided that I wanted to petition the White House to establish a federal holiday in honor of Malcolm X. Erica (@rickiryan on Instagram), SankofaBrown (Twitter handle), praxis (Twitter handle), and myself were the core members of this collective. We decided that the focus of the Malcolm X holiday would be self-education through reading/literacy and creating reading materials accessible to everyone, even the most marginalized community. We decided that this would be the focus because of Malcolm’s messages urging Black people to read, educate, and empower themselves and their communities through reading. Though we were never able to reach the necessary 10,000 signatures, we all, in our own ways decided to amplify Malcolm’s message and creating spaces to share and make reading/literacy a known presence in our personal lives and communities.

Malcolm’s autobiography is one of the most unique and authentically raw autobiographical works that I have been blessed to read (my other favorites include A Taste of Power by Elaine Brown, Angela Davis: An Autobiography, and Assata) for a few reasons. For me, the biggest reason why Malcolm’s autobiography had such an impactful effect on me is because how powerful Malcolm’s words were. His voice, personality, and spirit lift off of the page. Reading through his book feels as though you are sitting in and listening to a conversation between Malcolm and Alex Haley, reading Malcolm’s autobiography is an intimate experience. Malcolm makes it very clear that this is his story, told in his own unique way and he is very open and candid about himself and his life story.

Malcolm starts his journey of his life by having us start in Lansing, Michigan. He thoroughly describes his childhood and his introduction to Pan-Africanism, with the help of his parents and Marcus Garvey. Malcolm then takes to Boston, where he transforms from a country bumpkin to a true, smooth talking city boy. From Boston, we follow Malcolm to Harlem and it is here, where he transforms into a hustler. And from Harlem, we follow Malcolm back to Boston and eventually to prison for eight years. It is here where we begin to see Malcolm Little begin to take form into Malcolm X. While in prison, Malcolm began to read, “I read aimlessly, until I learned to read selectively, with a purpose.” (161). It was also around this time that Malcolm’s brother Reginald, introduced him to Islam, Elijah Muhammed and the rest is history.

I recently decided to reread The Autobiography of Malcolm X for the sixth time and this reading gave me a lot to think and reflect about. The entire autobiography revolved around two major things: reading/education and change. While in prison, Malcolm found books and those books — along with the religion of Islam — saved him. “Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened.” (176). Malcolm stressed how important it was to educate oneself and to constantly read. Malcolm knew and believed that education was the key to liberating the minds of the Black community and the tool that would dismantle white supremacy and oppression. Malcolm believed that someone who belonged to the most marginalized community would be able to undergo the most radical transformation if the individual was given the chance and the materials.

As I mentioned earlier, even though the Malcolm X holiday initiative never got the necessary signatures to petition the white House, the core members of the collective have all done something to promote reading and self-education in our own communities, most notably Erica. Two years after the petition, Erica started her own initiative called Liberation Through Reading. LTR is a community based initiative that has gifted over 1000 books to Black children, books that are bought by supporters all over the country and books that center around Black children. Erica also hosts a weekly book club where members read and discuss Leftist theory and texts. All of this was born because of Malcolm.

Every time I have read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, I have been able to find something new that I missed the previous time. In the final paragraphs of the epilogue, Alex Haley describes Malcolm’s funeral and how his assassination rocked the nation and the world. The final sentence reads: “It still feels to me as if he (Malcolm X) has just gone into some next chapter, to be written by historians.” (463). This is what we owe to Malcolm, to continue writing his story, his mission, his ideas into this chapter of history and for years to come, but the only way we will ever be able to complete this book is if we begin to fight against illiteracy and a lack of reading in our communities. We must begin to make all literature accessible to ALL communities and people. Whether you are reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X for the first time or for the sixth time, like myself, I hope that Malcolm’s voice and words guide you and move you as they have for me. I hope that you decide to take up Malcolm’s call of action to continue his story and fight against your personal stagnant education and uplift your community. We owe it to Malcolm.

Gemini Che ::: A Reading Of Jon Lee Anderson’s Che Guevara By @aROSEthatGREW

Before I picked up Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson, I barely knew anything about Che. I barely knew who he was and what he stood for. I was introduced to Che back in 2014 while on Twitter. A number of the people that I follow on twitter spoke highly of Che and how he helped Fidel liberate Cuba. I never even knew how Che would look like until I seen his most famous and commodified picture float around on Twitter one day. The only other time that I would even hear or seen anything related to Che was on the newest Scooby-Doo reboot “Mystery Inc.” on Cartoon Network. On the show, there was a character named Ernesto and a radical student activist who resembled Che down to the facial hair and beret (Kudos to whoever wanted to bring Che back to life as a cartoon). When I moved to Miami, Florida back in August 2016, I was prepared to face the anti-blackness from members of the Latinx community that engulfs Miami, but one thing I was not prepared for was to be surrounded by Cubans who hated and displayed hostility whenever Fidel was mentioned and an image of Che was displayed. I received a number of weird and angry looks from my coworkers whenever I would pull out my copy of Anderson’s book and read during lunch breaks. When Fidel died last year, FIU (Florida International University) sent out a mass email with a statement from the university’s President, Mark Rosenberg. In His statement, Rosenberg states “The passing of Fidel Castro marks the beginning of the end of a most painful chapter in the lives of Cubans…” I didn’t understand the hate Cubans had for Che and Fidel. At work, a number of my coworkers were relieved and ecstatic that Fidel had died and spat on Che’s name. This is when my curiosity of Che, Fidel, and the Cuban Revolution began to bubble. In my real, offline life, I had people speaking ill about Che and Fidel. Online in my Twitter life, I had a few people such as Erica (@_Rickii_) and Taurean (@SankofaBrown) speaking so highly of Che and Fidel, especially of Che’s dedication to Marxist, Socialist, and Communist thought and teachings. That is when I learned that in history, you are seen as both the hero and the villain. The US has done an amazing job at painting Fidel and Che as villains for the last 4 decades.

 

Jon Lee Anderson’s biographical work Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life” painted Che in a way that is both critical and needed whenever Che is the topic of discussion. At first glance, the size of the book is pretty intimidating. 819 pages of information about the bigger-than-life man with a soul piercing stare we all know as Che Guevara. But when I started to read it, I found that the book was engaging and was easy to read and follow. Reading the first page of the first chapter, a bombshell is dropped. Che’s parents, Ernesto Sr. and Celia lied about Che’s real birth date of June 14th, 1928. A friend of Celia’s who happened to be an astrologer did calculations on Che and determined that he was a Gemini and a very boring one at that. But at the time Che was already a household name all over the world and on the CIA’s “to watch” list by the early 1960s along with Che. How could this “boring” and “gray” person described in his astrological chart be the same outspoken and highly visible figure known as THE Che Guevara? The confused astrologer took her findings to Celia where Celia laughed and confessed that Che had been born a month earlier, May 14th, 1928 and this actually transformed Che from a boring Gemini into a headstrong and decisive Taurus whose hands were always ready for whatever and was always ready to shoot. While reading Part One: Unquiet Youth, Anderson beautifully describes Che’s life from childhood up until he joined Fidel and Raul Castro’s movement to liberate Cuba. The many stories and thoughts that are shared about Che on Twitter and in real life paints Che as this untouchable and serious man who only had character flaws and had those who wanted to eliminate the Cuban Rebels fear and hate him. But as I continued to read the first chapter A Plantation in Misiones, Anderson reveals that Che had chronic asthma. Che Guevara, the man who was about that action suffered from asthma. Asthma that would leave him bedridden for days with haggard breathing and a horrible cough. Che, the man who had the US shook with his Marxist thinking and Guerrilla warfare expertise suffered from chronic asthma from childhood until his execution on October 9th, 1967.

 

Born Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, Ernesto didn’t start school until he was 9 because of his chronic asthma, but that didn’t stop Celia from educating Ernesto. Celia passed down her love and passion of literature down to Ernesto and from that they shared a close mother-son relationship. Ernesto became a lifelong learner and a voracious reader. When Ernesto was just 17, he began to write his own “philosophical dictionary.” His philosophical dictionary notebook consisted of biographies of noted thinkers and definitions. He also had quotations on Marxism and Hitler. This notebook was the first of seven which he worked on for 10 years. As his studies deepened and expanded and his interests became more focused, his notebooks began to reflect that.

 

“Everything began with literature for him” – Osvaldo Bidinost Payer, if there was ever a sentence to sum up Che as a reader, this is it. Literature led Che to Fidel and Raul. Literature led Che to hating imperialism and capitalism. Literature led Che to becoming our revolutionary idol, hero, and brother. Literature allowed Che to live on in our revolutionary souls. Before Che was murdered, he developed a habit of documenting everything, the history he became a part of and his honorable legacy. We should follow Che’s example by documenting everything as a way to keep our legacy alive. “Che – alive as they never allowed to be”. Through the words he left behind and his courageous and rebellious spirit, Che solidified himself in history and etched a place in our consciousness.

 

Jon Lee Anderson did an amazing capturing the man behind the beret, the man whose entire death was shrouded in secrecy and his life became romanticized. Thanks to Jon Lee Anderson and his research, we were able to finally locate Che’s body and give our hero a proper burial after 28 years. Che’s last words is a small look into the man who became a symbol of resistance figuratively and literally.

 

“I know you’ve come to kill me. Shoot, coward, you are only going to kill a man.”