A couple of months ago, I remember standing in my friend Bryce's dorm in Lewis Hall on campus. He and I were preparing to go to a play rehearsal scheduled later that day and stopped in his dorm for a couple of minutes to grab things he'd need later. Scanning around the cramped room, my eyes stopped at his bookcase, an impressive collection of literature from authors I had never heard of. Reading the spines, I searched for titles that seemed familiar and found myself face to face with the Autobiography of Malcolm X.
"Yo Bryce man, you reading this book," I asked holding it up and staring at the colored image of the civil rights leader on the cover. "Nah bro, you can read it if you'd like," and from there it all began.
My fascination with Malcolm started early from the heartwrenching story of his childhood experiences in a Jim Crow era Michigan, the voice he carries throughout the book, and also the similarity of certain experiences. Hearing about his experiences after coming to Boston for the first time, riding the train around the city, seeing Harvard Square and other iconic landmarks and spending time in places I have also spent some time in made many parts of the story very relatable for me. I couldn't put the book down and I couldn't get the man or his ideas off of my mind.
I began to question a lot about myself and my experience as an inner city Black youth in the US and really began an internal transition into critical thinking about race and the structure within American society. It was by no means a smooth transition nor an extremely positive one. Listening to the message that Malcolm was spreading during what I've begun to think of as the old civil rights movement, I learned a lot about the issues that my parents and grandparents faced and realized that there are many issues still present today. Inequality based on racist ideologies have very much continued to exist today despite the civil rights movement led by leaders such as Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King.
Paired with lessons I had been learning this semester in Intro to Sociology with the fantastic Professor Dhingra, as well as experiences with students on campus involved in organizations such as the Pan African Alliance, Black Males Group, or in classes such as IR, Peace and Justice Studies, and American Studies, I became fired up. I wanted/want to change the system. I wanted to find ways to further the movement that Malcolm X began and highlighted in his book.
It was interesting coming to the end of the book where Malcolm X undergoes a huge transformation in thought as he comes into terms with his position in the Muslim umma and recognizes the true value of community. He, one of the largest voices against integration between the races, began to speak of unity and brotherhood as not only a possibility but a necessity. His plan before his murder had been to create an organization that was based on community, that though was led by black members, was open to members of all races who were striving for the same cause. He was wary about equating the experiences that people faced in the United States, but he wasn't opposed to fighting as a community to change things.
I took the book to heart. Nearly every lesson Malcolm learned as he grew up I analyzed and found ways to relate to myself so that at the end of the book I felt a shift in my thoughts as well as passions. I very much began to dedicate myself to finishing what Malcolm started and was prevented from finishing.
In that vein of thought I began looking critically at my surroundings and the environment which I'm in now at Tufts. Very much a sub community within the grander American system, there are many systematic issues with race and prejudice that go by unnoticed on Tufts community because they aren't as overt as they would have been back in Malcolm X's time. The illusion that the old civil rights movement solved all of the issues with prejudice and race is prevalent today and needs to be checked. What Malcolm X begins to explore in his book is what I believe is a new civil rights movement combatting the still prevalent issues of race that become muddled due to integration. These are all the issues that keep topics such as affirmative action debated in the US. There is a lot of work to do, and I believe that if Malcolm X won't be able to finish it, I can at least continue working to finish it myself.
Here on Tufts campus under courses in American Studies and Sociology, I am trying to learn all that I can in order to continue fighting against the systematic oppression and racism affecting minorities here in the States. Without voices like Malcolm X 's, these issues will only continue to exist and oppress. We need voices calling for community, calling for peace, and calling for brotherhood.
Here at Tufts, I'm learning how and when to speak up.