malcolm x Archives - The Jose Vilson

malcolm x

On Leadership Through Teaching Others To Lead

by Jose Vilson on February 21, 2013

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Denzel Washington as Malcolm X

Denzel Washington as Malcolm X

Every year, the memory of this day usually sucks.

The night before I went to Raleigh, North Carolina (for a Center for Teaching Quality board meeting), I went to my barbershop, where the guys played Malcolm X (the Spike Lee joint). I watch this movie almost annually, just to remind myself of the way this country still throws around the idea of an American dream, but always conveniently bury dissenters either physically or out of the zeitgeist in short order. The more promising the revolution, the quicker the silencing takes place.

Fast forward to today, where the definition of leadership in racially-marginalized communities have been diluted to a few pillars: MLK, Rosa, and Malcolm X. We can throw in Cesar Chavez for good measure, but the conversation doesn’t go too far from that. While many people yearn for those men as their leaders, their perception of what it takes to lead a people comes from a contrived martyrdom or, worse still, a legion of people who pick apart elements from men from the past and try to “update” the style in present-day form.

In other words, we got lots of copies, each of them charismatic as the next, but with little to no substance.

Except for the occasional Van Jones or NAACP President Ben Jealous, what we deem as black leadership may have the look of advocacy and critical thought, yet it lacks the people’s edge. Eddie S. Glaude explains:

All too often what stands in for the black intellectual these days are folks who can spin a phrase and offer a soundbite. The idea of the intellectual who reads widely and deeply and who critically engages the complexity of our times has been supplanted by the fast-talking “black Ph.D. pundit” who strives to be on CNN, Fox or MSNBC. This same pundit has found new career opportunities within universities and colleges by thinking about black people in ways that conform to the current liberal consensus about racial matters.

Ah. Well, as often as people get mesmerized by the speeches and pizzazz, they often allow these people to hurt our communities’ voice in the name of getting on mainstream media. Instead, I prefer we look at our leaders’ best asset: the ability to stand next to the next man and teach him how to lead as well, inspire them to be their better selves.

Malcolm did that. I’m usually not one to write on someone’s passing day, but I just had to put that out there.

Jose, by any means necessary …


First, let me say how ecstatic I was to see that, out of the thousands of friends and acquaintances I’ve gotten to know via social media and other platforms, I heard absolutely no one insult Frank Ocean (R&B singer affiliated with Odd Future, known for “No Church In The Wild”) for coming out as a bisexual. His letter describes love and humanity in the poetry you’d expect from a crooner like him. More surprising was the deluge of messages coming from fans appreciating him coming out on his own terms, something that his own detractors wouldn’t have the testicular fortitude to do on any meaningful level. Black urban music is in constant need of a reality check with homophobia and sexism within its popular ranks, and Frank Ocean’s outing provided a meaningful step because of the respect he earns among hip-hop elites.

Naturally, my thoughts turned to an earlier discussion I had on Twitter about Manning Marable’s outing of Malcolm Little (X) in Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. It seemed to me off-base to make the publicity surrounding the book focused on Malcolm’s sexual preference when, clearly, the narrative gave us so much more about the man. Many of Marable’s detractors suggested that Marable’s outing slandered a legend, and that everyone, especially Malcolm, is entitled to staying dead without having every sordid detail about their life dug up for the living.

I agree, except … I don’t.

I mean, Malcolm is still alive through his works and his voice. The power his image holds over many of our communities makes me believe that, while he’s passed on him the physical form, he still holds weight with the (often diluted and premature) issues that matter most to Black folk, and therefore, all of humanity. Thus, I think Malcolm the demi-god is certainly worth studying in depth and with a critical lens that didn’t exist 50 years ago.Manning’s thorough study of Malcolm shows how passionate and respectful he was of the subject of Malcolm’s life, not simply relying on his autobiography or the movie retelling.

More importantly, it was a service to those of us who believe Malcolm somehow surpasses human expectation. If Malcolm X can go from the life he led in his teens to one of the most powerful men of the 20th century, why can’t our students? Those thugs and gangbangers who we considered a lost cause are Malcolm. The kids we see in durags and big chains on the subway or the bus are Malcolm. The students who feel disaffected in our classrooms socially or academically are Malcolm.

Those kids desperate for change are Malcolm.

While putting Malcolm’s sexual preference (or his sexual situation, if you will) out there does little to dissuade the sort of courage it took for Malcolm to find it within himself to change for the better. A deeper read of the last few chapters gives a sense that Malcolm couldn’t care less if his past were exposed; his person is but a culmination of his experiences, not just one moment. He lived as the best example of what happens when men get in touch with their inner spirit, specifically for a culture he felt lost touch of their inner fighter through systematic oppression.

His bloodshed is the precursor for young men and women to take courage whenever they speak up about their souls. That includes Frank Ocean. And you.

Jose, who’s reading poems again …


On Malcolm X And The Importance of Public Opinion

by Jose Vilson on May 22, 2011

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Malcolm X, "Our Freedom Can't Wait!"

For the last few days, some of my fellow math teachers and I have been grading the NYS math test in an elementary school in Harlem. It’s been great because I get to wake up at 7 instead of 6 and still get to “work” on time. Yet, the warmer weather and my natural inquisitiveness has also sent me traversing my relatively new neighborhood in search of the best slices of this proud Black Mecca.

I walked up to 125th Street on Thursday when I noticed that almost every business (save a nationally recognized bank) had closed their doors from 1pm – 4pm. At first, my fellow math teachers and I were shocked; we weren’t used to the tradition for a man so many Americans malign. Yet, I grinned as I walked past the Rapture prophets, sneakerheads lining up in front of the House of Hoops store, and the mystics selling their oils and scents. While gentrification slices through Harlem like a blunt letter opener, the people still remember the contributions of an absolute legend.

This coincided with the premiere of The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman, a movie created under the Grassroots Education Movement umbrella (shout-outs to Norm and Julie) about the facts portrayed in Waiting for Superman. Fellow teacher-blogger BNiche and I had a discussion after the movie about the next “leader” of this movement. We both came to a point where we asked if that person had to be a teacher, or someone who works in education directly.

Naturally, people would point to the luminary Diane Ravitch, who offers her opinion on the state of education early and often, but we also wondered if the person could be or should be someone from the K – 12 arena. Then, I thought out loud, “Well, the powerful thing that people never discuss about Malcolm, Martin, or any of the other giants of the civil rights movement is that they had the opportunity to be so outspoken because they were publicly financed. Their congregations and followers supported most of their moves, made sure they were taken care of, and thus, assured that the message of their leaders wasn’t compromised.

As it turns out, almost every teacher I know doesn’t get hired for their personal opinions; they generally get hired to teach. Sorry for stating the obvious, but teachers who speak up do so at their own peril. Any monies they garner from books, speaking engagements, after-school tutoring, or ads on their website (if they get one or any of these) are minimal compared to their already undermining teacher salaries. Granted, I consider the average experienced teacher very opinionated about education, but there’s a point where many miss the opportunity to take action and become fatalistic about the state of education.

Frankly, that goes for many of us. And if we’re not afraid of losing our jobs because of our opinions, we’re afraid because schools are closing, our opinions aren’t being heard … our kids are failing. We keep putting scotch tape on cement cracks, hoping no one runs over the pot holes. Malcolm X knew that more than anyone, and that’s why people followed him. He voiced the opinions of the voiceless in ways many couldn’t, and acted out these values in ways few others did.

By the time 4pm came around, and Harlem businesses reopened, some of us kept the spirit of Malcolm going.

Jose, who wants a seat at the table to dine …

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Malcolm X in the Eyes of Manning Marable

April 3, 2011 Jose

I’ll keep this one simple. RIP Manning Marable. Good night, all.

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On My Preconceived Notions about Muslims. [A True Story]

August 25, 2010 Jose
Malcolm X in Africa, 1964

“You’re a Muslim now? Bullshit.” “Nah, man, I’m on my dean. It’s great. I have a Muslim name and everything. It’s awoken me from inside, and it feels so different.” Aquiles sits there, detailing his new views on the world, reformed after converting to Islam after having been a wavering devout Catholic for the 21 […]

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On Snitching and Malcolm X’s Assassination

April 27, 2010 Jose
Malcolm X, Assassinated

Yesterday, Thomas Hagan, the only person who admitted to murdering Malcolm X, was released by the New York State Department of Correctional Services. The outrage from activists and anyone concerned with true justice has been enormous. That coupled with the recent Arizona immigration bill have made it a really hard week for those of us […]

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