· Real or genuine; not copied or false.
· True and accurate.
· Made to be or look just like an original.
One of the challenges of writing is simply starting; banging away at the keys or scribbling words on a piece of paper is a process that can be daunting in itself. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. A great man once mentored a budding writer and said, “Don’t think. Just write.” Granted, that great man was William Forrester and the budding writer being mentored was Jamal Wallace in Finding Forrester, but that’s not the point. What he was trying to convey to Jamal was not to complicate the process. His thought is that when it comes to writing, the first draft is written with your heart, and the second draft is written with your head. When a person writes from the heart, that person is being authentic. Authenticity doesn’t always equal a terrific piece of writing, but it does equal an honest piece of writing. The goal when it comes to writing about Malcolm X is just that: an honest piece of writing, a piece of writing written from the heart.
Tomorrow, May 19th, is the birthday of Malcolm X, who would have turned 91 years old. One of the biggest things that has always struck a chord is the lack of reverence for Malcolm in relation to other historical figures in the world of history. The reasons for the lack of reverence are open to discussion and there are likely some plausible ones. However, for someone whose words, actions and transformation played such an integral part in this life, and still do, it’s hard to accept that he isn’t more revered.
The transformation of Malcolm X, from a youngster who was simply trying to get by, to a young adult looking to get over on anybody, to someone who ended up on the wrong side of the criminal justice system in his early-20s, to a man who underwent a universal transformation of self and soul while spending six years in prison and going on to impact the lives of people all over the world, is nothing short of remarkable. He was willing to put himself out there as an example of what can be done through the power of self-knowledge, self-respect and following quality leadership. Granted, an argument can be made that the example of leadership he followed proved to be questionable over time, but it was the initial leadership that helped develop him into the man the world came to know.
In life, people go through all sorts of transformations, loud and subtle, and wrestle with all sorts of external and internal questions. This happens damn near every single day. To watch a man, a Black man, go through his transformation and showcase absurdly high levels of confidence, intelligence, patience, understanding and compassion for people was as genuine a depiction of manhood ever seen. Seeing that depiction as someone growing into early adulthood in college, while being previously deprived that such a depiction existed, was alternately jarring, infuriating, and motivating. Jarring because, like Malcolm once said, “If you’ve been led to believe you’ve never did anything, then you can never do anything” (Perl & Worth, 1972). Infuriating because one spends their entire life in school and is never introduced to anyone who looked like them in a history book until the pursuit was sought on their own. It contributed to another layer of identity that Tatum (1997) wrote about in her book in regard to the development of identity. Motivating because once the depiction was found, the motivation to learn more and find more was there. The seeds for a raging inferno were set and from there, seeking knowledge became a mission.
Also, it wasn’t like Malcolm was an old man. The world started to know who he was in his late-20s and he didn’t even live to see 40. Yet, in that brief window of time, he did so much with his time and was selfless throughout. He was respectful, even to critics, and rarely belittled anyone. Someone as smart and intelligent as him could have been the biggest know-it-all known to man, but instead chose to share the insights and tools which contributed to making him the man he became. He spoke about the value of education, and despite not completing a formal education, he spoke to college students all over the country, captivating their attention no matter the campus and setting.
The ramifications of educating yourself are powerful. No one can take education away from you. On a personal level, the most important lessons and acquisition of knowledge took place from reading material that wasn’t assigned by a teacher, that weren’t on a list of required and recommended books on a college syllabus. At the same time, it can be hard to know what to look for when one doesn’t know what to look for. For Malcolm, things began to make sense when he was in jail and he learned every single word in the dictionary. That led to reading more books, digesting more knowledge and resulted in the man who the world came to know in time. If reading a book is too much, documentaries such as the Malcolm X 1972 documentary, or Spike Lee’s Malcolm X and endless interviews with, of, and about him are readily available on YouTube. If digesting a dictionary is too daunting, start with The Autobiography of Malcolm X. That book contains well over 500 pages of authentic storytelling. Half the battle of a book is retaining authenticity which is the quintessential feature of Malcolm X. Blood Brothers, a book reviewed on this site weeks ago, is another piece of literature which provides insight on Malcolm. Present-day, folks tend to use phrases such as keeping it real or keeping it 100 when it comes to being authentic, and far before those words and phrases were ever used, Malcolm was the definition for all of the above.