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“Malcolm X flows through me”

Reflections on an African American role model

LeRon L. Barton has been an active GLIDE community member since 2014. He currently serves as the Co-Chair of the GLIDE Racial Justice Team that grew out of the Ferguson Rally held at GLIDE. The Racial Justice team has interviewed African American youth about race issues with the hope of creating a curriculum for the San Francisco Unified School District as a primer for conversation about racism among students. Below are his reflections on Black History Month and an African American leader that empowered and inspired him.

When I think of all the historical figures I have admired, Malcolm X stands in front. The man formerly know as Malcolm Little is such an important figure in my life. The way Malcolm X talked about racism and the treatment of the African American, how he lived, and the commitment he made to the liberation of his people was just amazing.

I remembered hearing about Malcolm in my household, but he was not heralded like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. When the movie based on his life was released, I wasn’t interested in seeing it. I look back on that and laugh, because the film Malcolm X is one of my favorite movies of all time.

While in the 11th grade, a teacher introduced me to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and I can say without a doubt, it changed my life. I identified with Malcolm X because he came from the bottom. Malcolm grew up in poverty and was told that he could not be a lawyer because he was Black. Think about that – How many children are told they cannot be something by their teachers because of who they are? Malcolm got into crime and became a drug dealer, thief, and pimp, earning the name Detroit Red, running the streets of Harlem.

Later, Malcolm embraced the Nation of Islam and discarded that negative lifestyle, and dedicated his life to fighting racism/white supremacy and lifting the consciousness of the Black man and woman. In the ’60s, seeing a Black man stand tall, have confidence, and no fear as he talked about the challenges Black folks faced was incredible. Malcolm was in a time where Black folks still stepped to the side when white people were on the sidewalk, drank from different water fountains, and were killed for being “uppity.” He was fearless and I loved that. Malcolm loved Black people. He loved being Black. That is what shines through. He loved us so much that he was willing to hold a mirror up and say, “This is where we are.” Reading the Autobiography made me proud to be Black, in a world that says you shouldn’t.

Malcolm’s speeches are amazing. He is the greatest orator I have ever heard. There are times where I just listen to him, hear the way he talks, what words he uses, and how he responds to racist comments. It has helped me so much in talks and discussions.

There are many things that I admire about Malcolm X, but the one trait that I take to heart is his commitment to the truth. He was steeped in it. When Malcolm learned of Elijah Muhammad’s infidelity and the Nation’s indiscretions, he left, embraced traditional Islam, and formed his own organization. Malcolm always wanted the truth and to “stand on the side of right.” I try to live my life around that. If the information I have is not correct or what I believe is not true, I will discard it and find the truth.

When I write about race, I sometimes wonder, “Would Malcolm approve? What would he think of my essays?” Malcolm X flows through me. In my opinion, the man also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz is the greatest intellectual of the 20th Century. In a discussion with my friend Jon Jeter about Malcolm X, he said, “Malcolm could see around the corner.”