I had just returned from my oldest daughter’s college graduation ceremony and settled myself in for some much-needed sleep. I fell asleep after reading “Malcolm X: The FBI File,” containing the FBI’s actual files, notes, and letters gathered during their ongoing surveillance of the Pan-African revolutionary.
Early the next morning, a familiar voice awoke me from my slumber: “Pardon me my brother, but may I bother you for a cup of coffee?”
I nearly fell out of my bed upon seeing brother Malcolm X standing above me holding a copy of The Amsterdam News. He startled me just as much as he did upon his first visit. The date was May 19, 2014, brother Malcolm’s 89th birthday.
“Uh, Yes sir, and happy Born Day, brother Malcolm” I replied, still very groggy from the previous day of interstate driving and celebrating.
Pointing to the desk where I do much of my work, he politely asked, “May I sit, brother Agyei?” “Yes, of course,” I replied, stunned and flattered that he even remembered my name.
As I went to prepare his coffee, the legendary former Nation Of Islam spokesman and founder of the OAAU and Muslim Mosque Inc., settled his lanky 6 foot 4-inch frame into my chair and noted, “I’ve been doing some research on the Internet, and much has transpired since my last visit; The deaths of brother Mandela Amiri Baraka, Sam Greenlee, Elombe Brath, Vincent Harding, Chokwe Lumumba, the MURDER of my grandson little Malcolm…..(he paused, to clear his throat and gather himself). I wondered why he never mentioned his wife sister Betty Shabazz. I figured either the thought was too painful, or that he’d reconnected with her in the ancestral realm.
“The Supreme Court decision upholding Michigan’s ban of Affirmative Action, the curious relationship between the Nation of Islam and Scientology, the gentrification of Harlem and other Black communities, and that disturbing report concerning the state of Black youth in the U.S….. whatever so-called “progress” we’ve made appears to be eroding.”
Clearly, my posthumous mentor had much to say on this visit. He was deeply troubled about the state of affairs for Black people, and deeply disappointed in us as well. I had a feeling this was going to be an interesting visit.
And I was right. Sipping from his coffee, he caught a glance of my gigantic poster of him hanging above my bed, and continued:
“You see my young brother, once I became a conscious Black man, I stopped using drugs, getting drunk, being a predator of my community, and chasing women. I saw the complete liberation of my people not as a side hobby or fascinating phase, but as my life mission. I devoted my energy, my time, my thoughts, and my activities to helping Black people understand that we must wake up, clean up, and stand up. In other words, we must develop consciousness, eliminate self-defeating vices from our lives, and strengthen our moral fiber, then go out and do the things necessary to empower and liberate ourselves. Too many of our people claim to admire me and follow my example, and think they can do this simply by hanging up posters or wearing t-shirts with my image, or quoting my speeches,” he shouted, banging his fist on my desk.
He apologized for raising his voice and continued:
“And the problem is NOT with the masses of our people who have been made deaf, dumb and blind by white supremacy, but with those who call themselves conscious, who read the books and fail to do the work, quote people like myself and others, but don’t fully appreciate or implement our ideas, or who use their knowledge in condescending or opportunistic ways. Look at all the work Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer and Elijah Muhammad did with little or no formal education. Now think about all of our people who in this day in time have bachelors, masters and doctorate degrees, but are not producing institutions, theories, or analysis that lead to our liberation. By the way, my brother Agyei, if you haven’t already, you should read Vincent Harding’s essay, ‘The Vocation of the Black Scholar.’ “
He stopped abruptly, began pecking away on my laptop, and came to a Facebook page. I couldn’t help but chuckle seeing brother Malcolm on Facebook.
“Oh yes brother, don’t be surprised. I use social media to keep my finger on the pulse of my people and world events,” he noted after hearing me chuckle. It seems brother Malcolm planned to attend an event he saw posted in a discussion group, and he needed to get the address.
Sensing he was preparing to leave, I asked, “Brother Malcolm, you’ve been very critical of our people during this visit. Based on what you’ve observed, what are your 5 top criticisms of Black people today?”
Pausing to write down the information he found concerning the event, brother Malcolm replied,
“I’m sorry to say these things about us, brother Agyei, but they’re true. And since my critiques of the masses are already well-known, the critiques I have are for those in our community that call themselves “conscious.” I couldn’t stop at five, so I came up with 10 of them:”
- Too little emphasis on serious study and research
- A tendency to focus on history trivia rather than on historical analysis
- A failure to connect research and study to actual problem-solving and nation-building activities.
- Far too much debate and division around trivial issues
- Far too little emphasis on creating independent, Black-centered institutions that work in our interest.
- Failure to create a viable national Black cultural and political movement that affects public policy, raises consciousness, and challenges oppression
- Failure to build leadership capacity in our own communities, especially among our youth
- A sad dependency on the enemy’s finances, job market, and economic assistance. We must create ways to sustain ourselves and our people.
- Little or no capacity to defend our people from police brutality or murder by white vigilantes
- We have not been critical enough of American imperialism nor involved enough in liberation struggles of the African Diaspora.
With that, brother Malcolm mentioned that he had some chastising to do and disappeared, presumably on his way to the event he wanted to attend. As always, I learned so much from his visit, and can’t wait for him to return. In his trademark display of humility, he spent his birthday without thinking much of himself.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Agyei earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his masters of professional studies degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his master of arts degree in Afro American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please visit his website.