Malcolm X waiting for a press conference to begin on March 26, 1964




When I first read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, it stirred up feelings of indignation, confusion, and disappointment.  However, more than anything, this book made me think. That is the beauty of this book, not that it necessarily made me believe in Malcolm X’s philosophies, but that it was able to make me think in new ways. I thought a lot about the so called “white devil” Malcolm X often referred to. I also thought about his transformation throughout his life. I had never learned of his past as a pimp and a hustler, and it shocked me how much he had to grow in order to go from prison to the Nation of Islam. One thought occurred to me when I was less than halfway through reading: up until this point, I had known absolutely nothing about Malcolm X. This was a crime.

Thinking back to elementary, middle, and high school, I am not sure if I ever heard the name Malcolm X. I do not think that I did. Or maybe I first heard his name in my senior year of high school. I was reading an article by Malcolm X and another by Martin Luther King Jr. Our class assignment was to compare the writing and speaking styles of the two men—now that I think about it, this actually took place my freshman year of college. And yes, the “when” is significant. Here I was, an African American student in California, a supposedly forward thinking state, and this was the first time I was hearing of Malcolm X. I was 18 years old and all I was told was that, like MLK, Malcom X was an activist and that the only difference between them was that MLK advocated for peaceful resolutions and Malcolm X supported violence. This was one of the biggest crimes the education system had committed against me and the children of this country, black and white alike. Yes, it was a crime. This education system itself is a crime.

That is the beauty of this book, not that it necessarily made me believe in Malcolm X’s philosophies, but that it was able to make me think in new ways.

Imagine not knowing your culture, your history, your heritage. The African American people in our country needed Malcolm X; his thoughts and ideas about the state of black people in America are still needed today. But he has become just another name the history books gloss over. He was a man who sacrificed himself again and again for causes larger than himself. He gave himself first to religion, but ultimately, he gave his time and his life to the plight of Black Americans. Despite the fact that some of these causes may not have been worth believing in—his twelve-year allegiance to Elijah Muhammad and the hatred of white people, for example—he never let it hold him back, and he never let his intentions change. He kept fighting for his black brothers and sisters here and for his Muslim brothers and sisters all over the world, regardless of his changing beliefs. He never stopped seeking knowledge. He was not afraid to admit that he was wrong, that he had been brainwashed, that he was not quite sure what he believed in at times. That is the sign of true growth, being able to say aloud that you are unsure, or even that you are wrong. He showed that learning should continue throughout one’s life, that learning cannot stop. There is so much valuable information to be gained on the journey of enlightenment, a journey underrated in the today’s world, if people are motivated to make the trip. Maybe one can never know the truths of the world, but that is not an excuse for complacency. We as a people cannot remain complacent, and when I say “we”, I mean every person of African descent.

Imagine an America where we stand together. Imagine rising up and changing our ways, changing our Constitution, as we have the right to do. We have the right to change our government, and I think that is something we have forgotten. The current voting system in the United States is not perfect, but the reluctance that youth has towards exercising their voting rights only holds us back. This country was founded on the idea of freedom—or so the history books claim—yet colonizers used slaves like machines, built this country off of their backs, profited off of their very lives, and their descendants still do not have basic human rights. We were forced to accept this country as our new home, the country that stole from our ancestors and continues to steal today. And we still have not risen? No, instead we remain idle and naive. I think if Malcolm X had lived longer maybe, just maybe, there would have been an uprising, a real one. Or maybe he would have influenced the minds of those who could make it happen. Maybe an uprising was not even needed then, but I’m convinced we need it now. There is no denying our government needs change, but it is beyond change now, it needs real reform.

Enough of the bullshit. Enough of the fake support. We need to truly be there for each other and fight for each other.

Millennials participating in a Black Lives Matter protest by Johnny Silvercloud

The year is 2019 and not one person in the United States can say they are truly safe and free here, except for the straight, white, cis male. My brother once pointed out to me that the rights every group in this country fights for are not civil rights, but human rights. It is human rights we lack. And where does it all start? With education. Looking back, Malcom X was a victim of a system meant to favor those who created it, a system that broke him down until he was nothing more than a mess; that is, until he began to read. With reading came his education, and with his education came a battle for our rights.

How can the minds that have the ability to change our world do so when they cannot access the tools provided by a decent education? It is not just how we teach, but what we teach. Students can easily come to their own conclusions and gain from what they study. However, they study lies and half-truths. Not even colleges offer the entire truth. Why have we allowed our children to learn that a man who should be considered one of the most important figures for the African American community, was supposedly nothing more than a violent individual? Malcolm X was in no way perfect, but he had much to teach his people, and we stopped listening. We accepted the media coverage and propaganda surrounding him. We allowed our schools to let us forget him and so many others like him.

The education system needs to change, but so do we. We need to take responsibility for educating ourselves, and we need to pay special attention to those the schoolbooks like to skip over. We need to pay attention to those who are highly controversial. We need to learn to think and speak for ourselves, and we need to normalize these types of conversations. There should not be a single Black person in America who is not talking about these topics. We need to truly come together. We need to teach our children, and we have to do it while they are young. We need to educate ourselves to be able to better teach our kids; our lack of knowledge stunts the development of our children in their very own homes. Enough of the bullshit. Enough of the fake support. We need to truly be there for each other and fight for each other, and who cares about liking each other? None of us have to like each other, but we need to love each other. We need to do these things not just for ourselves and the other colored people who are being shackled like us, but for those who have fought for us to get this far, for the ancestors, the Malcolm Xs who sacrificed their lives, while we settled on complacency. Time has run out.


Cheyenne is a third year English Literary Studies major at Cal Poly Pomona. She currently works as a Learning Strategist and Academic Skills Tutor in the Learning Resource Center on campus. Her main career goals are to become a writer and enter the publishing industry. As an editor for Harvest International, Cal Poly Pomona’s newly revived, online literary journal, she hopes to gain experience in her intended career field, and to help encourage other students who are passionate about reading and writing to expose their own work to the world. She hopes to further her studies one day in LA.