Malcolm’s life was one of conversion and growth. Before rising to prominence as a minister in the Nation of Islam, he was a petty criminal and drug addict. However, his life served as a clear example of the transformative nature of change.
As Carew, a novelist and critic, said, “During my conversations with Malcolm, he never failed to state unequivocally that the system he was attacking was one based on unbridled greed, on the exploitation of one race by another, and one class by another, and that it had to be radically transformed. He also made it clear that his role as a leader was not just to analyze the world, but to change it.”
Following his assassination on February 21, 1965 in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom, Malcolm became a global symbol of resistance against the forces he fought against his entire life.
Malcolm X’s impact on them is such that Baba Imamu Kuumba and Baba Lumumba-- through the United Black Community (UBC) in Northeast -- have used workshops, seminars and other vehicles to keep the late activist’s legacy alive.
On May 21, the UBC will present the Umoja Award to Political Economist Acklyn Lynch, who is a retired professor emeritus and chairperson of Africana Studies at University of Maryland, Baltimore County; to Mama Nia Kuumba; Kalonji Olusugun; and Mama Ashante Holly. All of them have made their mark as community organizers and builders. The keynote speaker will be Howard University Psychiatrist Dr. Alyce Gullattee. The event takes place at the Umoja House in Northeast.
This year’s theme for the day of activities will be on eldership.
There will be a tribute to Malcolm, a discussion of Manning Marable’s book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention and speakers from Nigeria, South Africa and Ghana will explore eldership from the perspective of traditional societies.
“We will discuss what it means to be and to have respected elders.” “We understand that some people get old but have nothing to offer,” Baba Lumumba said.
Since 1977, UBC has paid homage to Malcolm on his birthday, May 19. Over time, they said, it has gotten more difficult to generate the kind of community interest that was so common in the 1960s through the mid-70s.
Baba Lumumba, 67, has a long history of involvement in community activities in the District. He worked with the Black Panther Party in Oakland, Calif.; helped develop community centers and drug abuse prevention programs and has also been instrumental in advancing the agenda of Pan Africanists and Black Nationalists locally and nationally. Baba Imamu has worked at the grassroots level in the Washington metro area since the 1960s.
“Malcolm has always been one of our icons,” said Baba Imamu. “We admire his organizational and oratorical skills. Malcolm was a giant.”
Baba Lumumba said he was once a member of the Nation of Islam and that he had three conversations with Malcolm.
“I cherish that (the conversations),” he said. “It is one of the foundations of my life.”
“I was drawn to the man. His presence in a room was something. What he was saying had a biting truth. He was not afraid to say these aren’t our friends. He was compelling and magnetic. People had to respond to him. You never went back to the way you were because of the truth he spoke.”
Baba Lumumba said Malcolm wasn’t perfect and wasn’t always right. However, he had the uncanny ability to tell people what they wanted to hear when they needed to hear it.
“He made you proud, made you want to act, be a man, be a woman,” he asserted.
It is difficult, both men said, to have lived through the heady times of the ‘60s and not be disappointed at the state of black people locally, nationally and globally.
“I’ll be blunt and say that I and my generation are sadly disappointed,” Baba Lumumba said.
“I didn’t expect there to be such a setback ... We don’t have a base strong enough to counter the pressures of the modern day (and) there are so many forces against Pan African groups.”
Baba Imamu, 62, agrees. He cited factors such as drug use, the high rates of incarceration, and the FBI’s COINTELPRO program as just a few of the reasons for the breakdown of the black nuclear family.
“One of the problems is that we have failed to organize, economically, in terms of health and politically,” he said. “We have been lulled to sleep. We thought that when President Obama came in there would be no need to do anything.”
Obama, Baba Lumumba said, is “quantitatively no different than (Supreme Court Justice) Clarence Thomas.”
“He’s not serving our interests. He personifies personal ambition. Personal ambition is a sin that cannot be tolerated,” he said.
Baba Lumumba lamented the dearth of men, primarily, who are willing to dedicate time and resources to transform their communities.
“Where are the men Garvey called for? Where are the men drawn to black improvement and development?” he asked. “Black men have been systematically dismantled.”
The activists said blacks need to develop an infrastructure that caters to its members’ needs. It makes no sense, they asserted, to expect the oppressor to give blacks the things they need. Hence, the need to build their own institutions.
Young people represent the battle being waged in black communities between them focusing almost exclusively on their personal needs versus working for the stability and collective well-being of the wider community, Baba Lumumba said. Though they may appear to be at odds, black youth must find a way to walk that fine line.
“How you do this is a critical element in our future,” he said.
“There’s a lot of talking we need to do. The point is for us to get you involved in the discussion … to discuss collective goals and where we’re going. It would be madness to do anything less.”