It’s been more than 20 years since Washington, D.C., took center stage with a week of events commemorating the life, achievements and contributions of Malcolm X.
Finally, the wait’s over with seminars, summits and a march among the many planned activities, May 14-20 in venues across the District, which organizers say will address some of the most pressing issues facing urban communities today.
Charles Stephenson Jr., a former congressional staffer and Malcolm X Week co-founder, says he and others committed to the celebration and its resurgence, hope that it will catch fire with today’s youth so “we can begin to work with and cultivate a new generation of activists.”
“When we first began planning Malcolm X celebrations, we were focused on bringing greater unity to our community while also creating a platform for organizations concerned with social justice, civil rights and more equitable education where we could all sit down, put our heads together and word toward solutions,” said Stephenson, who has been a staunch advocate of Malcolm X who, had he not been killed at the age of 39, would have been 93 on Saturday, May 19.
“We had great support from the United Black Fund, the DC Commission for the Arts, D.C. government and many others during our yearly events from 1972 to 1995,” he said. “But the federal government began to ask us for more resources from our own coffers, they began to raise user fees and even tried to convince us to change our focus — if we wanted to continue.”
“We met among ourselves and just could not come to any agreement with the parks services. We could not afford the rising costs of putting on the events nor could we abide with their rules that would have drastically changed the flavor of our Malcolm X commemoration.”
And so, the week of events that started small on church grounds in Southeast, moving to other venues as the crowds began to swell and more room was required, eventually reached a high of more than 50,000 participants in the Southeast-based celebrations.
Why now? Stephenson says the answer lies in the challenges Blacks face each day.
“Timing could not be better, given the obstacles our community must handle,” he said. “What we’re doing is essential given the increase of violence aimed at Blacks, the hard work and serious goals of the Black Lives Matter movement, those issues begging for our attention that find us at the bottom of most lists or the top, and rarely as they relate to positive outcomes or statuses.
“We have to begin to work toward our own solutions, seek our own answers and respond to the issues that are holding us back, tearing up our families and destroying so many lives. We need to include our youth and they’ve shown that they are ready, able and interested. We just hope that this Malcolm X celebration will resonate with them. If so, we’ll be able to get a new, younger generation of grassroots activists working toward equality for all people — and our people.”
“If Malcolm X were alive today, and he could witness the daily assaults Black communities and other people of color, he would not be sitting down; he would not be watching from the sidelines. He would be out there educating and mobilizing. He would be about the business of inspiring the masses to get woke, to stay informed and to work for positive change and justice. So, yes, his messages are as important and relevant today as they ever were.”
The events include a community health and wellness seminar, May 15, Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, NE, 6-8 p.m.; a youth summit, “Gun Violence, Police Brutality and the Importance of the BLM Movement,” May 17, hosted by the Marion Barry Youth Leadership Institute, 4850 Minnesota Avenue NE, 5-8 p.m.,; a panel discussion on the Legacy of Malcolm X and our community development today, May 18, 1430 L St., SE; and a host of entertainers and speakers who will be part of the Malcolm X Walk, May 20, beginning at 3 p.m. at the Howard Theatre, ending at Malcolm X Park (Meridian Hill Park).
For more information, go to www.malcolmxday.org or call 202-621-8549.