On May 19, 2015, Malcolm X Day, the Black Student Union and Muslim Student Association hosted “Malcolm X: The Making of a Scholar.” This year marks the 90th anniversary of his birth.
They celebrated his legacy as an African American scholar and looked at the qualities that give him historical and contemporary significance. The event emphasized that although Malcolm X is revered as a great scholar today, he never attended college and instead learned from books in a state prison library during his time there.
The event was divided into three parts, a presentation, a biographical film screening and a poetry slam. Bellevue College professor Nicholas Russ gave the opening presentation.
Russ first described the purpose of the event. “It’s very important for us to recognize what we’re actually celebrating,” he said. “We are affirming the value in his legacy and celebrating his life in the words and deeds he left behind, so we can learn from his legacy and be inspired by his legacy.”
Russ explained that anyone can have a personal connection with Malcolm X, believing “This is who I’m inspired by, this is who influences me, this is who speaks to what I’ve experienced, this is someone who reflects the way I feel about the world and what I see going on.” He tied in the purpose of the event saying:
“Malcolm X was a scholar of white supremacy and the system of America because he had been subjected to it for a long time, he had been subjected to the evils of racism for a long time.”
In his early years as a civil rights activist, Malcolm X leaned towards Black Nationalism, unlike Martin Luther King who emphasized nonviolent protest. The lecture explored how this affected public opinion of him.
Professor Russ wrapped up the presentation by saying, “it’s important to humanize the people that we celebrate, he was a child with dreams and fears like we have. Malcolm X started from a petty hustler to someone we’re celebrating and valuing today and you have the capacity to make the same impact.”
The second part of the event was an hour long film screening featuring the 1994 PBS documentary “Malcolm X: Make It Plain” which followed the life and legacy of Malcolm X. There was footage from interviews with his family members and people close to him in various stages of his life. It looked at what experiences shaped Malcolm X and the shifts in his philosophy prior to his assassination.
In the documentary, James Baldwin, an African American writer said Malcolm X “articulates the suffering which has been in this country so long denied. That’s Malcolm’s great authority over any of his audiences, he corroborates their reality.”
After the film BC students and artists participated in a poetry slam where they performed raps and spoken words in light of Malcolm X’s experiences.