During his early life, Malcolm X and his family were targets and victims of brutally intense racism that resulted in the death of his father, the placement of his mother in an asylum, and the separation of himself from his remaining family. Despite having a tragic start, he managed to go against the social expectations of young, male black students and expanded his knowledge in any way that he could. Even without a stable home or his family he found comfort and relief in the books he read and the lessons he learned, and ultimately grew with every ounce of knowledge that he absorbed.
It was because of his passion for learning and yearning for justice for his people that he rose above the adversities he had faced and became one of the most influential civil rights leaders in American history, using his strong work ethic and fiery determination to inspire movements and organizations that would be dedicated to achieving equality to all people of color—by any means necessary.
It is hard to imagine what it would be like to live through a life like that of Malcolm’s. Unfortunately, there have been many who have and still are victims of racism, albeit physically, systematically or mentally, and there are those who allow the wrongs done unto them to define them. However, there are also those who use these experiences as a tool rather than allow themselves to view themselves as a victim.
Like Malcolm, I was never very passive about the wrongs I have experienced when it came to the color of my skin. In my earlier years, I encountered racism quite often as the town in which I lived was not very urban and only less than 1% of its population was black. As a result, there were times when I was the only African American student in my class, and if I wasn’t, we were always separated and placed in the far corners of the room. All of us had our fair share of racist remarks handed to us along with assaults, and even the teachers couldn’t resist picking on us few when they had the chance. They must have assumed that as young as we were, we wouldn’t be able to pick up on the subtle acts of injustice towards us. We did. I certainly did and I refused to allow those actions to go unnoticed.
Often, I would call out my teachers and fellow students when they would try to accuse me of theft, hitting other students, cheating and withholding me from playing with playground equipment because someone else of a fairer complexion “wanted to play with it”. I was bitter, of course, but I figured that if they were going to exclude me then I was going to exclude them. After all, I was already an overachiever. I didn’t need them. And so, I moved through elementary-school life as an introvert, keeping only to myself and the few other children of my color, and I did exceptionally well. As a matter of fact, very soon after I switched schools halfway through the third-grade I had achieved my very first academic award outside of honor-roll: the African American Student Achievement and Excellence Award (or at least I believe that was what it was called).
The moment that I received my certificate was the moment that I realized that I had something that all those other kids could only dream of having, and that was my mind. Try as they might, they could never mimic my subtle greatness. I developed the mindset that because I am black, I have the advantage of being underestimated. I knew things that others didn’t. I have seen things that others have not. My entire life consisted of a struggle that no one else could fathom unless they wore my skin. It was because of this factor that I held a slightly more expansive knowledge and understanding of the world compared to my peers. They did not expect much of me, and so, they paid me little mind only to be rocked by my rise to shy glory.
Today, I still rise far above the situations I have been in. Now, I am far more than just my race. Like Malcolm, I am every ounce of blood, sweat and tears that my parents and their ancestors before them have shed so that I may be empowered and be free to embrace my full potential, not with the burden of color, but the privilege of color. Like him, I have acknowledged my right to exist and be the very best I can be regardless of how others may protest it. And like him, I know that this life is mine to live and I shall live it by any means necessary.