Every School, Especially Those That Serve Black Children, Should Have a Malcolm X Day

On Friday, May 19 many Black communities celebrated Malcolm X’s birthday. A few years ago, Toure wrote an important piece entitled, We Need A Malcolm X Day.

In the TIME article, Toure writes:

“I wonder if there’ll ever be a holiday celebrating another black American?” Is there just one black American who merits a holiday? The bulk rate one-month-fits-all celebration called Black History Month is great, but there’s something special about having a day and surely there’s one other black person from the long stretch of American history who merits it, who’s made such an extraordinary and lasting contribution that they deserve the American version of canonization.

There are several black Americans who it could be argued should have a day — Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells, Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall and others — but I think we should seriously consider a national holiday celebrating the life of a man who indelibly changed America: Malcolm X.”

Toure was absolutely right. But, I suggest that schools should not wait for the government to bring this about. Every school, especially those that serve Black children, should make this a priority every May 19.

If schools wait, they may eventually be offered a sanitized and neutered version of Malcolm that fits better in the white supremacy version of “worthy” holidays. We know this by the bombardment of the “I Have A Dream” speech during Dr. King’s national holiday. But, little play is given to his speeches against capitalist wars and greed, pervasive, entrenched and durable racism, school inequities, and the complicity of the masses. We don’t want that imbalance for our children.

In Philly, and other places across the country, communities organize fantastic and inspiring Malcolm X Day celebrations. Schools should join these efforts and make it known that our communities choose our heroes, not the government. Self-determination is a key component to liberation and the democracy everyone loves to spout.

Philly’s version of Malcolm X Day is hosted in Malcolm X Park. My family used to make an annual pilgrimage to upstate New York to visit Malcolm’s grave. Students in my school have hosted workshops and debates. This year our Student Government Association welcomed acclaimed revolutionary poet and motivational speaker Amir Sulaiman who spoke, read poetry, and provided feedback to our students about their own poems during our “Education for Liberation” Open Mic dedicated to Malcolm X’s legacy.

I encourage all schools that are in our communities working with our children and youth to celebrate Malcolm X Day and bring his work to the forefront of the teaching that occurs in our schools.

What do you think?

About the author

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the principal of Mastery Charter School–Shoemaker Campus, a neighborhood public charter school in Philadelphia that serves 750 students in grades 7-12. From 2013-2015, he was one of three principal ambassador fellows working on issues of education policy and practice with U.S. Department of Education under Secretary Arne Duncan.

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