Last weekend’s first-ever Malcolm X conference in the state was entirely devoted to the memory of the late civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1964. The first annual Minnesota Malcolm X Conference, held May 17 at North High School, was attended by over a hundred people of various ages who did not come close to filling the auditorium.
“We had hoped for a full house,” admitted University of Minnesota Professor Rose Brewer, a member of a four-person panel discussion during the morning session. Later in the day, Omali Yeshitela pointed out that this was a good turnout based on similar events he had visited around the country.
“Malcolm X is a giant of a man,” Brewer said. “We need to study him very carefully.”
“Malcolm changed my life,” said Dr. Ezra Hyland. He suggested that everyone get to know the man by listening to his speeches or reading his writings.
“Malcolm X wasn’t perfect and didn’t try to be,” added MCTC student Sara Osman, whose father encouraged her to learn about him when she was younger. “He had more of an international mindset. I believe that led to his downfall. He stands for everything I want to accomplish in my life.”
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Ty Moore, a former city council candidate, said he found a book of Malcolm X speeches as a youngster in the early 1990s. “The evolution of his ideas really stood out to me. Truth doesn’t take sides. You can’t fight racism without fighting capitalism.”
“Malcolm X wanted us to recognize the world as it is,” said opening keynote speaker Omali Yeshitela, a former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) member and present head of the African People’s Socialist Party. “We should not compartmentalize Malcolm X and not simply isolated him or abstract him out of history,” he strongly advised. “Malcolm X was killed not because he made good speeches, or he talked about living upright or played to the East. He was killed because he was part of a revolutionary movement.
(l-r) Dr. Ezra Hyland, Professor Rose Brewer, Omali Yeshitela and Master of Ceremonies Mel Reeves (Photo by Charles Hallman)
“He didn’t simply talk about what the United States government was [doing] to African people in this country,” continued Yeshitela, who reiterated that Malcolm X addressed “other struggles” in such countries as the Congo, Kenya and Vietnam as well. “[He] was this incredible force.”
However, today’s world is very similar to the one “Malcolm X struggled to define,” said Yeshitela.
Capitalism is “the world we live [in]. People around the world are challenging this arrangement,” he emphatically reminded the audience. “We live in a world today where half the people on earth survive on less than $3 a day, and if you are in Africa, you are trying to survive on a dollar a day.
“You are talking about people who have worked all day just for one single meal, then get up early the next morning to go to work for another meal. Eighty percent of the people on Earth are trying to live on $10 or less a day.”
The world today is in a “crisis of imperialism,” noted Yeshitela. “You can’t open a newspaper or turn on TV and not see a crisis.” He also criticized President Barack Obama: “George Bush… White power. [The president] is White power in a Black face,” he said.
“We talk about change all the time,” said Yeshitela. “There are a thousand issues and a thousand questions that face our communities, whether we live here or whether we live in Stockholm, Sweden. This word, freedom, sends chills up the spine of White oppressors. Why is it that the word freedom would frighten anybody? We believe that freedom should be on the minds of African people 24 hours a day, all the time.”
“I want everybody to fight against imperialism but I don’t want B.S.,” Yeshitela said. “I am a revolutionary. I am an organizer. I am here because I want you to be organized.”
Following a free lunch, conference participants participated in workshops on Malcolm X and Black Power, Pan-Africanism, Cooperative Economics, and Religion and Black Liberation.
Glen Ford, activist editor of Black Agenda Report, was the conference’s closing speaker (see interview in last week’s MSR). He addressed the relevance of Malcolm X to today’s political and economic crises and the injustices done him by Manning Marable in his Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention. Ford argued that Marable had been well compensated to cast aspersions on Malcolm’s life and legacy and dilute his message.
Moderator and Master of Ceremonies Mel Reeves thanked the many volunteers and financial contributors who made the event possible and encouraged all participants to return next year for a bigger and better Second Annual Malcolm X Conference.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.