To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Malcolm X’s assassination, The Root looked for ways that people continue to demonstrate their admiration for and inspiration by Malcolm X and his message. Whether it’s getting a tattoo of a Malcolm X quote, keeping his autobiography front and center on a coffee table, hanging his poster on a dorm-room wall or donning a Malcolm X T-shirt, there are a variety of ways that Malcolm X continues to live on in American culture. (Just ask Denzel, who named a son after Malcolm.)
Here are four people who describe why it’s important that they’ve had a daily reminder of the black nationalist leader in their lives.
1. Denise* got her “By any means necessary” tattoo when she was 20 years old.
“As the tattoo needle zapped over my spine, a friend—who tagged along—reminded me that if anyone asked why I got the tattoo, and I was hesitant to tell them the real reason, I could just say that the phrase was about accomplishing one’s goals by any means necessary. The tattoo could be interpreted as support for any one of those proverbs that encourages people to be vehemently committed to their aspirations.
“I’ve used that explanation once or twice in the eight years since I’ve had the tattoo, but a majority of the time, I tell people the truth: I got the tattoo because of Malcolm X. It was my way of honoring his message about black nationalism. His wanting black people to choose themselves first, to be comfortable in their own skin and not need validation from white people on how to live their lives, or think. Self-love must be achieved—by any means necessary.
“The tattoo was born out of the euphoria that I was in after having read his autobiography the summer before, and being profoundly impacted by his decree. He was completely honest and forthcoming about how he was making a conscious effort to love blackness and all of the qualities—chocolate skin, kinky hair, African names—indigenous to blackness. I dug that and sought to do the same.”
2. Louise H. Williams kept a Malcolm X quote in plain sight while raising her child.
“The mother is the first teacher of the child. The message she gives that child, that child gives to the world.” —Malcolm X
“I hung this quote on my refrigerator for years while raising my son. It’s the best thing I’ve ever heard said about a mom and her kids. I’ve since passed it on to my son and his wife, who will be new parents soon. It’s my way of paying it forward. Malcolm X is my hero.”
3. Chareen Ibraheem shares a children’s book that teaches Malcolm X’s message and sheds light on his experiences as a child.
Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X’s six daughters, wrote a children’s book, Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X, about her father’s childhood. Shabazz describes her dad’s experiences growing up during Jim Crow and the moments that made him into the revolutionary he became. Chareen Ibraheem tweeted about the “insightful” book and recommended the read to those looking to pay homage to X and his mission.
4. Michael Kirkpatrick was inspired by Malcolm X’s efforts to lessen the chasm between Africa and the U.S.
Michael Kirkpatrick, 48, proudly dons his Malcolm X T-shirt because after traveling to Uganda for the first time in 1998, he was “radically impacted” in the same way that Malcolm X was affected when he went to Africa for the first time.
“I was shocked at what I was not allowed to see in American media about Africa,” Kirkpatrick, a white American, said in an interview with The Root. He went on to list the four D’s that Americans are taught about Africa: “death, destruction, danger and disease.” Instead, Kirkpatrick described how he’s attracted to the hospitality, beauty, creativity and talent that he encounters when he travels to the continent.
Malcolm X, too, saw a different side of Africa and wanted so badly for black Americans to be proud of their African ancestry and, more important, for black Americans to unite with Africans to form a stronger coalition as black people. Malcolm X broadened his scope after he made the hajj, as the Islamic pilgrammage to Mecca is known. He welcomed white people to join in on the civil rights movement, too. Kirkpatrick continues to work toward that mission and admires the bridge that Malcolm X tried to build between Africa and the U.S.
*Denise is a pseudonym; the real woman chose to contribute on condition of anonymity.
Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele is a staff writer at The Root and the founder and executive producer of Lectures to Beats, a Web series that features video interviews with scarily insightful people. Follow Lectures to Beats on Facebook and Twitter.