by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey
I met Hajj Malcolm Latif Shabazz, aka Young Malcolm, in ‘03 through a friend of his grandfather, Yuri Kochiyama. I don’t remember what event I was attending, but I do remember Yuri walking up to me with a letter from Young Malcolm, who at that time was locked up in New York. Before that, I had known of Yuri but I did not know her.
She asked me if I was JR who wrote for the SF Bay View. I told her I was. She then proceeded to ask me if I would publish the letter. I told her it was an honor for me to assist her, as well as to help out one of the descendants of the late great El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, aka Malcolm X, whom I had learned so much from.
I immediately went back to the SF Bay View newspaper office and typed up the handwritten letter. It was published the next week. A few weeks later, I received a letter from Young Malcolm thanking me for publishing it.
After that we kept in contact for about three years. With the help of my comrade Rashida, we kept in touch on a pretty regular basis. Our correspondence really just dealt with life and getting to know each other; it did not consist of political rhetoric or even future plans. Correspondence fell off after Young Malcolm was transferred or released. I did not hear again from him until July of 2010.
Out of the blue, I received a call on my cell phone with a very distinct voice on the other line greeting me, saying, “This is Malcolm.” At that time, I had been in regular contact with one of my writer friends, Malcolm Shabazz Hoover, as well as another journalist by the name of Malcolm Marshall that I worked with regularly. Within seconds I knew that this voice did not belong to either of them. Concentrating more on what I was doing, I told the caller to quit playing on the phone.
The deep voice then said, “This is Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X.” I straightened out my attitude, and we both laughed. Young Malcolm told me on the phone that he wanted to come to the Bay to meet Rashida and me face to face and that he wanted to see what effect his grandfather had on the Black Revolution within the country, most notably on the Black Panther Party. Within 10 days of that conversation, Malcolm was on the ground in Oakland, California.
After coming from the airport, Malcolm and a mutual friend met me at a gas station, on 73rd and Hegenberger, nearby. We immediately went to San Francisco to Prison Radio so that Malcolm could talk to political prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal via telephone. The call went well, and Malcolm was juiced to be on the West Coast. He kept talking about how Tupac came from the East but fell in love more with the culture of the West Coast. Malcolm talked about how Pac got his game and stardom from the West. After that he checked in where he was staying and proceeded straight to Mosswood Park to play some hoop.
Within a few days, he had his first speaking event after coming back from his Islamic studies in Syria, at the Black Dot Café in West Oakland to a full house. I remember Malcolm was kind of shocked that that many people came out. Before he began to speak, people were trailing out the door and looking through the windows just to get a glimpse of the brotha.
Malcolm was a little nervous, but the event went well and Malcolm was all smiles at the end. One of the highlights of the night for Malcolm was former Black Panther Ericka Huggins sharing a few words in private with him.
A few days later, Young Malcolm spoke at a summer youth program at the East Oakland Youth Development Center to roughly 100 youth, who were captivated by his every word. When the event was over the young people held him for over an hour wanting to ask personal questions. After the success of these two events, Malcolm let it be known that he was ready to hit the road with his speaking engagements. Next we hit Chicago, Gary and Detroit. Shortly after that, we proceeded to Philly, D.C., New York and Pittsburgh.
Out of all of those places, Philly was his favorite because he had a lot of fond memories of his time when he lived there. I met a family that he lived with when he was young there, and he was very protective of a teenage niece that he had in the area. He spoke at the office of the 178 Division of the Universal Negro Improvement Association-African Community League, an organization that his great grandparents were a part of.
On this same tour, he spoke at the University of Pennsylvania, where Young Malcolm’s mother attended the speech. He also spoke at a junior high school in the Philly area, where when we walked from the parking lot to the office to check in to the classroom, we witnessed three different unrelated fights. Never one to point the finger, he took pride in his speech that day, sharing a lot about his life in Philly and his time in prison. He really connected with the youth on that particular day.
In New York, Malcolm was excited about his upcoming 26th birthday party at the New Rochelle Trump Towers, where he had family and friends coming from across the nation to attend. A day before, former members of the New York chapter of the Black Panther Party organized a small party and dinner in his honor. At the big party in New Rochelle, his mother, two of his aunts, and a number of friends and family came through to hang out with him on his birthday. One of the highlights of the night for Malcolm was that Prince Amir, the grandson of Chicago’s Chief Malik, aka Jeff Fort, came.
After the birthday party, our mutual comrade Aliaya hooked it up for Young Malcolm to speak at a school that “Big Malcolm” helped to establish in Queens, New York. We also went inside the Shabazz house that was firebombed prior to the assassination of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz.
In D.C., Young Malcolm spoke at Sankofa Bookstore to a packed crowd of mostly Howard students. I remember when we got there, another group were in the middle of their event discussing the plight of Black people from Venezuela. He sat and listened and talked to the organizers after.
In Pittsburgh, Malcolm spoke at an event organized by Paradise from X Clan and rapper and organizer Jasiri X. The next day, we were off to meet Mumia Abu Jamal face to face where he was being held captive as a political prisoner. The most memorable part about this was our very spirited discussion on the cultural and political influence of the late Tupac Shakur.
All of this happened on our first tour across the nation. Later on, on another East Coast tour, Young Malcolm and myself had the opportunity to visit political prisoner Sekou Odinga, where we sat with him for a few hours, and the most memorable thing that I remember Sekou talking about was that he wished that he had spent more of his time with his children instead of in the streets organizing. He said that maybe that would have allowed him to have a better relationship with one of his sons, Yafeu Fula, aka Kaddafi, from the rap group the Outlawz.
On the heels of the East Coast tours, Libya was one of the biggest highlights of the time that we shared together, traveling. In January 2011, international peace activist Cynthia McKinney invited us to come to a Pan African conference that the Jamahiriya of Libya and the African Union were hosting. About 500 people attended, including Samia Nkrumah, a popular politician in Ghana and daughter of the late great Kwame Nkrumah, Roland Lumumba, the son of the assassinated first prime minister of the Congo Patrice Lumumba, and a number of other Pan Africanists, activists, politicians, journalists, traditional kings, queens and sultans from all over the continent and diaspora.
Many at the conference did not know that Malcolm was in attendance until Cynthia McKinney lost her voice on the trip and needed somebody to read some of her opening speech for a panel that she was hosting at the conference. After McKinney struggled with half, Malcolm volunteered to read the rest. Because there were many languages being spoken at the conference, there was a seven-second delay between the presenter’s speeches and the audience response. After the delay, the conference attendees gave Malcolm a two-minute standing ovation.
The following day, we were awakened early in Tripoli to get on buses that were provided for us by the conference. Before we realized where we were going, the bus stopped at the gate of a military base, then proceeded to go to another base within a base. We were seated in an octagon shaped auditorium-like room. While we were sitting, waiting for the day’s presentations to start, a short Arab man came to where Malcolm and I were sitting and told him, “Brother Leader wants you to speak.”
Young Malcolm promptly accepted the invitation. Nervously, we talked about what the speech should include since he had about 15 minutes to get it together. We brainstormed about the importance of his grandfather’s work in Africa and the effect of his grandfather’s travels on the perceptions of continental Africans and those born in the diaspora. During one of the opening speeches, it was announced that that particular day was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the late great Pan Africanist Patrice Lumumba of the Congo. We knew that had to go into the speech since many of us, including Young Malcolm, learned about him first from the speeches of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz.
Young Malcolm was then called to the microphone to speak, while Muammar Qaddafi, aka “Brother Leader,” sat in the front nearby. I remember Malcolm walking up to greet him, and Qaddafi grabbed his hand with one hand and touched Malcolm’s face in disbelief with the other. They exchanged a few words and smiles, then Malcolm proceeded to do his thing.
He thanked Africa for having open arms for us at the conference and for his grandfather during his monumental voyage. He acknowledged the importance of Patrice Lumumba to his grandfather, whom his grandfather spoke about regularly, and he acknowledged the importance of the African Union and its predecessor, the Organization of African Unity, whom “Big Malcolm” used as the prototype to create his organization, the Organization of African-American Unity. He ended with how we need to do more to work together.
The whole auditorium was on its feet again, giving Malcolm a standing ovation. Some brothas and sistas just stood up and clapped while others were very vocal. A few presentations later, Qaddafi took the stage. He started his speech off in a barely audible humble tone. He was speaking in Arabic. It was translated for us by translators whom we could hear in our headphones.
For about the first five minutes of his speech, he talked about Malcolm X and how Malcolm made him proud to embrace his African roots. He also talked about Malcolm’s relationship with the late great Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, whom Qaddafi looked up to. He talked about how “Big Malcolm” never forgot where his people came from, even after centuries of slavery. Qaddafi was clearly humbled by Young Malcolm being in attendance. When the speech was over, Qaddafi was given a long standing ovation, then disappeared out of a back door.
Soon after, Young Malcolm was mobbed by a number of well-wishers. It reminded me of how Michael Jackson must’ve felt moving through the public. At first, people were grabbing at his clothes from every direction trying to get his attention. I helped Malcolm to calm the crowd down. Many of the people who wanted a photo or an autograph from Malcolm could not speak English, so we had to motion with our hands to communicate.
Malcolm was in the lobby of the hotel in Tripoli when he told me he was all right and that I should get in line for dinner. About 45 minutes later, Rashida and I were at the front of the line, so I went to get Malcolm. He was still in the exact same spot taking pictures and giving autographs. He looked up at me, a little irritated, with “Save me from this” in his eyes. I pretended to get a phone call and hurried him into the elevator so that he could go to his room to rest and eat.
In the days before Malcolm made his speeches in Tripoli, he would be up all night in the lobby on the internet, with nobody talking to him except young male Libyans who were interested in Black culture in America and people from our delegation. After the speeches, Malcolm could not move 100 feet without people recognizing him and wanting his attention.
These are just a few of the times that we shared together, and I wanted to share them with the rest of the world especially since the mainstream media is trying to paint our Brotha as a worthless criminal. He was a young Black man who was still evolving, learning and applying his lessons to create a better and more just world.
Unlike what many may think, he was not just living off of his grandfather’s name. He embraced his family legacy and at the same time understood it was on him to write the next chapter, which he did, fighting ignorance valiantly on behalf of our people.
In the spirit of young freedom fighters like Lil’ Bobby Hutton, Young Malcolm will live forever in the hearts and minds of oppressed people who want to be free, especially those incarcerated in jail cells and in Amerikkkan ghettos. We love you and we will never forget you. We will make sure that the young people of today and tomorrow use your life as an example to keep up the fight that so many have given their lives for over time. Long live Hajj Malcolm Latif Shabazz! May you rest in peace with the other warriors from our movement.
The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every other Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at email@example.com.