To My Dear Brother Malcolm, AKA El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz:

As we mark the 90th anniversary of your birth, I wonder if you see us young people in Ferguson and across the country? I hope you do. These are the things you spoke about.  We heard you. We heard you talk about a radical reaction to a radical action from the system gets the people reacting labeled as “radical.” And just like you, we respond with “Well, call me radical then.” (I loved that response.)

Before interviews, we listen to your Oxford debate to try and emulate your demeanor and tact for answering questions that are just plain silly.

We debate among our friends how you and Martin would serve as leaders in this movement if you were still alive. I always bring up social media and wonder how you could navigate the 24-hour-news cycle or the heightened level of public access to the leaders of today. And on a purely selfish level, which one of us would you like the most? Who would be in the Organization of Afro-American Unity? Which one of us would you mentor?

Unfortunately, there are some parts of your legacy that are being sensationalized or dismissed by this generation’s aspiring leaders. First is the importance of organization. For your entire public career, you belonged to some kind of organized structure, the Nation of Islam and the OAAU, most prominently. So many young activists today don’t see the need for either being in a organization with structure or creating one around practice and not theory. They don’t know about the OAAU Basic Unity Program for Black people everywhere. While we are good at creating and sustaining and protest actions, we are lacking in political education and real community organizing. So many of us don’t know about the weekly political courses that you taught. More than just the sidewalk sermons you gave, you built meaningful relationships in Harlem because you understood the importance of knowing your people.

Many of our elders could use the benefit of your wisdom these days, even those who are old enough to have been active when you were still living. They often criticize us for not doing things their way, but don’t want to consider how the world has changed, and why some of the old methods don’t work anymore. We also have professors and social media activist talking about what “the people” should do, as if they are neither the people nor willing to participate in what they believe in. Maybe they don’t believe themselves, don’t know what to do–or perhaps they don’t have the strength or courage to pull off the things that they tweet or post about. Why don’t they know that this is a “Ballot or the Bullet” moment?

We refuse to let you be reduced to a few quotes or to have your legacy erased all together, but you know folks are trying to do that. Your famed  “ By any means necessary” statement is often repeated, but how many people are willing to do the “any means part”? People claim to love you and study you, but sensationalize the idea of violence as a tactic, while rejecting education as a strategy. Those you would call “house Negroes?” Well, they either don’t speak of you at all or reduce you to a charismatic figure that was simply the radical yang to MLK’s cunning and more successful yin.

Yet, there are many of us who understand what made you the hero that you were–that you are– is your love of our people and the ways you were able to connect the dots from African people being oppressed on the continent to people of African descent being oppressed across the Diaspora. You taught that us that for African people, struggle knows no boarders and no boundaries and we must not let any lines divide us.

I just wanted to update you and let you know what was going in the movement, Brother Malcolm. We have our good days and our bad ones, but know that a lot of people across the world refuse to take your sacrifice in vain and will continue to fight for freedom.

In love and struggle,

Tory Russell

Hands Up United