Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The fire Malcolm X kindled

If one person kindles the fire, others can take live coals from it. (Ghana)

1965 - Malcolm X was assassinated in New York.

What are your memories or your elders' memories of Malcolm X?

The first time I heard about him was when he first made headlines on April 26, 1957. The police had beaten a Black man in Harlem, apparently for not moving quickly enough. An angry crowd gathered, but Malcolm's presence calmed the people and they followed his instructions. It seemed extraordinary that one man, till then little known outside of Harlem, could exercise more power unarmed that the police who were armed.

I saw Malcolm X in the flesh at Accra airport when he visited Ghana after his hajj in Mecca. I was meeting a friend who happened to sit next to Malcolm on the flight next to Nigeria. I made all my plans to go to hear Malcolm speak the following night at Legon University in Accra. But, as we say in Jamaica, “man ah plan and God ah wipe out.” My baby sitter did not arrive, and I remained home with my babies. And Malcolm was killed the following year.

Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, extraordinary public speaker, was a Nation of Islam minister and human rights activist. He was born Malcolm Little and changed his name to signify the loss of his African name. His father, outspoken Baptist minister and local leader in Marcus Garvey’s movement, instilled in him a sense of racial pride and dignity as well as self-reliance. His mother was born in Grenada.

Malcolm, one of eight children, lost both parents by the time he was 13 years old. His father was killed in circumstances that suggested lynching, and his mother was admitted to hospital for mental illness. He and his siblings were then sent to live in orphanages and foster homes A bright, focused student, he dropped out of school after a teacher told him that his dream of becoming a lawyer "no realistic goal for a nigger." He later became involved in criminal activities; in 1946, he was sentenced to a prison term.

While in prison, he became a member of the Nation of Islam. After his parole in 1952, his intelligence and eloquence made him one of the best known figures in the Nation of Islam. When he left the Nation, he became a Sunni Muslim and made a pilgrimage to Mecca. He was giving a speech in New York when he was assassinated in 1965, one week after his home had been fire-bombed. .

Malcolm X has left to today’s Black civil and human rights movements worldwide a legacy of increased self-esteem and greater connection to the African heritage.

What do you think we can do today to keep the fire lit for equality and justice?

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at