In keeping with my theme of transparency for the year, I’d like to admit that I struggled to write this blog. I struggled because of how much I love Malcolm and how much I could say about him. I struggled because this is the first time I’ve had to make a negative critique on a historical site. But that’s growth, it’s not always comfortable but it’s always a blessing.
What follows will be my favorite pictures and quotes displayed at the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, my experience, my critique, and my homage to Malcolm X and his legacy.
“There is no greater serenity of mind than when one can shut [out] the hectic noise and pace of the materialistic outside world, to seek inner peace within oneself.” -Malcolm X in Medina, Saudi Arabia, April 25, 1964
Here’s a little background story before we discuss the center:
I have been unearthing our history, the greatest story never told, almost every day for the past 3 years. This began with the Autobiography of Malcolm X.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X changed my life. It’s the reason why I still read today and everyday, the reason for this blog, and the reason I want to make films that center on our history and our experience.
Now you may be asking yourself, why I love him or his book so much? Why it had so much of an impact on me? Here’s the answer to that question via a summation of my admiration for him:
Thank you for your hard work, your diligence, your courage, and your sacrifice. Thank you for reinventing yourself. Thank you for loving and teaching us. Thank you for your willingness to admit your wrongs. Thank you for inspiring so many of us by telling your story and speaking your truth. Thank you for being our “shining black prince.”
“I’m telling it like it is! You never have to worry about me biting my tongue if something I know as truth is on my mind.” – Autobiography of Malcolm X
The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center is located at 3840 Broadway and West 165th Street in New York. The center was opened May 19, 2005 on the 80th anniversary of the birthday of Malcolm X and is the result of a collaborative effort between the Shabazz family and Columbia University. The mission of the center is to continue the work of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz through advancing human rights and social justice.
The center includes:
A 63-foot mural that depicts the life of Malcolm X:
A life-size bronze statue:
And six interactive kiosks and various life-size portraits of both Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz:
I remember leaving the center slightly disappointed.
I left thinking that I not only didn’t learn anything new but I didn’t learn anything at all.
The birth date and death date of Malcolm X were displayed over the second set of doors to the center but could be too easily missed. The interactive kiosks, said to provide most of the information at the center, weren’t functioning at the time of my visit. Therefore, the only material the center provided other than the dates previously mentioned were quotes by Dr. Shabazz and Malcolm X displayed on pictures throughout the center.
It’s definitely worth mentioning that during my visit the center was in the midst of renovations. It is my hope that these renovations are the cause for the lack of information provided by the center. However, the research I conducted after visiting doesn’t make my hope to promising of a reality.
Based on my research, the center’s board of directors were still attempting to find a way to define the center and make it a staple in the community 5 years after its opening. The same may still be true 14 years later.
The Precious History
For all that I felt like the center was lacking, I will say that there was one experience unlike anything else in the world. One experience that’s definitely worth keeping the doors open for. As evidenced by it’s name, the center also serves as a memorial. It’s located in what used to be the Audubon Ballroom. It’s the same location where Malcolm X made his last introduction and was subsequently assassinated.
Malcolm X was gunned down at the Audubon Ballroom in front of his pregnant wife and children on February 21st, 1965.
I knew the moment I stepped into the ballroom that I had arrived. I could feel the shift in the energy. It was a beautiful moment to finally make it to the memorial, to walk the same streets as Malcolm, and to be in the same building where he held meetings with members of his Organization of African American Unity. It was amazing, twisted and tragic as it was on the cold day of February 21, 1965, to be in the spot where Malcolm X spoke his last words 54 years later was an honor.
“I am only facing the facts when I know that any moment of any day, or any night, could bring me death.” – Autobiography of Malcolm X
To know that this building was in danger of being demolished, myself and all past and future visitors are very lucky to be able to visit this precious historical site.
It is my hope that as the board of directors continue to find their way that they will approach advancing the center from the perspective of those who are both well educated about Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz and those who are totally uninformed. I hope they will begin to sell the apparel from the clothing line launched by his daughters as well as books for further reading about Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz. I hope they will find a way to seamlessly include more information about both of the activists.
Upon reflection, I realized that the built structure itself might make including more information difficult. In this case the center may benefit from the use of a separate space from the memorial to serve as the educational component like that of the Martin Luther King Historical Park in Atlanta, Georgia which consists of several buildings including Dr. King’s childhood home.
Regardless of what the future direction is for the center and despite all my criticisms, I’ll leave you with an invitation to visit this site for yourself, to get your own interpretation. And know that despite all that it lacked it still has so much to offer and so much potential.