By Derek Lavelle
You'll be surprised to discover that Malcolm X was not self-taught but became interested in reading and writing because of a phenomenal educational program intended for prisoners all across the country. Elijah Muhammad, the leader of Nation of Islam created a mail campaign that gave money to prisoners that would write a one page letter to him.
Imagine in the 1940s, illiteracy in American prisons was possibly 60 percent or higher with many people never attending school in those days. So writing a one page letter was no small task for many in those days. Malcolm X himself had finished the 8th grade, but admits that he was so ashamed of that one page letter he wrote to Mr. Muhammad that he wrote it over and over about 25 times before he sent it.
In order to improve his penmanship Malcolm began copying words out of the dictionary. But the words became so fascinating to Malcolm that he copied the whole dictionary. As Malcolm's vocabulary grew so did his thirst for reading. Malcolm admits that books opened a whole new world to him. In the Autobiography of Malcolm X, he says:
"Let me tell you something; from then until I left that prison, in every free moment I had, if I was not reading in the library, I was reading on my bunk. You couldn't have gotten me out of books with a wedge... Months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never have been so truly free in my life."
The autobiography of Malcolm X is a great book that proves what reading can do for anyone anywhere - even in prison. However if Malcolm X was writing to you today instead of me, I know he would encourage every man and women to go to school and utilize the educational opportunities that he and others, black and white (yes whites too) fought and died to give to you.
I'm sure he would not want you to make the same mistake he made of going to prison only to learn that your mind and your time is a terrible thing to waste.
Derek Lavelle was once a promising boxer that began learning the whole Nation of Islam story while in a boxing camp named after Muhammad Ali called M.A.P.S (Muhammad Ali Professional Sports). It was at MAPS in 1981 that Derek met older, original Nation of Islam men that had remained loyal to Elijah Muhammad during Malcolm's exodus.
These men loved Malcolm, but they blamed him for allowing himself to be used by the FBI to split the nation. He has compiled the whole story and written a book titled " Malcolm X: The Mistakes of a Fallen Muslim." The purpose of this new book is not to bring Malcolm X down, but to show how his mistakes led to his becoming the only civil rights leader to die at the hands of Black on black homicide.How using his image is hurting us today.
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