56 years ago today, one of my greatest heroes and influences was assassinated. A scholar, author, revolutionary, leader, and organizer, Malcolm X, and later El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, changed the world around him forever. I didn’t grow up hearing about Malcolm X as most of my early education focused on Aliʻi and prominent Hawaiian activists. When I learned more about American history and the Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. were the two figureheads that I focused on most. I vaguely remember a brief mention of Malcolm X outside of school where he was described as a “terrorist” along with other members of the Black Panther party, so my first memories of him were not the most comforting or accurate. When my AP English 12 teacher (also my favorite high school teacher ever) assigned us to research and write a letter from the perspective of Dr. King or Malcolm X depending on who we didn’t agree with at the time, I learned more about this incredible leader and I was instantly attached to him and his beliefs. Malcolm X’s critics often portrayed him as a dangerous, violent man, while Dr. King was propped up (although he was hated at the time) as a Civil Rights hero in hindsight. He was the opposite, in fact. Malcolm X grew up in one of the most oppressive times in Black history. I wrote the poem above as a tribute to his life, where I hinted to some of the horrors he witnessed as a child and how society turned two men fighting for the same goal, against each other. I learned about Malcolm X’s life in detail when I read his autobiography, which completely transformed my life. I discovered a man who watched people he loved die through the violence of racism, taught himself how to read, emboldened a community to rise up and defend themselves, loved his family and his Muslim faith, was dynamic and had flaws and strengths and just wanted freedom for his people. Malcolm X was assassinated at only 39 years old when he was shot 15 times at point blank range. I like to imagine everything he would have accomplished had he been able to live longer than he was allowed, and how he would have continued to force people in society, especially white people, to confront the ways racism and violence violated the Black community. For now I’ll remember him for all he accomplished and how he never backed down from his beliefs in telling the whole truth and fighting for justice and equity. Rest now, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. We are a better people because of you.