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Tender and Fierce Blessings: Malcolm, Coltrane and My Mentor Nat Hentoff

Christine Passarella By

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The capitalist system itself has produced a series of rewards and punishments for students, teachers, schools and the institutions that train educators. We discover as the veil moves from our eyes that the nation state is moralizing ignorance to achieve the goals of the capitalist structure, this may be intentional or through untended consequences. Whatever, the answer we must do better for our children and the future of this country. By bringing this into view for our own journeys in education we can grapple with the questions of happiness and freedom. By examining structures in place like standardized testing and a flat curriculum one wonders is this all leading to terminal reality fostering the ideals, views, and mission of the nation state and not what the Greek call eudaimonia which is flourishing happiness and paideia which is deep education. Ultimately, educators must find a way through the darkness by touching souls. We must bring to our youth paths to happiness, and unsettling education to help foster a world in which students examine their lives courageously.

Nat, I was thinking about your bond to Malcolm X. He is heavily on the minds of many especially during Black History Month and the 53rd anniversary of his assassination. I remember the stories you told in reference to your connection to him. You also wrote about him in your book Speaking Freely. Malcolm trusted you! He wrote the following to you on the way back home to the United States from Mecca, "In my recent travels into the African countries and others, I was impressed by the importance of having a working unity among all peoples, black as well as white. But the only way this is going to be brought about is that the black ones have to be in unity first."

Brilliant Malcolm, his courageous evolution from childhood in a racist society to a magnificent leader who touched people locally, nationally and internationally must be told with clear intentions. He grew into a man who could help heal the world, but he was cut down too soon. Due to his charismatic, intellectual and spiritual gifts as a leader, he was maligned and aspects of his narrative were frozen in time by people in power and fear. His story was told with a focus on his anger, but the details of his illuminating journey through righteous indignation and a growing deep love for the human race was not shared widely with the people after his death, especially the children. Perhaps it was his willingness and ability to continue to understand, question, and formulate higher levels of consciousness that added to his premature horrific demise.

If knowledge is power, his force for good was stopped tragically to block his enormous momentum. You write, "All that intelligence, energy, passion, and capacity for evolving leadership-gone. In the years since, I have often thought of what might have been if Malcolm had been alive-organizing, analyzing, and teaching." My hope is that more people research the truth about this man who you had a great respect for. Malcolm understood the value of empowering children with understanding their culture connected to other cultures all over the world. You said he was a tender man. You also said he was a dangerous man. I understand the kind of danger you were referencing. It was his willingness to live and die for humanity as he died his own death daily in his evolution. You lost a dear friend on February 21, 1965, and the world lost a human treasure, but like with Coltrane's teachings through his music, Malcolm's messages are still here with us. It is up to the people of this extraordinary nation to continue to learn from our great heroes who sacrificed dearly for our human rights.

This week as we remember Malcolm's tragic assassination, we also cherish the gifts brought to us by the black culture in America wrapped in A Love Supreme. I reflect more on the journey of Malcolm. A black child raised in the Jim Crow era with his parents dedicated to helping the black race find freedom and justice. This was a time in American history in which black people were being terrorized. Young Malcolm's father was murdered and the body was found severed under a train. What heartache for his family! His precious mother forced to support her children in a desperate situation. She is eventually hospitalized for over twenty years rooted in this trauma!

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