MANY YEARS AGO, I was introduced to the life and thought of Malcolm X. It happened in the seemingly endless days of Tennessee's death row in Nashville. My first teacher was a Black prisoner from Memphis--Jesse X. "White" was his slave name. Someone had branded generations of his family with the name "White." To this brother, the slave name signified ownership--and he wasn't about being owned any more. Or brainwashed either--not since he'd come upon Malcom X.

MALCOLM X was first and foremost a liberator. A revolutionary. A man who had the will and vision to break de chains. His contribution to the liberation of Black people is immense yet immeasurable. I say immeasurable because he planted and nourished the idea that the Black nation is never lost as long as it lives in the heart: the desire and demand of a people to be free.

MALCOLM OFTEN SPOKE of human rights. The right to an independent Black nation. The human rights accrued through birth, sweat, and blood. Rights that belong to the people. Rights that no overseer, class, or race must be allowed to destroy.

JUST AS IMPORTANTLY, he spoke of duties. To stand firm and stand together. To be prepared, if necessary, to defend and take with force that which is denied by force. Malcolm X was no sunshine soldier. He didn't shrink from his duty to Black people when the struggle got difficult and eventually lost him his life.

IT IS WORTH NOTING another of Malcolm's observations: that oppression often works by turning its victims against each other instead of against the common enemy. This kind of extended victimization--whether it be self-hatred or bleeding neighbors and community--is diametrically opposed to what Malcom stood for.

TODAY'S TRIBUTE to the life and legacy of Malcom X necessitates a renewed commitment. A commitment to respecting and defending the lives of the oppressed as the spear of the nation is sharpened.

May 19, 1993

Ray Luc Levasseur, 10376-016, PO Box 150160, USP Atlanta, Atlanta, GA 30315