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The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

The Student News Site of San Francisco State University

Golden Gate Xpress

Embracing Malcolm X’s legacy at SFSU

The civil rights activist honored in an annual legacy event to commemorate his impact on college campuses
Bryan Chavez
The Malcolm X mural is seen at the Cesar Chavez Student Center on Feb. 19, 2024. The mural was created in 1996 by two former SFSU students, Eric Norberg and Kama Ayubbo. (Bryan Chavez / Golden Gate Xpress)

Associated Students is celebrating the legacy of civil rights activist Malcolm X by hosting San Francisco State University’s 28th Malcolm X mural celebration on Feb. 20. This year’s theme, Harmony in Humanity: Malcolm X’s Legacy of Brotherhood, is to promote unity amongst different communities. 

Malcolm X was an advocate for Black liberation who pushed people to think and learn beyond their comfort zones. Though some may view him as a mere radical, no one can deny his passion for changing the narrative for Black lives. 

The mural completed in his honor outside the Cesar Chavez building was created in 1996 by Eric Norberg and Kamau Ayubbi, two former SFSU students. The mural was displayed on Malcolm X’s birthday on May 19, featuring two images of Malcolm X, a world map of the United States inside the continent of Africa, and two of his quotes. 

Lauren Dunn, BSU Black Community Programs Officer, admired the current version of the Malcolm X mural for its celebration of his life and legacy. 

“I think the thing that the mural really celebrates is the symbolism of Malcolm X and what he stood for,” Dunn said. “It does a great way of showing me his iconography, but also letting everybody know like ‘OK, we appreciate his efforts in trying to uplift the Black community globally.’”

Before Norberg and Ayubbi, a previous artist had created a similar mural, also featuring Malcolm X, which was removed in less than 10 days by former SFSU president Robert Corrigan for its controversial anti-semitic images featuring the Star of David and a skull and crossbones. The purpose of the updated mural was to illustrate the importance of the causes Malcolm X supported.

In response to a question concerning the two civil rights activists Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., Dunn advised readers to study their respective histories more thoroughly to discover the parallels between them. 

Dr. Shanice Robinson-Blacknell smiles in front of her Malcolm X poster in her office in the Cesar Chavez Student Center at San Francisco State University on Feb. 19, 2024. (Bryan Chavez / Golden Gate Xpress) (Bryan Chavez)

“The only reason why MLK was revered and loved more in academics is because in American culture, Christianity is very glorified —  and Martin Luther King was a reverend,” Dunn said. “It was kind of like this propaganda like, ‘Oh, Malcolm X is too violent. You shouldn’t be reacting to unrest with violence; you need to be peaceful.’”

Despite some peoples’ belief that Malcolm X was overly violent and aggressive during the civil rights movement compared to his counterpart, Dorothy Tsuruta, Ph.D., a professor in Africana studies at SFSU, believes he was a misunderstood character who promoted self-defense, not violence. 

Tsuruta once sat in the same room as Malcolm X in Southside Chicago in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Tsuruta went to one of his events thanks to her older brother, who had won two tickets from a grocery store. She said Malcolm X exuded a spiritual aura and treated everyone with decency.

“He was such a sweet guy. Even when he was speaking critically about racism and the situation for blacks in our country, he had a way about him that made you want to listen to him,” Tsuruta said. “He did not talk down to anybody. If you had five Ph. D.s, you would think he was speaking directly to you. And if you had no education, you would think he was speaking directly to you.” 

Though more than 60 years have passed since that day,  Tsuruta never let go of the memory. Since then, she has followed Malcolm X’s philosophies and uses his quotes in her teachings. One of her favorite quotes was, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it.”

Tsuruta hopes that students today will understand the significance of Malcolm X for college campuses because he supported education both within and outside the classroom. 

“I think he should be on our campus as a mural because he was about education. He was about studying and learning as much as you can about life,” Tsuruta said. “He wanted the students to always be thinking and to think beyond the classroom.” 

Tsuruta is optimistic that this celebration of Malcolm X will unite the SFSU community. Each year the theme of the mural celebration changes, hoping that it will address different issues within the Black community.

A painting given to Dr. Shanice Robinson-Blacknell by a former student at SFSU includes multiple Black icons varying from different professions such as music, acting, sports and activism on Feb. 19, 2024. (Bryan Chavez / Golden Gate Xpress) (Bryan Chavez)

Dr. Shanice Robinson-Blacknell, the event organizer and senior director of culture and social justice for Associated Students, focused this year’s theme on harmony and humanity. Robinson-Blacknell believes that the Black community at SFSU is divided and wants more Black unity on campus. 

“I want to see more Black Greeks, I want to see BSU, I want to see more Africana Studies coming out to support these student leaders at their events,” Robinson-Blacknell said. “There’s a lack of solidarity. In order for the campus and society to take us seriously, we have to take a step back and look in the mirror and assess why we’re pointing the finger at each other.”

Despite having differing opinions between parties, Robinson-Blacknell aspires to foster unity within the Black community at SFSU. Her first step towards making that goal a reality was creating a Black wall of fame to honor faculty members who had not received recognition from the university. 

By honoring the importance of individuals such as Malcolm X, Robinson-Blacknell highlighted the profound impact of their beliefs and values on the Black Panther Party, which was crucial to the university’s history. 

The Black Panthers influenced the 1968 strike, with some members of BSU being members of the party. BSU and the Third World Liberation Front were spurred to action by the firing of George Mason Murray, an African-American English professor and Black Panther Party member at SFSU. The five-month strike established the nation’s first department of ethnic studies.

“I think Malcolm X is important to our campus community because a lot of their [Black Panther Party] ideals and principles were inspired by Malcolm X,” Robinson-Blacknell said. “A lot of those strikers were Black Panthers. he is the most appropriate for our campus because of our history.”

Robinson-Blacknell said that she identified more with Malcolm X’s brotherhood and Black empowerment ideologies than what Martin Luther King Jr. stood for. Malcolm X and the Black Panthers took a “by any means necessary” approach, while  Martin Luther King Jr. opted for nonviolent, pacifist protests. 

“If I was living in those times, I probably would have been with Malcolm X or the Panthers because those are the people that inspire me the most,” Robinson-Blacknell said.

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About the Contributor
Bryan Chavez
Bryan Chavez, Multimedia Editor
Bryan Chavez (he/him) is a reporter for SF State’s Golden Gate Xpress. He is a senior pursuing a major in Journalism with a minor in Sociology. As a lifelong resident of the Bay Area, Bryan aspires to become a beat writer for the Golden State Warriors or any other major league sports team in the region. Beyond his journalistic pursuits, he enjoys engaging in hobbies such as hiking, painting, and building with Legos during his free time.

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