Convent Avenue. The base of Sugarhill in Harlem. In 1985 I moved to NYC to study at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. My sister Monique secured a sublet for us to rent 2 rooms from an apartment Attallah Shabazz owned in a mansion of a building on the corner of Convent and 140th Street. I arrived a teenager and was in awe of the enormous rooms and windows in this apartment I would call home for 6 months. Also large was the presence of my host who stood with a powerful dignity illuminated by a brilliant light that shined through her light green eyes. She’s Malcolm X’s daughter I learned. Everyone said her father’s name with reverence, and I felt ashamed that I didn’t know more about him. I’d heard his name often but was not able to articulate who he was what he had done. You should read his autobiography I was told.
Liberation Books was another was another awe-inspiring presence in Harlem. A black bookstore with the coolest display of books in the window I had ever seen. So many titles and subjects, I browsed from one window to the next before I went in and asked for a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. “Alex Haley wrote this,’ I almost shouted with amazement, “the guy who wrote Roots”? “Alex Haley co-wrote it with Malcolm X”, the salesperson told me pointing to the words on the cover, “these are Malcolm X’s words”.
I opened the book and began reading as soon as I got back to my room. I made sure it was in my bag with my dance clothes when I went to school. Catching the express A train from the 145th Street station to Times Square wasn’t enough time to read so on my way home I caught the C train and that gave me a little more time to get into this book. I read it in 5 days using every spare moment of my day and, at 19 years old my life was changed. I had a new understanding of my people, our struggle, our power and resiliency, and the beauty of our blackness.
20 years after Malcolm X's autobiography shifted my perspective I found myself a founding member of Eastside Arts Alliance and soon after the development of Eastside Cultural Center. It was here that Malcolm's ideology of Black Self Determination and united front with 3rd World People people of color was put into practice as we served our east Oakland community, the greater Bay Area, and connected with artist and activist world wide.
The love and strength we poured into one another and was reflected in our annual Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival. One of my greatest contributions at this event was developing and curating the Katherine Dunham Dance Stage that centered the dance movement of our cultural heritage as transformative, healing and strengthening, I am grateful for the opportunity to lead with love and service and create joy and reflection for for so many!