By Mark Hallum
Activists and elected officials are not letting Christ the King High School off the hook after a black student was told he could not use the name “Malcolm X” on a school sweater.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Public Advocate Letitia James and state Sen. Jesse Hamilton (D-Brooklyn) rallied at the Middle Village Catholic school Wednesday to pressure the administrative staff to allow 17-year-old Malcolm Xavier Combs to use the name of the controversial civil rights leader after they have repeatedly denied the request.
“Leaders are oftentimes born out of a crisis and I want to thank this young man for being a leader,” James said. “I’m prepared to have a meeting with the administrations of this school to talk about an inclusive curriculum.”
Combs also spoke at the rally, again questioning why he was not allowed to use the “Malcolm X” name on his sweater.
“I need to know if you teach Malcolm X, why it is not OK for me to have it on my sweater?” Combs said. “I need to know why does everyone else have their names and initials and nicknames on their sweaters, but I can’t have my real name? Today is the day Malcolm X was assassinated in physical [form], but I will be here to make sure he is not assassinated in name.”
Stringer called for change and applauded Combs for speaking up.
“We are not going to keep these high school kids down any more,” Stringer said. “It’s happening all over America. We’re not going to allow our kids to get shot up anymore, we’re not going to let our kids get discriminated against any more, and quite frankly, if we adults haven’t figured it out by now, then the next generation is going to educate us.”
Combs ordered the sweater through the school, but was later called out of AP English class to the office of Assistant Principal Veronica Arbitello, where he was told he should not be associated with the name of Malcolm X, who has been labeled a terrorist by his detractors.
Combs was a guest at Rev. Al Sharpton’s weekly rally in Harlem on Feb. 10, where he and his family spoke about the incident.
“[She] told me she could not put my name on the sweater,” Combs said. “She said I did not want to be associated with that name. She asked me if that was my real name and I said yes… Her husband walked into the office and she said, ‘This is the new Malcolm X,’ and she laughed at me… I was silent the whole time because I was in shock that in this year that she would say something like that.”
The Sharpton rally was attended by Combs’ mother and father, who said the school gave them the runaround when they tried to speak with the staff directly.
Ilyasah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, also delivered remarks on the incident at the podium of Sharpton’s National Action Network headquarters.
The notion of Malcolm X as a terrorist stemmed from a fiery speech given days before his Feb. 21, 1965 assassination in Washington Heights, in which he condoned black retribution against hate groups and bigots such as the Ku Klux Klan, according to news reports at the time. Stringer’s rally took place on the 53rd anniversary of the assassination.
Christ the King’s chairman of the board, Serphin Maltese, who once served as state senator in the district now represented by Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), said in a statement a week prior to Stringer’s rally that the order form for sweaters only allowed for first and last names and sometimes nicknames. He said this had been misconstrued by the family and in media reports.
“The recent articles about one of our students and Malcolm X has, unfortunately, been taken out of context and has been misconstrued,” Maltese said. “When this student’s family raised the issue about the name he wished on the sweatshirt, the school readily agreed to meet and discuss the matter. Unfortunately, before that meeting took place, this became a media issue.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall