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UPDATED Feb. 10, 10:50 a.m.

A Middle Village student’s outcry about his school’s refusal to let him get ‘Malcolm X’ printed on the back of his senior sweatshirt is garnering national attention and an organized response.

Malcolm Xavier Combs, a senior at Christ the King High School, was reportedly denied of his request to have his first name and middle initial printed on the sweatshirt, according to a Daily News exclusive on Thursday.

Reverend Al Sharpton and his National Action Network (NAN) quickly took notice, and he announced in a Daily News special on Friday that the NAN will host Combs at its weekly rally at its House of Justice in Harlem — on Malcolm X Boulevard — on Saturday.

“This is about much more than a senior sweater and what can or cannot be printed on it,” Sharpton wrote in the special. “This is about history, our education system, cultural inclusion, who is teaching our children and what precisely they are teaching them.”

Also scheduled to attend the rally is Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X’s daughters who is an accomplished author, social activist and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Combs reportedly told the Daily News that after he requested to have “Malcolm X” printed on the sweatshirt, a school official, Veronica Arbitello, told him, “That’s someone I don’t want to be associated with.” Combs also said in the article that he felt insulted when Arbitello later referred to him as “the new Malcolm X.”

His parents were outraged when Combs told them what happened, and immediately reached out to the school to schedule a meeting, for which they also asked the NAN to join them, the Daily News reported. Combs, who is a Brooklyn native and was born near the Malcolm X Boulevard in Bedford-Stuyvesant, was named after the polarizing activist, his mother told the Daily News.

In a follow-up story from the Daily News about that meeting, the school reportedly did not change its stance. A school spokesman, Bill Cunningham, said Combs received approval to use either his first name, his last name or “Malcolm Xavier,” but not “Malcolm X,” according to the article.

The NAN official who went to the meeting, the Rev. Kevin McCall, told the Daily News that the school’s president, Michael Michel, said they did not want “to be connected to anyone controversial.”

An advocate for African-American civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s, Malcolm X was also widely criticized for his Muslim faith and involvement with the Nation of Islam, which promoted the formation of an independent black nation.

Shabazz told the Daily News that she has offered to speak in an assembly at Christ the King to better educate the faculty and students about her father’s life, according to the article.

Sharpton said in his letter that the NAN is “demanding effective change” from Christ the King, including cultural sensitivity training for the faculty and an increase in the minority staff members.

“We will work with the Combs family to ensure that Christ the King High School implements changes without delay,” Sharpton wrote. “And our larger goal is that this terrible occurrence can be a teachable moment for this assistant principal, the entire faculty and for school administrators everywhere.”

In a statement released late on Friday, Christ the King High School Chairman Serphin Maltese indicated that it denied Combs’ request because it conflicted with school policy regarding senior sweatshirts. The school also provided a copy of the order form which indicated that students could use their first or last names, but not any nicknames.

“Any senior purchasing a sweatshirt can have their first or last name added to the sweatshirt’s sleeve,” Maltese said. “That rule, first or last name, is spelled out clearly on the order form that is sent to parents and students. The goal is to have a uniform rule that allows the student his or her identity. The form does not call for middle names or initials, and also states, “No nicknames.” Occasionally, a nickname is approved if that is the most common identity of that student, the name by which the student body and faculty know that student.”

Christ the King added that Malcolm X is talked about in history classes, and that the school library has multiple books about him and other figures in African-American history. The school said it’s proud to serve “a multicultural student body” welcoming all races and creeds, “and that has made our campus a model for others to emulate.”

Robert Pozarycki contributed to this story.


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