This article is dedicated to Royel Johnson, a student at Providence-St. Mel High School, located on the West Side. Royel Johnson wanted civil rights activist elders to share their knowledge with the youth of today and pass the torch on to the hip-hop generation.

So here goes: Today is the 80th birthday of Malcolm Little, better known by his adopted name, Malcolm X.

To many of us, Brother Malcolm was a hero of liberation for oppressed and exploited people, not only here in the United States of America, but all over the world. As a human rights warrior, his message was not only clear, it was prophetic. For millions of people, he was a special kind of emancipator and role model for manhood, dignity and freedom.

Responding to the dynamic program of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and The Nation of Islam, Malcolm studied and advanced to become the group’s national spokesman. Across this country, Malcolm took the strong message of self-respect, cultural pride and economic development. He was a rare genius, a gifted leader who built his movement with those whom society had traditionally rejected. Malcolm preached a gospel of black separatism that was premised on black self-love. Since the white folks don’t love you, he said, love yourselves.

Today it seems we still don’t love, care about or respect people who look like us. As Malcolm said, this is due to ignorance and greed. And a skillfully designed program of miseducation that goes right along with the American system of exploitation and oppression.

Malcolm X spoke truth to the powerfiul and powerless. It was his appeal to the constituency of the rejected that upset bourgeois Negro leaders and challenged the sway of white intimidation in black America. He boldly amplified the voice of angry, urban-center blacks. Malcolm plainly and eloquently said what was on his mind.

At his best, he was a fireball but not a bigot. Most white Americans and some black Americans were not used to hearing the unfiltered and justifiable anger of African Americans toward the U.S. style of racial apartheid, called “de jure segregation,” and social injustice.

They mistook Malcolm for a demagogue; most black folks took him for a hero. Regardless of the criticism of Brother Malcolm’s ideology, theology or criminality, what is more important is his metamorphosis from negative to positive behavior. He underwent a psychological and cultural transformation to become a symbol of self-discipline, self-esteem and self-determination.

At critical stages during childhood and adolescence, racist forces prevailed upon Malcolm and his family to either weaken or strengthen their resolve to succeed in an oppressive society. Clearly, this is a typical re-enactment of what occurs in the majority of African-American families across this city and country.

Today, African-Americans have another burden to add to racist forces?”our own “black weapons of mass destruction” in the form of most of our local political leaders and some faith-based-initiative church preachers.

Growing up black and poor in America is the epitome of stressful exposure. Just like young Malcolm Little chose a path of delinquency and crime, many, many black youth today are falling prey to these same evils. Today, our criminal justice system, which is criminal, is devouring black youths at an accelerating rate and either swallows them whole or regurgitates them back onto the streets as recidivists, because ex-offenders can’t find jobs. Some of the jobs available to them, state laws prohibit them from working on. In my opinion, ex-offenders are becoming “jobless untouchables,” especially young black males. Companies, including Wal-Mart, will hire Latino ex-offenders over a non-offender black male.

Minister Malcolm X, however, made the transformation with a quest for knowledge resulting in wisdom and scholarship. He read incessantly, debated fiercely and expanded his world view through his love of the written and spoken word. Confined youth today should follow Malcolm’s example.

In addition to becoming a courageous advocate for oppressed people, Malcolm was a dedicated husband and father. Even after his untimely death, he still represents the apex of social consciousness and black manhood.

Actually, Malcolm represents the best in all of us, the potential for achieving excellence in mind, body and soul. He is worthy of our praise from international recognition to his profound respect for faith, honesty, vision, courage and personal sacrifice. His voice and intellect stirred thousands. Now his legacy continues to inspire all who seek social empowerment through education and perseverance.

“Education is our passport to freedom, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today,” said Malcolm X. This is something the “Hip-Hop” generation can smile and rap about.