The year is 2018, but you wouldn’t know it if you listened to the way a high school senior named Malcolm Xavier Combs was recently treated.
A student at Christ the King High School in Queens, Malcolm was told by the assistant principal, Veronica Arbitello, that he could not get the name “Malcolm X” printed on his school sweater. This administrator not only denied his request, but she did so by first pulling Malcolm out of his AP English class and ridiculing him for wanting the name printed, telling him that Malcolm X was not someone he should ‘want to be associated with’ and then mocking the student with her husband, a basketball coach at the school.
How can individuals who are so tone deaf, so racially and culturally insensitive and so ill-informed by tasked to educate and instruct our youth?
On Saturday, I will be joined by Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, as well as Malcolm Xavier Combs and his family at my weekly rally at National Action Network’s House of Justice in Harlem. Young Malcolm will stand alongside the daughter of the revered civil rights and human rights advocate whose name he wanted to honor (and whose name he shares).
Queens student can’t have name Malcolm X on senior sweater
This is about much more than a senior sweater and what can or cannot be printed on it. This is about history, our education system, cultural inclusion, who is teaching our children and what precisely they are teaching them.
In a city as diverse as New York, it is unthinkable that we have an assistant principle who not only refused to let a student get the name Malcolm X placed on a sweater, but proceeded to single him out and embarrass him. Clearly this person and others need a history lesson themselves.
National Action Network and I stand with the Combs family and Malcolm Xavier. We are not merely seeking an apology for this inexcusable incident, we are demanding effective change which includes cultural sensitivity training for Christ the King faculty, as well as an increase in minority staff and an embrace of cultural diversity.
It is preposterous that in this day and age we must educate the educators on black history — which is American history — and also remind them not to diminish Black leaders, or make Black students and other students of color feel less than or unwelcomed.
But this is where we are, and we will work with the Combs family to ensure that Christ the King High School implements changes without delay. 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.
Malcolm X once stated: “Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.”
High school student Malcolm Xavier Combs knows this, his family knows this, Ilyasah Shabazz knows this and it’s time Arbitello and other faculty members know and understand this as well.
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