I am from the generation that was greatly influenced by Malcolm X, El Hajj Malik El Shabazz. Though he was assassinated before I knew of him, he was as alive as any teacher in my life. And years later when I met Yuri Kochiyama at a pilgrimage held at Tule Lake Concentration Camp, as facilitator to the circle of Japanese speaking participants, Malcolm X was very much still as influential as any living person in our lives. When I met her, I said, “I love Malcolm X” and she grabbed my hands and said, “OH, you love Malcolm also!” I told her that Malcolm X reached down from the other side, and lifted up my students when they needed help and saved their lives – save them from the potential violence of police harassment and the constant harassment he faced at school. Eleven years old. Black Lives Matter.
Tonight, I’d like to share with you the back story to a film filmed and edited by an 11 or 12 year old young Black man Cochise Moore during the first term of his seventh grade year. I first saw Cochise in the entry-way of Jefferson Middle School in 1992. Who could miss him – a burst of anger, running out the door with a student teacher chasing and pleading, “Cochise! Come back. It’ll only be worse if you leave!” He was already gone off the school grounds but hearing her voice, he turned briefly, and I swear there was a bright flash of light as the sun seemed to catch the white X in the middle of his cap and it shown as if it were made of gold metal. At that moment a thought flashed through me, “He turned around!”
The student teacher shared that Cochise had gotten in trouble in the 7th grade hall again for fighting. She said he was always erupting when the other students said racist things to him just to see him blow up. His teachers have given up. They say he’s a thug.
“He turned around!” kept echoing in my mind and with that I marched into principal Dr. Bolden’s office. Dr. Bolden was the young new principal of this troubled school which he had turned into a Multicultural International Middle School along with a new staff who gravitated to the school to have the opportunity to teach with him and turn everything around. I asked Dr. Bolden if I could have Cochise during my morning prep. The seventh grade team didn’t want him, but I could take him as his seventh grade teacher during that period. Unlike any other principal I’ve taught for before then and after, he went with it. He cleared the way.
First meeting, I took Cochise out to a nearby fast food place and we sat and talked about his interests. In that meal together I learned how irritated he was at people wearing the Malcolm X clothing which came into fashion before Spike Lee released his film “ they don’t even know what the X stands for,” he criticized. Having learned his interest in filmmaking I suggested, “Why don’t you tell these kids what the X stands for by making a film.” His eyes sparked. I told him I was married to a filmmaker, and I thought he would be fine coming in to teach some classes. “The camera is a great tool to say what you want to say, Cochise. It’s powerful. “
I was up to something for sure. A close family friend of ours was Abas Ansari. His sister Bahati and I were sisters from another mother, as close as sisters could be. They were Muslim. Abas was also a Vietnam Vet and strict father of another student, eighth grader, Nadirah. I had plans to bring together a strong male role model with Cochise, a strong parental role model. I also strategized to have Abas’ spunky daughter and no nonsense Iquo Udosenata, a Nigerian American student eighth grader into my morning prep too. Nothing like eighth grade peers to talk some sense into a hot headed seventh grader. Cochise did not have a chance. No choice except to get stronger and more disciplined from the inside out.
My husband Will came in and trained Cochise. Eric Schiff from across the hall, a strong anti-racist Jewish man who was cooler than cool replete with his tech lab, his editing lab, his cameras and lights, backed the training up as Cochise’s day to day coach. I also asked Cochise to check in with Dr. Bolden, also cooler than cool from time to time about the project, some alone time with him in his office for other than disciplinary action. I brought out every book and calendar with Malcolm X with images. Cochise spent days with the film camera and a table pedestal taking shots carefully. He told me he had chosen the shots and perfect songs already – “they’re about Malcolm X” he said proudly about the Arrested Development piece. Nadirah and Iquo were his crew – and I overheard a lot of conversations about how to deal with stupid racism. They told him what for in no nonsense language.
Then came the day Abas visited, dressed as he did when he was Fruit of Islam for the temple in Chicago. Cochise was definitely impressed and subdued. It cracked me up to watch Cochise as he listened and listened and listened some more. He would fidget, but not too much under Abas’ strict gaze. His face flushed with stress, but he listened and listened and squirmed and listened for the whole period. In earlier days, Cochise had told me he was probably going to grow up and go to prison like his dad. But now there was were role models he could not deny in his life – Vietnam Vet, Fruit of Islam Abas Ansari and Dr. Bob Bolden.
Nadirah, Iquo, Schiff and I will never forget the day that Cochise finally played his film for his whole school. Schiff had helped us become the first Channel One School in the District, very controversial because it brought Coca Cola into the school. At the same time it gave us equipment so that the young people could produce and show their own news programming, and films. And Cochise was the first one to play. All the classrooms stayed tune after the student news program as the words Malcolm X came across the screen. Schiff came from across the hall to watch with us. Everything was hushed out in the hallways except for Cochise’s film. And when it ended, there became the sound of applause down the hall. “Cochise, come here! Listen!” I said as the young ones came to the door, and he could hear that building wide instantaneous applause. I shall never forget that.
Malcolm X, the film, shot by Cochise Moore, shown just weeks before Spike Lee’s film opened at the downtown McDonald Theater, changed this young man’s life. Malcolm X changed his life. His team, the Spirit of Malcolm X, a few teachers, a principal, new Sisters, a filmmaker, changed his life and Cochise changed ours. Please enjoy the film. Cochise, the professor in Seattle Washington, who rescues young people from hopelessness and anger himself, found the VHS and sent this to us, but in the process the color could not transfer so you will see it in Black and White. Then I’d like to say just a few words of what happened next.
Like all good things, goodness leads to another blessing. The next September, the eighth grade Cochise Moore, on the first day of school said, “Ms. Kawai Joo, what film are we going to make this year?” I said, Bahati always wanted the four remaining Black Pioneer women of Eugene to be honored someday, Cochise. You could do an oral history project with no editing: Mrs. Washington, Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Mims, and Mrs. Reynolds. Cochise said he would bring a team together: Cory Mainor, Michael Kay or Michael Klindt, Marcus Nettles and Trayvon Cooks. Their project was called the African American History Project, and they won honor from the State and community for it. That’s another story, another team. What the four elders did to smooth out these young men, to fill them with pride and love was a beautiful thing. Cory, Cochise and Michael are all teachers. Michael Klindt is teaching at Springfield High School and is the archivist and the local expert on this story.
So I say, Thank you, Minister El Hajj Malik El Shabazz. Thank you, Malcolm X for reaching out to every generation for as long as there is injustice, violence and the colonial yoke of white supremacy.