Dr. Richard D. Benson II believes Malcolm X is barely acknowledged in writing and media as a preeminent educator and instructor. His latest book, Fighting For Our Place in the Sun: Malcolm X and the Radicalization of the Black Student Movement, 1960-1973, takes a close look into the iconic leader’s philosophies and perspectives on education.
His book’s subject matter strays from the chronological sketches made popular by Alex Haley, Dr. Manning Marable and Spike Lee. The project stems from Dr. Benson idolizing Malcolm’s respect for literacy.
“There was so much work done on him in terms of his biographical accounts,” says Dr. Benson, currently an Assistant Professor in Spelman College’s Education Studies Program. “Malcolm is a teacher and instructor. This particular text gives you a side of him that resonates with those who actually want to wed the theoretical and the practical.”
Dr. Benson hosted a reading for his latest effort at the famed all-female HBCU. Rather than reading excerpts verbatim, the Mellon Grant recipient spoke in-depth about his creative process.
Rather than standing behind the podium, he paces in front of the audience. He models his own courses after Malcolm’s insights. “Essentially, you’re talking about someone who can be charismatic in a number of ways,” he says. “It’s a guide to integrate within a space to become a better instructor.”
A Chicago native, Dr. Benson obtained his doctorate in educational policy from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He shares a few personal anecdotes like his “coffee table conversations” with his grandmother, his family’s oral historian. The self-proclaimed information addict streams archived interview footage of Malcolm X, recites a few memorable quotes and ties together Malcolm’s influence on his contemporaries.
A voracious reader, Dr. Benson ends suggesting book titles to the audience. He likes to think of his current work as both a “labor of love” and “dream come true.”
“[Malcolm] lives through me because I’m always chasing information and analysis,” says Dr. Benson immediately following his talk. “One way this book could better inform my teaching is to revisit his perspective.”
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for The Burton Wire. He is also a contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.