Rally For Freedom Of Expression

While many high school seniors are waiting for their college acceptance letters, prom and graduation at this time of year, a student at Middle Village’s Christ the King High School is caught up in a battle over his name.

On Feb. 21, approximately 30 protesters—including Al Sharpton’s National Action Network—and politicians mobilized in front of the high school to show their solidarity for Malcolm Xavier Combs, 17, who was denied the right by the school to wear a senior sweater with his first name and middle initial—Malcolm X—emblazoned on it.

At the rally, which coincided with the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of civil rights leader Malcolm X, protesters chanted, “No justice! No peace!” and “I am Malcolm X.” The attendees at the rally called for school administrators to soften their stance and allow the honor roll student to include “Malcolm X” on his sweater.

Malcolm Xavier Combs speaks at a rally in Middle Village.

Malcolm Xavier Combs speaks at a rally in Middle Village.

“We are here today to serve notice to Christ the King high school, to give notice to them for failure to allow this young man to use the name of Malcolm Xavier Combs, to use his name,” said Rev. Kevin McCall, a crisis director for the National Action Network. “It is the name that his mother and father gave him at birth. It’s not a nickname—it is his government-given name.”

Combs, who was clad in a Malcolm X T-shirt, explained that he was pulled out of his English class and sent to the principal’s office, where he was told that he would not be able to use his name on the back of the sweater.

According to Combs, the school’s assistant principal, Veronica Arbitello, told him that “Malcolm X” was not a name with which he should associate himself. Then, he alleges, she proceeded to mockingly tell another faculty member that Combs was the new Malcolm X.

“I have a few things that are on a need-to-know basis. If you teach us about Malcolm X, why is it that I can’t wear it on my sweater?” he asked during the rally. “I need to know: Was it necessary to discriminate against a name and to shame a name? I need to know why in 2018 I’m fighting for my own name.”

City Public Advocate Letitia James commended Combs for standing up for what he believed was right.

“Leaders are oftentimes born out of a crisis, and I want to thank this young man for truly being a leader and for standing up and standing for something,” she said.

James said that she is going to ask Christ the King to offer Combs and his family a full apology, and she is prepared to have a meeting with administrators about having a curriculum of respect for every student.  

“This is a teaching moment, an opportunity to enlighten some about the legacy of Malcolm X and African American figures this Black History Month,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to talk about the Constitution, an opportunity to talk about history, an opportunity to talk about the legacy of African American people, as painful as it is.”

City Comptroller Scott Stringer also applauded Combs for being a fighter. The demonstrators marched on Metropolitan Avenue, carrying Malcolm X posters and chanting, “Say his name, Malcolm X!”

McCall said that the next step in the fight is to take the issue to the school’s board of trustees.

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