By Aisha DaCosta
Behind the doors of ASH 184-E lurks UNO’s very own historian on one of the most controversial figures in African-American history, Malcolm X. As eclectic sounds of jazz and R&B radiate from the office and their melodies draw you near, keep in mind that it is the thought-provoking conversations with assistant professor Andrew Smallwood that will keep any wayward student intrigued.
Smallwood grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, in the vicinity of Columbia University and the Museum of Natural History. It was his childhood experiences in New York City that first sparked his interest in El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, the man better known as Malcolm X. Smallwood recalls nostalgic visions of Sunday evenings spent watching *Like It Is, a television show featuring the life stories of prominent figures in African-American history. This boyhood interest, coupled with James Conyers’ vision of a black studies department at UNO, is what brought this native New Yorker to the cornfields of Nebraska.
Smallwood has taught at UNO for almost seven years. He can be found captivating young minds along various degrees of the black studies spectrum, teaching courses including Introduction to Black Studies, Afro-American History Since 1954 and Philosophy and Theology of Martin L. King Jr. and Malcolm X.
However, Smallwood’s academic reach extends far beyond the walls of UNO. He is also a published author who asserts that his book, *An Afrocentric Study of the Intellectual Development, Leadership Praxis, and Pedagogy of Malcolm X (Black Studies, V. 13), is the first book to apply an Afro-centric framework and view Malcolm X using the lens of the Africana experience. Anyone can profess to know Malcolm X the black nationalist, the political leader and civil rights activist who once spoke the words “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us.”
Few of us, however, can honestly claim we know Malcolm the educator and catalyst of black pride. Throughout his life, he attempted to appeal to the soul of African-Americans by lacing his speeches and sermons with empowering concepts of humanity. Malcolm said that “A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.”
Smallwood’s book explores Malcolm’s impact on the African-American community and looks at him from the perspective of a teacher rather than a political icon.