BY: SIMONE JENNIFER SMITH
“I just want people to feel like they’re staring me in my eyes when they listen!” Malcom London
I was not sure what to expect when I walked into The Drake Hotel. I had received a Twitter message from this young man when I was away in England, and something about his requests made me want to respond. He had reached out to personally invite the Toronto Caribbean Newspaper to his concert, on Sunday, March 25, 2018, that is part of his current Right Away Series Tour. I had grabbed a few minutes to do some research on this young man, and I was instantly blown away. Please allow me to share with you my Malcom London experience.
When I arrived at The Drake, which was impossible to find, I was directed to the underground and entered a darkened room with candlelight and a crowd of young people in the middle singing along and rhyming along with the person on stage. I appreciated the intimacy of the event and made my way closer to the stage. I looked up, to see this young man wearing a very colorful dress; yes, I said dress. My first instinct was to pass judgment, but I thankfully caught myself and allowed myself to experience all that is Malcom London.
His energy radiated throughout the room, and seemed to energize everyone; his lyrics had a message. He addressed issues that in some spaces would make people feel very uncomfortable, but he was able to do it with such grace, that he had the crowd interacting with him on controversial issues like race and gender inequality. As a poet, activist, educator, and musician, this internationally recognized Chicago native is not afraid to speak his mind on stage or off. He has appeared on PBS for the first-ever televised Ted Talk with John Legend and Bill Gates. His ability to draw an audience has given him the opportunity to share a stage with rapper Lupe Fiasco, and actor Matt Damon.
He is passionate about the issues that face African Americans and helped to organize a historic youth delegation to the United Nations in Geneva addressing police violence in Chicago. As an educator, he regularly visits high schools, youth jails, and colleges to actively participate in writing workshops and to perform before thousands of students. He gives back to his community by running one of the largest youth open mic nights in Chicago alongside his friend, Chance The Rapper. He continues to take what he learns from teaching and his activism work and interjecting it in his music. He has found a way to intersect justice and poetic imagination.
No great man exists without controversy; On November 24, 2015, Malcom was arrested for aggravated battery of a policeman, after the large protest that was held after the Laquan McDonald video was released. So that you have some background, Laquan McDonald was shot and killed on October 20, 2014, in Chicago, Illinois, by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. Of course, Malcom’s story, and the police officer’s story were completely different in the retelling of events, but to add insult to injury, while he was sitting in jail, a young woman typed an open letter to the black, queer, feminist group London works with, descanting her experience with the young artist. She claimed that London had sexually assaulted her, and she wanted him to be held accountable. Needless to say, Malcom was hurt to hear a woman say that he had assaulted her because he has fought for black women and people along the LGBT spectrum for years. As I sat with the young man, I looked at him and thought, could it be possible? Could this young man be capable of what he has been accused of? Of course, he could, but let those who have not sinned cast the first stone. I was not here to lend my opinion on him, but rather take him for what he presented himself to be: a creative, well-spoken and energized young man who means well, and will not stop until justice is served in his community.
It was an honor to meet this young man, and I can see that he will rise to the top; with proper support and guidance, we could be looking at the next Malcom X. I wished him well and made him promise to come back and visit us here in Toronto. I think having him speak to young people in our community would be beneficial. We need to see more young people standing up for what is right and learning from their mistakes.