Archer graduate Lena Jones proposes Malcolm X autobiography to “mend the hole” within current curriculum

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Photo credit: Lena Jones

Archer graduate Lena Jones recently proposed and petitioned to both the Archer student-body, as well as the faculty, for the inclusion of Malcolm X's autobiography in at least one of the humanities courses. Jones, who was admitted to Yale University and is taking a gap year, offered to join in the conversation with junior classes as they discuss the autobiography in the spring.

By Vaughan Anoa'i, News Editor

The deaths of unarmed black citizens across America, including Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have sparked protests throughout the United States. Some protests in Los Angeles and Minneapolis, the place of Floyd’s murder, erupted into violence from both police and protestors, such as the use of rubber bullets and tear gas,, public destruction of businesses and physical harm to counter-protesters.

In contrast to earlier Black Lives Matter protests, these public outcries struck Archer graduate Lena Jones (’20) particularly hard. Viewing the news and the way people in positions of power were handling the situation, Jones said she felt the need to keep “[her] eyes open” and take some form of responsibility in any way she could.

Jones decided to create a petition for Archer students to request “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” be integrated into the humanities curriculum. As a result, all juniors will read the autobiography in their junior English classes.

“The weight of the world’s many inadequacies, dangers and issues fell upon me the night of our graduation, while protestors voiced their pain over centuries of brutalization of Black bodies across the country,” Jones wrote in a recent email interview. “I told my father that it felt like the world was yelling at the class of 2020 to waste no time and change our society.”

While brainstorming different methods to help progress the movement, Jones said she realized how “little” she actually knew about American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X as well as the various protests that he organized during the Civil Rights Movement. Somewhat surprised to see that she had never come across Malcolm X’s autobiography once during her Archer career, Jones knew it was now her job to create a world where every Archer girl is guided through a “difficult,” yet “significant” text.

“This surprise quickly turned into incredulity as I thought back to the limited understanding of Malcolm X I’d gotten from school,” Jones wrote. “I refused to believe Malcolm X’s beliefs could be whittled down this way.”

Following this realization, Jones took it upon herself to read in full Malcolm X’s autobiography and compose a three page proposal listing out and further explaining all of the notes and various symbols that she had come across.

I read the book in three days, jotting down notes by lamplight until I could hardly keep my eyes open,” Jones wrote. “Immediately after finishing it on that third day, I wrote the three page proposal using the notes I’d taken each day on the themes, motifs, assertions and thought-provoking quotes I’d encountered.”

Jones said she appreciated reading a book with a distinctively Black lens on society.

“This autobiography deeply examines the emotional sentiments of Black Americans toward White people, rather than the other way around,” Jones wrote. “Reading this book helped me understand myself better as a young, Black woman.”

Jones felt the urge to advocate for an activist like Malcolm X, as his teachings and values have already been “ingrained” within the Archer curriculum according to Jones. However, these teachings, Jones feels, have only been conveyed in opposition to those of Martin Luther King Jr.’s, another famous human rights activist.

“[Malcolm X’s] beliefs are generally set at odds with the ideology of non-violent protest supported by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” Jones wrote. “The two are often played off as natural opposites –– some might say to a fault –– and his viewpoints never receive the same attention as Dr. King’s.”

Jones notified Archer adults that she was pursuing the implementation of the book before sending out the petition.

“The path ahead quickly proved to be more opaque than obvious…I might have anticipated this, but I didn’t prepare for it,” Jones wrote. “With the help of my family, I refocused and steeled myself to be versatile while working with Archer to address my proposal. In the future, I’ll keep this lesson in mind.”

Following Jones’ petition and meeting with faculty members, the three junior English teachers, Kathleen Bergen, Kristin Taylor and Brian Wogensen made the decision to replace “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald with the autobiography in the spring.

Jones hopes to expose current as well as future Archer students to Malcolm X’s “unfiltered opinions within White America,” while also shedding more light on an activist Jones feels is often disregarded in our society today.

“I believe in Archer’s ability to reach new heights as an inclusive, conscious community by way of reading this book, and I can’t wait to see the results,” Jones wrote. “Racial prejudice runs through the veins of our country. Predominantly-white institutions try to perform clean surgeries on themselves to rid their lifeblood of this prejudice, but this process leaves wounds. Sometimes we don’t know if a healing wound will bleed racism until we poke it. I poked at my own school because I truly care about this community.”