Former assistant to Malcolm X still spreads activist's word on the road

February 19, 1993|By Traci A. Johnson | Traci A. Johnson,Staff Writer

Benjamin Karim drank his punch in deliberate sips, sank into the cushion of a chair in McDaniel Lounge at Western Maryland College, and rubbed his eyes.

"Boy, I'm beat," he said. He had a right to be tired; he had traveled to more than a dozen East Coast colleges since Jan. 29.

Mr. Karim, an assistant minister to Malcolm X during the civil rights movement, spoke Tuesday night about his experiences with "Brother Malcolm" at Temple Number Seven in Harlem, N.Y.

"We are the victims of a cultureless society," Mr. Karim told about 70 students gathered in the lounge. "Europeans came here and left their culture in Europe.

"Slaves from Africa had their culture stripped from them by their slave masters. The only thing we can replace it with is education."

Mr. Karim is not just talking about book smarts. He said he got bored with school and left after the ninth grade.

Benjamin Goodman, as Mr. Karim was christened in his birthplace of Suffolk, Va., went into the Air Force, and upon his discharge, went to live with an uncle in New York City. It was there he found the knowledge he needed to survive.

Mr. Karim first saw Malcolm X as he led thousands in a peaceful demonstration that began in front of a police station, where a brother of Islam was being held after being savagely beaten by police, and ended at a hospital to which "The Minister" insisted the wounded man be taken.

From that day, he knew where he wanted to be.

"The man had a way of showing you something that may not register at the time, but would hit you with the full force of his powerful voice whenever you got into a situation and needed an answer," Mr. Karim said.

He worked with and learned from Malcolm X for seven years, opening for him at meetings and rallies, including the Sunday in 1965 when Malcolm X was killed at the podium of the Audubon Ballroom.

His book, "Remembering Malcolm: The Story of Malcolm X from inside the Muslim Mosque," like his speech at Western Maryland College, humanized the slain civil rights advocate.

"He is only known publicly as a radical, but he could captivate," Mr. Karim said before the lecture. "There were times he spoke outdoors and hundreds would block the streets in the rain to hear him speak."

He said that while Malcolm X was a serious man, he also had a sense of humor.

"Malcolm was a trip," said Mr. Karim, describing the man who had been for so many years linked with militant behavior, violence and opinions of black supremacy. "Give that man a fork and a knife and he could strip a breast of chicken down to the last piece of meat.

"He loved banana splits, too," Mr. Karim said. "If I was ever asked to make something that would forever remind me of Minister Malcolm, it would be a brooch for the lapel in the shape of a banana split."

Malcolm X had a way with people that was similar to a magician working his craft, Mr. Karim said.

"While he spoke, nobody blinked, I mean no one," he said. "When it was over, I noticed the people would shake their heads, like they were in a trance and had just come out of it."

Like Malcolm X, Mr. Karim talks to people in hopes of enlightening them and empowering them to change the things that destroy self-esteem and cause conflict in society.

"Culture has to do with development of the arts, dance, myths and legends that are passed down for generations," he said. "They guide people, give them spiritual and mental guidance.

"By talking about him, I want to teach them a little about themselves," Mr. Karim said. "I hope they go away with a better understanding of their pasts and their heritage.

"The further you can look back, the further you can see ahead."

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