BY JON CRONIN
Christ the King student Malcolm Xavier Combs made national news this past week after his Middle Village high school deemed that emblazoning his first name and middle initial—Malcolm X—on the back of his school sweater would be too controversial.
Rev. Kevin McCall, the national crisis director of the National Action Network (NAN), spoke with the Queens Tribune and announced that the National Action Network will be hosting a rally outside Christ the King High School at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb 21 to coincide with the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X.
McCall also discussed his meeting with the school’s administration in an attempt to reconcile the situation.
McCall said that Combs and his mother reached out to the NAN to find out how it could “shed light on this dark issue,” McCall said.
The reverend said that he is speaking for the family during this time. Combs has only spoken to the press once, during a rally to protest the incident outside the NAN’s office in Harlem on Feb. 10. At that time, he met Rev. Al Sharpton and Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz. Hundreds gathered outside the NAN’s headquarters to cheer on Combs as he was presented with a T-shirt from Shabazz that read “X Legacy.”
Two days before the rally, McCall said that he met with the school’s assistant principal Veronica Arbitello, Principal Geri Martinez and School President Michael Michel—via conference call. Michel told McCall that the school wanted to resolve the issue. McCall recounted that Michel said he has known Sharpton, founder of the NAN, for many years.
School representatives told McCall that Combs could not use the name “Malcolm X” on his school sweater on the grounds that the school had no paperwork stating that “Xavier” is Combs’ middle name. School leaders also said that they seldom allow students to use nicknames on their sweaters.
Mark and Mychelle Combs showed their son’s birth certificate with “Xavier” as the middle name as well as several academic awards from Christ the King school with “Xavier” in the middle.
McCall noted that Michel told him, “We deem what is controversial.”
McCall said that he was told that a student would be allowed to print “Barack O” or “Martin Luther King Jr.” on a shirt. When he asked if “Al Sharpton” could be printed on a shirt, he was told “no.”
McCall said that he pointed out to the administrators that the school’s namesake was controversial in his time.
The reverend added that he became adamant that the school allow Combs to choose what he wanted on his sweater and told them, “We are demanding that you do this or we turn up the heat to the point where you feel that you’re on fire.”
He also asked the school to host an event to promote community inclusion and sensitivity training “to show this issue can be used as a moment that pulls together all cultures.”
In a video on the National Action Network’s website, Sharpton said of Combs’ request, “Administrators were not having it. If you can’t respect brother Malcolm, whose message evolved with the man himself, you should at least respect the right of parents to name their child whatever they want.”
In a letter to parents and students posted on Christ the King’s website, Serphin Maltese, the chairman of the school’s board of trustees, wrote, “The recent articles about one of our students and Malcolm X has, unfortunately, been taken out of context and has been misconstrued. When this student’s family raised the issue about the name he wished on the sweatshirt, the school readily agreed to meet and discuss the matter.
Unfortunately, before that meeting took place, this became a media issue.”
In the message, the school also shared the school’s sweater order form, which states that a student can only use his/her first and last name on the sweater. McCall noted that many of Combs’ peers have nicknames, such as “Ice” or “X-Man,” on their sweaters.
Maltese said that Malcolm X is studied in the school and its library has books on him.
“It is our hope that, in the spirit that guides us, we will be able to resolve this on mutually acceptable terms, reinforcing all that is good about Christ the King High School,” Maltese said.