by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse University – Scholarship in Action
The death of the great Manning Marable at Columbia University was hard for me. At the young age of 60, Professor Marable took his rightful place with the legends of the black history, ending an amazing life and remarkable career. Professor Marable passed as one of the great black scholars of our time, and had the vision to expand the walls of his classroom to include millions of black and brown people across the world.
In spite of the fact that my god daughter is a student athlete at Columbia and one of my best friends is on the faculty, I’ve admittedly never had a chance to meet Professor Marable (plus, I can be a bit of a hermit at times). But even though I never had the honor of knowing him personally, I’ve always carried extreme admiration for any black male scholar with the passion, purpose and intellectual courage possessed by this brilliant human being.
Professor Marable’s work with the Hip Hop Summit Action Network showed that he was willing to look to our youth for new ideas in order to advance our collective cause. Far too many black scholars spend their careers behind the walls of academia, frightened by anything different and progressive. They consider those outside of academia to be “unscholarly,” and end up wasting their lives writing a long list of research papers that no one is ever going to read. Much of this is a function of the fact that black scholars never told themselves how to be scholarly; instead, they were told that behaving in a particular way is the path to opening doors into universities that are controlled by those who care nothing about the state of black America.
Professor Marable’s last and perhaps most significant book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, allows him to finish his career with an academic bang. I am probably biased, since Malcolm X is my greatest historical hero. But many of us can learn from the lives of both Malcolm and Manning, as we realize that for the black man in America, his intellect is his greatest weapon in a society that is designed to destroy him.
I encourage other black scholars to reinvent themselves in the same way as Malcolm X and Manning Marable. We must commit ourselves to a revolution of the mind and rise above the academic imperialism that keeps us from using our education to serve our communities. We must also realize that having academic degrees does not make you into a scholar, and being a scholar doesn’t require you to have an academic degree. Every black man in America should embrace the idea of lifelong learning, community involvement and courageous action that will help him to secure a positive social footprint.
Life is too short for mediocrity. Professor Manning Marable chose to be great, and scholars for many generations will learn from his contributions. I am proud of Professor Marable, one of my academic fathers, and he deserves his place in heaven next to Malcolm.