THE BLOG

Finding Myself in My Name

05/02/2013 02:42 pm ET | Updated Jul 02, 2013

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by Malcolm Thompson

I was once afraid of the dark and terrified of girls. Today I am a fearless defensive lineman, captain of the wrestling team and my best friend is a girl.

Years ago, there were times when I would stay up all night watching T.V. or lie awake in my bed terrified of the wild monsters and robbers that my bizarre, little imagination created. I don't know how I overcame my intense fear of the dark. It happened in fifth grade around the time my phobia of girls took over. I remember sitting speechlessly next to Martha as we car pooled to school in sixth grade. By eighth grade, we were talking and she is now my best friend who knows many of my secrets.

It wasn't until I was 15 years old that I realized the importance of transformation and growth, and saw the confrontation of my fears as an asset. I started actively seeking information on my namesake, Malcolm X, and I began to see that my natural eagerness to grow and change was something I had in common with this great man. Malcolm X was constantly growing and evolving on a much larger scale than I had ever faced. His passion for reading and gaining knowledge during his jail sentence led to his transformation into a recognized intellectual.

Overcoming fears was just the beginning of applying the lessons I've learned from Malcolm X. In my freshman year, I came onto the wrestling team in poor shape. I lacked the balance and the coordination necessary. It was one the most frustrating periods of my life. I hated going to practice. I hated when my coaches and older teammates would try to help me. Getting slammed to the mat countless times by seniors not only hurt physically, but also damaged my mental state. Nothing was worse than the match I was winning until a stupid mistake resulted in a loss.

My frustration boiled into a self-destructive rage that kept me from improving as a wrestler. During that year, I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. When Malcolm first arrived in prison, he too was overcome by anger. I considered how Malcolm was able to channel his anger into his studies while in prison. Using my own anger as motivation, I worked on getting in better shape, lifting weights and putting on more muscle during the off season. Knowing that I was in better shape gave me confidence going into the next wrestling season. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I knew that I could have a shot at wrestling varsity, which made me want to grow into a better wrestler. I ended up winning 14 varsity matches in that year.

I admired Malcolm's truly open mind and his ability to allow his ideas to constantly grow, especially during his travels to Africa and the Middle East. I used this as my inspiration when I journeyed to Ghana for five weeks this past summer. When I first arrived, I struggled with adjusting to Ghanaian life, from people eating with their hands to bargaining with vendors. Since my days as an infant, I have been taught that it was barbaric to eat food with your hands. When I first put Fufu, mushy food made from mashed yams, in my fingers to eat, I felt so strange. Yet I pushed myself to embrace it. If Malcolm X could travel to Mecca and completely change his view of the world, then I could at least learn to eat with my hands like a real Ghanaian. By the end of my time in Ghana, I was saying hello to every person I passed in the streets, haggling with merchants at markets, and even doing a little bit of singing and dancing at church with my host family. My way of thinking did not change drastically in the way Malcolm's worldview changed with his trip abroad, but I still challenged myself.

Legendary hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur once said, "I want to grow. I want to be better. You Grow. We all grow. We're made to grow. You either evolve or you disappear." Being able to grow means being able to transform and improve your life. It may be something small like eradicating a childhood fear, or something larger like going from a convicted burglar to an inspirational human rights activist. I hope I am able to continually embrace transformations that will push me to grow.

Malcolm Thompson, a 2012 graduate of The Horace Mann School, is a freshman at George Washington University.