WTCI’s Malcom X-pert

Zac Sheaffer not only plays a key role in helping deliver WTCI’s programs, but he is also developing into an expert on Malcolm X. Zac conducted his senior thesis on X after feeling that the controversial civil rights leader’s story was not being told in his previous classes. His expertise has led to multiple speaking opportunities, the most recent of which occurred in mid-October at Montgomery College.

Who are the Renaissance Scholars and why were you invited to speak to them?

The Renaissance Scholars is a multi-disciplinary honors program offered at Montgomery College. I was invited by Dr. Christina Devlin, an English professor at Montgomery College’s Germantown campus, who saw my presentation at the Maryland Collegiate Honors Council (MCHC) Conference in March 2018. We stayed in touch and after reading my capstone paper she invited me to speak to her students. I was impressed with their open minds and level of intellect and look forward to seeing what they accomplish.

Who is Malcom X?

Malcolm X is a human rights activist who rose to fame in the 1950s and 1960s as a minister for the Nation of Islam (NOI). After disputes with NOI leader Elijah Muhammed, X officially left the organization in March 1964 and completed his hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca. His split with the NOI coincided with his conversion to orthodox Islam and transformed his entire vision for race relations in America. Unfortunately, he was assassinated a year later, leaving his vision incomplete and legacy undefined. He is a polarizing figure – some consider him a hero and leader whose guidance inspired thousands while others label him as a symbol of anti-white racism and violence. X is, and always will be, a complex and controversial figure.

Why did you decide to focus your undergraduate thesis on Malcom X?

I decided to focus on X because I had never encountered him in any of my studies prior to my time at McDaniel. When we discussed civil rights icons, we talked about Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, or Jackie Robinson. I wanted to know why we ignored X, and I learned that it was due to the controversy surrounding him and his ideas. He has been labeled as radical by most. After reading his autobiography and speeches, I had a different spin on it; mostly due to the many alterations he made in the final year of his life. That spurred my research, trying to offer a complete analysis of X. I also wanted to better understand the effect he had on modern America, which is why I focused so much of my energy on his contentious legacy.

In your experience speaking on Malcom X, what have you found to be most surprising?

I have been most surprised by the impact that my work has on others. I have had several students and professors thank me for my research and thesis, which is beyond gratifying. For my presentation at MCHC, one student drove several hours on a Saturday morning just to hear me speak. Dr. Devlin was so impressed by my work that she invited me to speak to a group of wonderfully gifted honors students. There are also dozens of people who now think differently about X and are not so quick to pass judgement on his life and legacy, which is exactly what I set out to do.

Do you plan to continue your studies on X and/or will you continue to present on this topic?

I will continue to research X and further develop my thesis. I especially look forward to analyzing X’s legacy as it continues to evolve. I hope that I have more opportunities to present as my research progresses.