Lunch with the League is a free public program that helps citizens stay abreast of issues shaping our public life. On Sept. 3, we welcomed Steven L Jones, Dean for Professional Development and Director of the Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies at Wabash College, to address the gathered crowd about the origin, the mission and the achievements of the Malcolm X Institute located on the college campus.
The institute, located in an architecturally interesting building built in 2002, maintains an African-American studies library and contains classroom, study and recreational areas for its members. Last spring there were 43 members of the Institute, six of them are not men of color. MXI is widely used by the campus at large. Its programs include musical, artistic, and literary presentations, speakers, films, forums, and community service projects.
As he began his remarks about “Understanding the African American Experience” on campus and in this community, Dean Jones acknowledged that visitors and new residents of our community are often surprised to find a Malcolm X Institute here in rural Indiana. This anomaly becomes clear when we look back to the famous quote made by Malcolm X in 1964. Malcolm X, himself a Midwesterner, famously said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” In the 48 years of its existence, the students who have run the Institute and their Executive Directors have done a good deal to live out that powerful advice on the campus of one of the most highly ranked liberal arts colleges in the country, our own Wabash College.
Founded on campus during the 1970-71 school year, Malcolm X Institute of Black Studies was designed from the outset to live out our nation’s principle and obligation to give fair opportunity to all citizens. Here in the 21st century, almost a half century after its founding, the MXI at Wabash ensures that the African-American experience remains as an integral academic and cultural resource at Wabash College. In a word, MXI enriches the liberal arts experience of all Wabash students and brings more fully to their attention parts of our history and culture many of them are not aware of. For instance, take a simple grooming need: it is difficult for our African-American students to find a barber who has skills to cut their hair properly. Malcolm X Institute helps with such daily needs right along with doing its powerful work of building leaders among its students. “We are a kind of home away from home,” Dean Jones notes.
Across the years the leadership provided to our nation by Wabash men of color has been significant in a way far outsizing the number of students at the college. The first African American man graduated from Wabash in 1908. Dean Jones is himself an alumnus of MXI and Wabash College (1987), and an ideal example of how pledging to study for eight semesters of academic work, to learn skills, knowledge, and take advantage of close mentoring produces leadership. Before returning to Wabash College as dean in 2016, Jones served in various leadership roles. Immediately preceding his return, he served as Vice President of the Adult Academic Health Center at IU Health where he led human resource functions for 6,500 team members.
Community members are cordially invited to stop into the Malcolm X Institute. In addition to all the functional purposes, including classroom space, the MXI houses a notable, though, small collection of art. These days visitors especially enjoy seeing the student work of Nathaniel Mary Quinn (2005) whose brilliant, colorful art work is now shown and known all over the world. His work is in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others. The MXI is open all days that Wabash College is open. Tours may be requested during weekday business hours.
The connections between the MXI and Crawfordsville have always been close ones. An audience member recalled how the local African American community shared meals with the first MXI students. Horace Turner, the first Executive Director, is credited with overseeing a powerful local tutoring program for local students that operated for decades, both at the MXI and at the Boys and Girls Club. The Institute has hosted panels with local law enforcement officers so they and citizens can understand each others’ points of views and concerns more fully. Members of the Malcolm X Institute currently host town kids on campus for a Community Day and they partner with our local organization HUE (Humans United for Equality) for the Beloved Community Dinner in January and for Martin Luther King Service Learning Day. The public is cordially invited to all MXI-sponsored events on campus.