How Malcolm X Helped Me Go Vegan

I was a lean, fit child in the Dominican. It could be fair to say that I was addicted to my bicycle, often riding around town for up to twelve hours a day. When I got to NY, I was 60 pounds, and pretty much on the bone. Things, however, changed pretty quickly.
CES 64 in the Bronx was not the most well-equipped elementary school. We barely even had something that resembled a science class, much less a gym. There was a massive space in the lobby, where we would sometimes play kickball all the while trying to avoid the cement columns and marble floor. So, no gym in school, no capacity to do much outside because of the crime rate, no more traditional Latin cuisine, and you end up with a fat Jose. By age 15, my weight had already ballooned to 240 pounds. I went from 60 to 240 pounds in just a few years of misery in the Bronx.
I guess I was a typical male in many ways. I never really questioned what was on the plate; I simply ate it. I never thought about where the ice cream came from, or what was in it; I simply liked the look and taste, and for me that was enough. It was not until age 15 that tragedy and destiny would force me to start asking questions.
It was September 15th, 2002 and my father and I were watching the Vargas Vs. De la Hoya fight. I wasn't paying much attention to the fight, in reality I was on the phone with my buddy Jan. After babbling for about 10 minutes on the phone, my father turned to me and said in a tired, calm voice: "don't talk on the phone so much." He said it in Spanish and instead of saying, "no hables mucho por el telefono," he said, "no me hables mucho por el telefono." The use of the pronoun me before a verb is used in Spanish to indicate something that affects the speaker negatively or is a disadvantage to him. In essence, his last words on this earth were, "don't talk on the phone, I can't afford it."
Before I even finished talking with Jan, my father fell off his chair and started convulsing on the floor. We rushed him to the hospital; he'd suffered a debilitating stroke. On October 6, after almost three weeks in the hospital, I got a phone call informing me that he was never going to wake up. He was 46, like his father who was also 46 when a stroke took him from this earth.
Soon after, I started wearing black and my mind was filled with obsessive thoughts of my own mortality. I wasn't sure whether I'd make it past 46, and thought it best to embrace a culture of death, so that I could be more prepared for it. I would have gone down a very, very dark path had it not been from Ms. Gross' Malcolm X class that same semester.
Had I simply watched the movie or swallowed the book in a single week, my life probably wouldn't have been impacted the way it was. Though The Autobiography of Malcolm X has a largely conciliatory tone near the end, it was the black, militant philosophy throughout the book that helped me cope. For most of October, November, and December, we read Malcolm X at a very slow pace, and the anger that he felt before his trip to Mecca, I also felt. I channeled the pain from my loss and my fear of death into intellectual anger at America's history of racial injustice. You don't have to be a psychologist to recognize that intellectual anger is much more useful than despair.
But I also picked up some things from my surrogate father for those three very difficult months: dietary considerations. Malcolm X described pork in a way that simply convinced me it was too dirty and risky to eat. For the first time in my life, I began to wonder what exactly was on my plate and where it came from. I started asking myself: "What's in this meat?"
The recent horse meat scandal by no means shocks me. The fact that I was 15 and the adults who were giving me food couldn't tell me precisely what it was, taught me that most people simply consumed blindly. I decided to open my eyes; I went to the small local library behind Bronx Lebanon and withdrew all of its 12 books on nutrition. I became familiar with everything about nutrition, and after reading Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution, I understood that the American diet I'd adopted was not only destructive to me, but also to the environment -- not to even mention the animals themselves.
By January 2003, I was already solidly vegan, and had new determination in life: I was ready to join the track team. I had never before in my life eaten green, so it took two solid months of forcing myself to eat broccoli, tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, cauliflower, and tofu. I threw up on a near daily basis. Something similar happened each time I went out running, but by the fall of 2003, I had already lost 80 pounds. In less than a year, I had gone from 240 pound couch potato to commanding the wrestling team in the 160-170 pound weight class. Malcolm X didn't direct me towards veganism, but he helped me open my eyes.