Bradley Taylor celebrated his 17th birthday at the birthday celebration for Malcolm X in Washington's Anacostia Park yesterday.
Taylor, and about 10,000 other young people, according to U.S. Park Police, danced and sang their way through an afternoon featuring local bands and speakers under a brilliant blue sky.
The 14th annual celebration of Malcolm X Day marks what would have been the 60th birthday of the charismatic spokesman for black self-sufficiency who was slain in 1965, a year after he split from his mentor, Elijah Muhammad, founder of the Nation of Islam. Three men, two of them identified as Muslims, were convicted of his murder.
This year's theme was Free South Africa and Unity in the Community. Mary Berry, of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and the Free South Africa committee, told the mostly high-school-age audience, "If you were in South Africa now, you wouldn't be allowed to be at a gathering like this. You would be shot or arrested."
Berry encouraged the young people in the audience to go to the South African Embassy to protest that country's policies toward blacks.
Sherry Brown, assistant director of the Malcolm X Cultural Education Center and one of the organizers of yesterday's celebration, said the go-go music, which dominated the program with seven local bands, was used to draw young people to the event.
"Most of our audience is young, and we use the program to give them the message of a positive life style," said Brown. "We tell them to stay in school and not to use drugs."
The antidrug message was repeated by City Council member Wilhelmina Rolark.
"Malcolm X was a drug addict who turned his life around," said Rolark. "Stay away from drugs and stay off drugs," she admonished the audience.
During the event, 15 participants were arrested on drug charges and one was arrested on weapons charges, Park Police reported.
Taylor, who said he came to Malcolm X Day to hear the music and enjoy his birthday, said he agreed with the antidrug statements.
"The music is for real, but the drugs are not," he said. "You smoke the boat PCP . . . and it really tears your brain cells up."