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Former grade school of Malcolm X to become social services facility

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Posted at 9:32 AM, Aug 20, 2021

LANSING, Mich. — At the corner of Pleasant Grove and Holmes roads in Lansing, Michigan, lies a long-abandoned building that what was formerly Pleasant Grove Elementary, the grade school Malcolm X attended in 1931.

City officials and developers are now looking to demolish the building and turn it into a social services facility, paying tribute to the late civil rights leader.

The former Pleasant Grove Elementary School
The former Pleasant Grove Elementary School

"When we talk about Malcolm X, it was all about empowerment and moving people through—I should say forward— by empowering," said Adam Hussain, Lansing City Council member. "This is what this project is, hopefully, going to do."

Ferguson Development in Lansing is partnering with the community to create and develop the project. It will bring medical care, banking resources, and legal aid to the community.

“The idea behind this is to support and show and honor the legacy of a very well-known and a very powerful leader in the United States in terms of African Americans' civil rights," said Christopher Strakowski, Ferguson Development Project Manager.

But Joel Ferguson, Chairman of Ferguson Development, has a bit of a special connection to the project honoring Malcolm X, who was born Malcolm Little.

“I went to school and high school and junior high school with his brother,” Ferguson said.

Joel Ferguson, Chairman of Ferguson Developers, with his painting of Malcolm X
Joel Ferguson, Chairman of Ferguson Developers, with his painting of Malcolm X

When Malcolm Little started school, Lansing schools were technically desegregated. But racial tensions were still very prevalent, according to Dr. John Aerni-Flessner, a professor at Michigan State University.

“Going to school as the only Black children in an elementary school in the 1930s wasn’t easy, even if it wasn’t disallowed,” Flessner said.

The Little family faced a number of challenges during Malcolm's time at Pleasant Grove.

“Malcolm had just started at Pleasant Grove Elementary in 1931—the same year his father was found killed," Flessner said. "And that added to the challenges. This is in the middle of the Great Depression. It was a large family with seven children at the time and they just lost their breadwinner.”

Although Malcolm spends most of his adult life outside of the Mid-Michigan area, his legacy there lives on.

“For me personally, I feel like it’s very important mostly because Malcolm X, not only coming from Michigan, he also showed the people from Michigan and all over the world that we can make a change for a better future,” said James Henson, Founder for the Young Black Panther Party.

The former elementary school is set for demolition
The former elementary school is set for demolition

The City hopes to have that legacy reflected in the plans for the building.

Small business owner and activist Timothy Lloyd said the city is welcoming the change.

“Well, Malcolm X is an iconic figure, especially among the African American community," Lloyd said. "So anything that can represent some of the legacy that he did and stood for is well appreciated and well welcome in our community.”

Ferguson said he looks forward to honoring Malcolm with service to the community

“It’ll be identified as where Malcolm X went to school and how we’re turning something around," Ferguson said. "Just like he worked to turn things around too.”

According to Strakowski, after demolition in the first quarter of 2022, construction will begin in late spring. In the meantime, they will continue to solidify their partnerships in the health care, banking, and legal aid fields.

This story was originally published by Margaret Cahill at WSYM.