Malik “Lion” Blyden is on a mission.
For the past three years, the young activist/scholar has worked diligently to resurrect a division of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association-African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) in Buffalo. His research and documentation of the UNIA’s impact in this city is nothing short of an historical treasure. The author of “Buffalo UNIA-ACL History,” Blyden founded Division 433 in February of 2015 along with six others and has served as president since its inception. The research he explained, serves as a guide to what the present-day UNIA-ACL can do today to help resolve some of the economic, social and political issues facing African Americans.
-The Research, The Journey –
Blyden was educated in Buffalo public schools, attended Buffalo State College and ECC, and worked with at-risk youth for 20 years. Currently self-employed, he and his wife Sophia have one daughter. The whole family is active in Division 433. Truth seeking and struggle is in Lion’s DNA.
“My mom and dad worked in the community for Black people… so I’ve always had a connection to African and African American culture,” he recalled. His mother, retired youth worker Elaine Blyden, was chief of staff for Deputy Speaker Arthur O. Eve for many years. She was also Managing Editor of the Challenger “back in the day” when Black folks were struggling valiantly for human and civil rights. The Attica rebellion was one such example of that struggle. Mr. Eve was a member of the Attica observers’ panel that unsuccessfully sought a peaceful ending to the inmate rebellion. Lion’s father, Herbert X .
Blyden, an inmate at the time, was on the inside during the massacre. He was described in the New York Times as a “prison-educated civil rights activist who gave eloquent voice to 1,300 beleaguered inmates as their chief negotiator during the 1971 Attica prison uprising.“ Brother Herb drafted much of the Attica Manifesto, which documented specific abuses and sought a variety of remedies.
His father, recalled Malik, gave him the nickname “Lion” after Simba Mlee, Challenger activist/ photographer, and Blyden’s friend. “When I remember my dad I can picture him as a pillar of strength” Blyden said. “the same goes for my mom.” Malik is also related to renowned Pan-African scholar Edward Wilmot Blyden.
That revelation spurred his interest to learn more about his lineage and ultimately Black history in general. He started attending classes at the Conscientious Workshops held on Mondays at the Merriweather Library. There he was introduced to the teachings of such great African thinkers and historians such as Dr. John Henrick Clark and others. “But it was Garvey’s story that got me,” he recalled, “specifically the story about the red, black and green flag and its significance to people of African Descent.” In the early 1900s a racist song poplar among White Americans was “Every Race Has a Flag But The Coon,” continued Blyden.
The song so infuriated Garvey that he commissioned the Red, Black and Green flag as the standard of Pan Africanism. “Red is for the blood of African people. Black is for the skin of African people. Green is for the glorious land of Mother Africa that unifies us world wide,” he recited with pride. -UNIA Buffalo- Blyden dedicated “almost every waking moment” during those three years researching the Garvey Movement and the UNIA-ACL in Buffalo/Niagara.
Marcus Garvey is credited with building the largest Black organization in history. By 1926, the membership of the U.N.I.A. had grown to over 6 million members. Locally the first group of Garveyites were organized under Division #79. Like UNIA members around the country, members in Western New York owned restaurants, grocery stores, printing companies, credit unions and more. Garvey encouraged entrepreneurship and got millions of people to buy from Back-owned businesses.
UNIA-ACL Members list for Division #79, and a map with dots marking areas having anything to do with the local Garvey movement. Blyden hopes to one day have permanent historical markers (which he’s already designed) placed at these sites. The UNIA-ACL offered a “world-wide government structure for people of African descent to follow,” Blyden continued.
He recalled the pride he felt when reading about the international UNIA-ACL Convention of August 1920 in New York City where over 20,000 Africans from over 40 countries worldwide converged on Madison Square Garden. Garveyites from Buffalo were in that number. It was shortly after that historic convention in New York City that the Honorable Marcus Garvey made his first visit of several visits to Buffalo documents Blyden. A Black newspaper, The Buffalo American, heralded it as “the greatest meeting ever held in our city.” Malik credits librarian and Zawadi bookstore co-owner Sharon Holley and author Lillian Williams for providing him with the foundation and direction to successfully complete his work.
He is convinced that if Black people followed the programs and embraced the teachings and the system of government laid out by the Hon. Marcus Garvey, we would see a positive change in our current condition. “Our goal is to preserve this history and teach it to further our goal to unify us (Black people) despite our social, religious and political difference, under one government structure, under one flag.” -One God, One Aim, One destiny- The UNIA-ACL still has divisions all over the world, said Blyden.
Its motto is “One God, One Aim One Destiny.” “Race First” – a declaration of racial pride – is also a motto, a greeting and a salutation Lion noted. “Garvey taught that everybody operates on a Race First basis except us…we’re the only ones who worry about everybody but us first, when we should be talking about Black things and the upliftment of our people.” Garvey, he continued, taught us to be proud of our race and to unite as a people. The structure that he built is as relevant and needed today as it was decades ago. “If we just believe we have this structure, everything else would fall into place,” said Blyden.
(For membership and other information about the local UNIA-ACL Division#433 email firstname.lastname@example.org )