A Forum on Racism (Grade 12)

9, 10, 11, 12

In this lesson, students compare communication styles and read the Autobiography of Malcolm X. They compare the work of Malcolm X with that of Martin Luther King, Jr. Then they raise awareness of the issue of racism through a discussion forum. They plan and hold the forum in the community.

PrintOne to two 45 minute class periods

The learner will:

  • read about Malcolm X’s life and work,
  • organize and sponsor a forum on racism.

• The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Teacher Preparation 

The students may read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as homework or as part of a larger unit. As an alternative, assign parts of the book in small groups or the teacher may read parts aloud. 



service: to provide a community or organization with something that it needs

prejudice: a preformed opinion, usually an unfavorable one, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings, or inaccurate stereotypes

advocacy: active verbal support for a cause or position

nonviolence: the principle of refraining from using violence, especially as a means of protest

privilege: a right, immunity, benefit, or exemption enjoyed only by a person or persons beyond the advantages of most


Malcolm X, Alex Haley. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ballantine, 1987. ISBN-13: 978-0345350688


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Have the students brainstorm different ways we communicate. (We can communicate through the arts and writing as well as with our body language, facial expressions, implied messages, and direct communication, among other ways.) Ask which type of communication is most clear and effective (answers may vary). Ask the students whether there are topics that are difficult to talk about and therefore people avoid direct communication in those areas. Some of those areas may be cancer, body functions, death, family relationships, race, and religion.

    Tell the students that sometimes conflict can be avoided if difficult topics are addressed directly. Someone who facilitates a difficult discussion is acting for the common good and sharing a talent for communication and problem solving. Remind the students that a philanthropist gives time, talent, or treasure or takes action for the common good.

  2. Introduce the theme of the day: Forum on Racism. In this lesson, students read about Malcolm X and his efforts to address the issue of racism. Tell the students that they will act as philanthropists and hold a forum to discuss racism in its many forms, from institutional racism to privilege. Through their efforts, they may impact policy changes.

  3. Have students read The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Or they may read significant sections from the book. Discuss the themes ofthe book. Bring this to a discussion of racism in today's culture and in what forms racism shows up at school.

  4. Discussion:

    • How does Malcolm X’s understanding of racial identity change over the course of his life? Consider the different phases of Malcolm’s life.
    • What role do women play in the Autobiography of Malcolm X?
    • Why does Malcolm go into the details of his early life in Michigan, Boston, and New York?
    • How do the lessons and skills of Malcolm’s life on the street influence his demeanor as a political leader?
    • What, in Malcolm’s experiences, draws him to an activism more militant than the nonviolent activism of Martin Luther King, Jr.?
    • In one speech about the need for blacks to identify with the nonwhite peoples of the world, Malcolm X says, “You can’t hate Africa and not hate yourself.” What experiences lead him to make this statement?
    • How can talking about the issue of racism promote the common good?
  5. Review Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy of service and social activism (from Lesson One) and compare it to the leadership style of Malcolm X.

  6. Explain that students will participate in a discussion forum to raise awareness of an important social issue, racism.

  7. Invite students to investigate the issue further to learn more about its origins, causes, and impact on the community. Students may be able to research the topic through the following sites:

    • A Simple Question: Do Black Lives Matter? video
    • 75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice article
    • Institutionalized Racism: A Syllabus
    • Anti-Racism for Kids: An Age-by-Age Guide to Fighting Hate
    • Deconstructing White Privilege with Dr. Rob DiAngelo video


  8. Remind students that in learning about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, they learned about how one person can make a difference through service. Just as both demonstrated their dedication to help others through social activism, students will demonstrate service by holding a forum on the topic of racism. A forum is public meeting place for open discussion of various topics. Forums come in all shapes and sizes. The main objective is to provide an area where users can interact with questions, answers and discussions on a given topic.

  9. Promote student voice by asking students to offer their opinions and suggestions to design the service project/forum. Ask, "What experts can we invite to help communicate about the issue?"

  10. Empower students to invite speakers from local organizations to sit on a panel of experts and share their expertise. Be inclusive and invite people from a variety of backgrounds, professions, and community groups. Suggestions include: educators, students, law enforcement, nonprofit representatives, religious leaders, human rights organizations, civic groups, elected officials, and journalists.

    • A forum needs a moderator. Be sure your moderator is articulate and has knowledge of the subject (news personalities, elected officials, educators, or clergy).
    • Nonprofit organizations may promote the event by posting it in their newsletters or by creating and posting flyers and posters.
    • Students can promote their forum with posters, flyers, and free advertising or calendar listings in your local newspaper and on radio.
    • Invite reporters to cover the event so that it reaches even more people than those who attend.
  11. Reflection: After the forum, discuss with students why doing this project was important for the common good. Have students complete the following statement. I expected community members to  ______.

Cross Curriculum 

This lesson involves selecting an issue of concern to the students and then participating in a forum to raise awareness about the need for change.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define philanthropy to include giving and sharing; volunteering; and private individual action intended for the common good. Explain how a volunteer individual/group can act for the common good.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 03. Philanthropy and Economics
      1. Benchmark HS.9 Analyze a major social issue as a "commons problem" and suggest ways the civil society sector could help to resolve it.
    2. Standard PCS 05. Philanthropy and Government
      1. Benchmark HS.10 Discuss the results of private citizen voluntary action intended for the common good on public policy changes.
      2. Benchmark HS.12 Explain why private action is important to the protection of minority voices.
      3. Benchmark HS.14 Give examples of how citizens have used organizations in the civil society sector to hold people in power accountable for their actions on behalf of the public.
    3. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Describe how the common good was served in an historical event as a result of action by a civil society sector organization.
    4. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Utilize the persuasive power of written or oral communication as an instrument of change in the community, nation or the world.
      2. Benchmark HS.3 Participate in acts of democratic citizenship in the community, state or nation, such as petitioning authority, advocating, voting, group problem solving, mock trials or classroom governance and elections.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.4 Cite historical examples of citizen actions that affected the common good.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Provide a needed service.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Describe the goals of the project and their impact.
      3. Benchmark HS.3 Describe the task and the student role.
    2. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Evaluate progress on the service-learning project before, during, and after the project.