Fast 15 with Odell Bizzell: What Dr. King and Malcolm X Would Teach Today’s Leaders


Casey J. Cornelius (00:05):

Hey everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of the ForCollegeForLife podcast. My name is Casey Cornelius. I am the founder and president of ForCollegeForLife. I am also the host of this podcast. And in each episode, what we work to do is highlight the important contributions that our speakers and consultants and authors are making to the conversations that matter most on college campuses and beyond. As we celebrate our 10th anniversary this year, it’s important for us to also consider those who have led conversations. Look, if we’re going to be America’s leading college speaking agency, we need to also highlight the people who are leading those conversations. In today’s episode, someone who’s I’m sure not a stranger to any of you who’ve been paying attention to college speaking for years and years and years, is my pleasure to bring to the mic none other than Odell Bizzell, Odell, I know we’ve only got it like 15 minutes, and I know we’re speakers, and I know we can talk about these things for a couple of hours, but I really appreciate you spending some time today on this really important topic.

Odell Bizzell (01:12):

Hey, it’s my pleasure, man. Excited to be here. Always excited to be a part of the home team ForCollegeForLife.

Casey J. Cornelius (01:19):

That’s right. So here’s the question. Over the last several years, I think there has been a interest in more fully exploring the messages of civil rights leaders, and specifically I’m thinking about how this comes up every year on Dr. King’s birthday and how there’s almost been a pushback around reducing really complex messages and people and movements to just quotes, quotes that maybe make us all feel good. And for years, you’ve been ahead of this topic with a program that asks, what would Dr. King and Malcolm X teach today’s leaders? So I really want to just toss you this question and get out of your way. First of all, what are we missing when we reduce really complex leaders to simple quotes? And two, without giving away all the good stuff, what would those two teach today’s leaders?

Odell Bizzell (02:21):

Yeah, that’s a great question. And we’re all human beings, everybody listening to this and the complexities of the human experience go beyond words. And many times we look at individuals like Dr. King, like Malcolm X and many others as caricatures, as not real people, because many of us, especially those that are listening, we weren’t alive or we weren’t conscious to understand what the world was going through. So when we share a quote about Dr. King on King Day, it might encapsulate a singular thought that he had as a 30 something year old black man in the 1960s. But the complexities of his human experience and what he was trying to do are often miss. And so what would Dr. King and Malcolm X teach today’s leaders today? I want to really quickly talk about where this came from. And whenever I go and do presentations, it’s always about leadership and diversity, making those things make sense.


And when I was in my professional life working as a detention officer for the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department, I was often, Casey asked to have these mediating conversations between inmates and supervision, I think is because of the way I looked. And of course, because that they didn’t look. And so I was the, for lack of better words, I was the safe black guy who could be that. And so it was kind of interpreting in a lot of different ways. And oh, he didn’t really mean that, didn’t really say that. And that’s been my role. And one time when I was working at the sheriff’s department, somebody called me, Martin Luther King said, oh, you Martin Luther King, he’s like, you, the safe one. You the one that they send in when there’s trouble. And I took offense to that. I took offense. I was like, what you mean like Martin Luther King?


Nah, man. If anything, I’m more like Malcolm X. And like, nah, bro, you like Dr. King. And so that back and forth started way back then. And so when I started speaking professionally, people would say the same types of things. They would say, oh, well, you come in, you make us feel good about this versus other people make add about it or whatnot. And I took it and I used it and I elevated it. And so the conversation of the dynamic between the two is people think Martin Luther King, he was the safe one. He was the one that he didn’t want no trouble. And Malcolm X wanted all the trouble. He wanted everything. And so my goal for the conversation to say, Hey, we’re all a little bit of both. We’re all a little bit of both. We all want, if somebody attacks us, we want to say something, want to defend ourselves.


We want to defend the people that are in our families or in our communities, just like people think Malcolm X did. Well, Dr. King want to make peace and want to move forward. And so I think what they would teach us is they would teach us to first of all know the system that we’re in, whatever that is. And this doesn’t have to be a strictly diversity, equity, inclusion. It could be in your community, at your college, in your office, know what you’re in, understand the fight that you have ahead of you. They would teach that also. They would teach for you to understand and know how to communicate. How do we communicate an outcome based solution, not a gripe. And I think I get a lot of pushback when I give the presentation at that point because people think I’m making a way for people to just be jerks and they can just do whatever they want.


No, what is the solution that you want to bring to the table if somebody harms you in any way? Okay, how do we solve solution in this professional setting? How do we solve this problem in a community setting? How do we solve this problem? Because Dr. King and Malcolm X both brought solutions. Now, you might not have agreed with the solutions, but they both brought solutions to the table and then people made decisions from there. And then lastly, I believe that they would’ve taught us that we need to collaborate better with people that might have different methods, but have the same goal. Because both of them had the same goal. They had different methods. They only met one time, Casey for about 15 minutes. The length of this, the this episode, that’s the only time they met. And there’s pictures. If you see pictures online of them, that was that time that they met, and they were at odds a lot.


Malcolm X did a lot of name calling, and Dr. King did a lot of name calling behind closed doors if you read up on some of it. But he never did it publicly. I think if they were alive today, they would’ve both said, Hey, if we could kind of good cop, bad cop this thing, we can move things forward in another way. But also, I want to submit this, and I know this recording is going to come out after my birthday. My birthday is a week from tomorrow. As of this recording, I’ll be 39 Casey. Guess how old they were when they were assassinated? Was it 39? They were both 39. Wow. And so look at myself. I’m still a young veal man. I still like to play around with wife chasing around the house a little bit. I like to have some fun. But they were going through all of this heavy stuff underneath all the scrutiny, underneath all of the death threats. And eventually they weren’t threats. They were going through all of that stuff, trying to lift up a community. And so I encapsulate all of that by saying, we have to learn how to work together if we want a common goal. Now, if we just want to complain about stuff, listen, there’s time for that, and there’s space for that. But if you want to make a singular change in your community, in your campus or your company or wherever you are, then you’ve got to fall to one of, or a combination of those things.

Casey J. Cornelius (08:54):

I want clarify one thing, Gotel, by the way, so much information just packed into that, even the idea that they only met for 15 minutes. When you said someone who looks like me, I thought you were making a statement about how handsome you are. I know that you’ve been known to work that into conversations too. I do have a bit of a follow-up question. So I wonder your take on reducing really complex people to quotes or to anecdotes without taking the time to fully investigate, right? So you see a lot of people, Dr. King’s birthday, black History Month coming up, who will share a quote, but maybe not necessarily understand the context or not share the quote that feels a little more direct, I guess we could say, are you personally and professionally okay with people? I’ve heard the argument, you got to start somewhere, and if this feel good, quote is the place where you start. Cool. I’ve also heard people say, look, don’t share something that’s just performative that the next 364 days of the year you don’t live up to. Where do you land on that?

Odell Bizzell (10:06):

Yeah, that’s tough because I think there are people that are trying, and we see it all the time when we go to different campuses, people come up to us, and I know you talk about care and different, what can I do? And that first step might be to share a quote. Maybe that’s the first step. But I always tell people that are looking at an action of somebody that they don’t truly know. It’s all performative. You don’t know why they’re doing it. You don’t know their heart, you don’t understand their journey. And people come into consciousness at different places. That’s a quote from Malcolm X. We can’t look down on people because they evolve differently. And so I think personally, it’s okay, but I would challenge everybody to get to know the people just in general, not just Dr. King or Malcolm X or any civil rights icon or anybody.


Just get to know who that person was, because I’m going to say this, I hope it doesn’t offend, but I wanted to challenge. I’m sure that there are leaders like Stalin and Hitler that said some really deep dope things back in their day. Would you share that quote? Of course, it’s very different. But if you shared it without knowing who that person was, it could hurt and it could harm. And so whoever’s quote you share, check out the person a little bit. What were they about? And that makes you a better informed person because many people will share Dr. King’s quotes, but the next line is him talking very direct in the quote or letters from the Birmingham jail or whatever, wherever they share it from. So I would just, before you share content, get context, that’s the overall takeaway from that.

Casey J. Cornelius (12:12):

How about that for a quote before you share content, get context. I like that. Hey, listen, I’m going to take just a moment of privilege as the host of this podcast, and I’m just going to put this out to the world. Hopefully somebody hears it. When you do share those quotes, especially you organizations, campuses, businesses out there, do me a favor. Don’t put your logo on the quote. There’s something in me that just is deeply offended when Home Depot puts their logo on Dr. King. I don’t get it. I don’t understand it. It’s just completely unnecessary. But listen, talking about content and context, I do want to make a small plug. Please make sure if you haven’t already, to check out That’s O-D-E-L-L to learn more about Odell, his signature work, et cetera. If a program such as this sounds good for your campus or organization, and by the way, you don’t only have to book it in February, I’m going to beat that drum for the rest of my life. You can book this program at any point in time. Odell is not only equipped, but also excited to bring it to you. odell, where else could people connect with you? Where’s the best spots?

Odell Bizzell (13:22):

You can use, my website. Also on LinkedIn. I’m the only Odell Bizzell on LinkedIn, I promise. Unless there’s a fake account. I don’t know if they do that on LinkedIn.

Casey J. Cornelius (13:34):

Yeah, not on LinkedIn. But yeah, find him on LinkedIn. Do not mistake him for Odell Beckham, Jr. Similar but not the same. Different Odell, you’ll find him on there. He’s always posting a lot of great stuff, a lot of good content. So please make sure folks, that you not only check out the websites, also follow him on social media and let us know whether or not a program like this might be of good benefit to your organization, campus, or staff development community. Until next time, everyone, thank you so much for joining us. Please make sure that you do the thing that you’re supposed to do with podcasts and share and subscribe and review, and also send this link to people who might be interested in this content so it can get in their hands, ears, mind as well. And we look forward to the next time. Thanks everybody. Be well.


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