At age seven, Julia Young saw a poster of Malcolm X in a grocery store. She thought the black nationalist advocate was somehow related to her dad, since his first name is also Malcolm. No matter that their skin, ages and background were different. She would come to learn that they did have something in common – both fought for civil and human rights.
Julia’s upbringing set her on a path to advocacy that endures to this day with her father, now 73, at her side.
A house filled with siblings and critters
The Young house was a boisterous place when Julia was growing up with her four brothers and sisters - and a variety of pets. Along with dogs, cats, parakeets, fish, and turtles, the Youngs kept an animal not commonly seen in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
“The most exotic we had at one time was a miniature goat,” Julia recalls while explaining her parents’ “liberal” pet policy. “His name was Dimitri.”
Future career seedlings
An attorney who has devoted his life’s work to social justice, Malcolm would take Julia on trips that gave her an opportunity to observe court cases and legal proceedings, including a journey to a juvenile facility in Oregon, far from home.
“My specialty was sentencing. Julia came to Oregon with me somewhere around 1988 or '89 when I was consulting with juvenile defenders on a project,” Malcolm recalls. “I think she saw the inside of a juvenile detention center. She drew a portrait of a sad kid in a cell, peering out of the window in the cell door.”
The Youngs also took part in marches in the nation’s capital. Before fatherhood, Malcolm protested the Vietnam War. Years later, parents and children marched against the first Iraq War.
“It [activism] was just a natural part of our family culture.,” Julia says, adding that her parents treated her and her siblings with respect and an expectation of maturity beyond their years. These formative activities became the basis for what would happen next.
Dad/daughter worlds combine
So it came as no surprise to Malcolm when she volunteered to fly to Texas last year to serve as a Spanish interpreter, preparing immigrant women for a U.S. political asylum screening. But he was pleasantly surprised when she asked him to join her for his legal expertise.
Thus began their father-daughter teamwork at the South Texas Family Residential Center helping newcomers navigate America’s complex immigration system.
The team had initial rough patches to overcome. Julia assumed that she knew better questions to ask immigrants than her dad, adding, however, she soon “came to respect him for [his] 40-plus years of interviewing” experience. Malcom’s probing and difficult questions prompted asylum seekers to reveal information that helped the Youngs build their case for asylum.
Even so, Julia would warn Malcolm when she sensed a client was getting upset. “Those were good flags because it was a signal to go easy and back off,” Malcolm recalls.
Dad and daughter in handcuffs
Now a parent herself, Julia takes her children to marches and demonstrations just as her parents took her decades ago. But for one recent protest, she left her kids at home – a 2019 demonstration at the U.S. Capitol over immigrant children. Part of the protest included a planned act of civil disobedience, which Julia describes as “out of her comfort zone.” She emailed her dad and asked, “Do you want to go do this and do you want to maybe get arrested?”
Malcolm answered, “The family that gets arrested together, stays together.”
Malcolm and Julia joined a crowd of 200 protestors, singing and praying outside the Russell Senate office building. Then Malcolm and Julia entered the rotunda with a small group. They formed a circle around other demonstrators who lay on the floor in the shape of a human cross while clutching photos of immigrant children. When the group ignored police orders to disperse, Malcolm and Julia were arrested along with the others. Men and women were separated and handcuffed.
Julia described it as a “weird experience … much more disturbing for me to see my dad getting put into handcuffs,” since he’s an “older gentleman.”
At the same time, Malcom worried about Julia. Amid the chaos, their eyes locked for a shared moment of loving care, each trying to console the other. “There’s my daughter looking over to reassure me and make sure I’m all right,” reminisces Malcolm. “So what father is not going to cherish that kind of a memory?”
Both laugh when VOA asks about their plans for Father’s Day. It’s not a family tradition and instead viewed as an “invented holiday.” For them, the father-daughter bond is built on years of love and common purpose - and affirmed and nourished every day of the year.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a VOA series highlighting the accomplishments of father-daughter duos across America - and celebrating cross-generational ties and common purpose between fathers and daughters ahead of Father’s Day, June 21.