by Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writer
Malcolm X’s wife, Betty Shabazz, was pregnant with twins Malikah and Malaak when the tragedy occurred on Feb. 21, 1965, at the Audobon Ballroom in Manhattan.
Left to raise six daughters without her husband, Ilyasah Shabazz told an engaged crowd gathered at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary that her mother, Betty Shabazz, did an incredible job raising her and her five sisters.
It wasn’t just the love that Betty Shabazz showed Ilyasah and her sisters, but it was the way in which she portrayed Malcolm X in the household that Ilyasah said she’s thankful for to this day. “I’m so grateful to my mother,” Ilyasah Shabazz said at the Feb. 6 event sponsored by 1 Hood Media. “It was important to her that her six girls grew up understanding that their father didn’t leave them, but that he loved them and that he was still with them. She kept his presence very much alive in our household.”
Ilyasah Shabazz said she was “sheltered” for most of her pre-adult years. Her mother placed her in a prep school for high school, and Ilyasah would spend summers in Vermont, learning how to play the guitar, among other things. It wasn’t until she got to college that she saw the power of just “who she was”—the daughter of Malcolm X.
In fact, students at State College of New York at New Paltz had already christened her to be the chairperson of the school’s Black Student Union—before she ever stepped foot on campus.
“They wanted this Kung Fu Fighter,” Ilyasah Shabazz told the crowd at the seminary. “I never had an experience where so many people were relying on me.”
The reality was, Ilyasah Shabazz was an introvert. A recluse, she said about herself. She wasn’t the militant that many students thought she would be. But over time, that began to change, as Ilyasah soon realized that the real world was different from the sheltered world her mother had provided.
Here Ilyasah Shabazz was, a person who received her undergraduate degree in 1983, and thereafter, a master’s degree from Fordham University, all with the self-love she had learned to have from her mother. But over the years, she realized a lot of young African Americans didn’t have that same love of self instilled in them.
Thus, in addition to her professional career in the entertainment industry, she had a heart designated to uplifting African American children. When she was the coordinator for the Office of Academic Affairs of the City University of New York, Ilyasah Shabazz organized training workships to encourage higher education for inner-city high school dropouts, according to a biography from The Historymakers.
Later, with a successful stint as author with the 2002 autobiography, “Growing up X,” Ilyasah created books for children, most notably, “Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up To Be Malcolm X.” The book details Malcolm Little, who was a natural born leader, but was confronted with intolerance and tragedies, his faith was threatened. Malcolm Little had to learn how to be strong and hold on to his individuality. The message in the book for children is that one is to strive to live to their highest potential.
Ilyasah Shabazz didn’t leave the seminary stage without hammering the message: It takes a village to raise a child. A village raised her, and, in fact, a village raised her father, Malcolm X.
“There’s this myth that Malcolm went to jail and then miraculously became Malcolm X,” Ilyasah Shabazz told the Pittsburgh crowd. “…Instead of realizing that it takes a village to raise a child. His mother was the national coordinating secretary for the Universal Negro Improvement Association in the 1920s, and it was a movement that commanded millions of followers worldwide. And his father was the chapter president of this organization. When you have two conscious, forward-thinking, activist parents, you make sure your children are equipped to navigate through societal injustices.”
Ilyasah said her father was always kind, compassionate, humorous, witty, brillant, and “president of his seventh-grade class. He wanted to be a lawyer,” she said.
Malcolm X met his future wife at the Nation of Islam temple in Harlem in 1956. The two married in 1958, and had two daughters, Attalah and Qubilah, before Ilyasah was born on July 22, 1962. All three daughters were in attendance when Malcolm X was assassinated, as was Betty Shabazz.
“To see her husband gunned down in front of her and still be kind and still be loving and still be giving, she never stopped. So I’m just so grateful for her exemplary model and her unconditional love that she gave me,” Ilyasah Shabazz told the Pittsburgh audience at the seminary, “because it is important to understand, if we don’t love ourselves, we’re not going to love each other.”
(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: ILYASAH SHABAZZ speaks to an audience at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, Feb. 6. – Photo by J.L. Martello)