Ilyasah Shabazz’s mother Dr. Betty Shabazz experienced almost unbearable grief after the assassination of her husband, Malcolm X, but she didn’t let that pain close her heart.
Instead, she taught Shabazz and her five sisters the enduring importance of love. “I’m so grateful to know what love is and to be the recipient of her love,” Shabazz, Worcester State’s new Diversity Equity and Inclusion fellow, said at a kickoff event for a Worcester State book club on Nov. 8. “I think it’s that love that enabled me to become a compassionate person.”
That compassion, instilled by her mother became foundational in Ilyasah’s ongoing work as a social activist, TV producer, educator, and award-winning author of five books. A three-part book club at Worcester State is focusing on her book, The Awakening of Malcolm X, an historical novel on the personal transformation her father underwent beginning with his time in a Boston prison.
To join the book club, which meets again online Nov. 15 and in person Nov. 29, register here. Students who have registered for the book club can pick up a free copy of the book at the Office of Multicultural Affairs, LRC 136.
Shabazz’s book will be the featured selection for National African American Read-In and ALANA Preview Day for students of Worcester Public Schools, which will be held on campus in February. The book club serves as a run-up to African American Read-In Day, Maureen Stokes, assistant vice president for communications and marketing, said.
“We thought by giving the campus community the opportunity to engage with the Ilyasah before the event, it may encourage more synergy for African American Read-In Day,” she said.
The book club continues Nov. 15 with a virtual book discussion and wraps up with an in-person conversation and book signing with Shabazz at 2:30 on Nov. 29 in the Blue Lounge of the Student Center.
Shabazz was just shy of three years old when her father, an American Muslim minister and global civil rights icon, was assassinated on Feb. 21, 1965. Her mother kept her father’s memory alive by ensuring that she and her sisters learned about his character, morals, and values. She also kept his belongings, such as his clothes and books, and displayed pictures and paintings of him, in their home. “She wanted to make sure that we weren’t affected by the abrupt loss of our father’s love and presence,” Shabazz said during the book club kickoff.
She said she learned from her mother that self-respect, knowing one’s history and identity, and not accepting “no” or “I can’t” as an answer are important aspects of self-love. Her mother’s ability to overcome trauma and still contribute and find joy in her life served as an inspiration to her and her sisters, she said.
Shabazz described her father as someone who introduced a human rights agenda to the civil rights movement, demanding equality and justice for all. “He emphasized the need for progress in healing the wounds of discrimination rather than just removing the source of oppression,” she said.
As the daughter of Malcolm X, Shabazz faced a legacy that brought both misconceptions and challenges, but she said her upbringing enabled her to overcome obstacles. “Because I was raised with love, peace, and joy, I could find strength by focusing on my own values and my relationship with the creator,” she said.
Shabazz said she wrote The Awakening of Malcolm X to reach out to young people who find themselves at a crossroads and to provide a more accurate profile of her father. The book won the Vogue 2023 Teen Choice Award for young readers.
She also shared personal experiences working with marginalized youth in a lock-up facility and a group home, and what it was like mentoring young people in those settings.
She learned that marginalized youth, particularly young People of Color, often struggle with understanding and embracing their own identity and heritage. She emphasized the importance of learning about the significant contributions and history of African civilizations in order to instill pride and purpose in young people. “When we look at world history, it usually begins in Rome or Greece but if we know that archeologists and scientists continue to uncover that humanity began in Africa, then let’s learn about the significant contributions of the empires of Egypt, Mali, and Benin,” she said. “Let’s learn about that foundation of human history. I am really inspired when I see young People of Color embrace that history and feel proud of who they are.”
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