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A conversation with Ilyasah Shabazz, professor, author and daughter of Malcolm X
Ilyasah Shabazz

A conversation with Ilyasah Shabazz, professor, author and daughter of Malcolm X

January 13, 2023 at 8:00am

FIU's 32nd annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Celebration, a monthlong series of festivities, kicked off today with a breakfast featuring Ilyasah Shabazz – professor, author and daughter of Malcolm X – as the 2023 Dotson Family MLK Keynote Speaker.

This year's celebration highlights the theme "Daring to Dream: the Radical Imagination of a New Generation" and features signature events throughout January, including the MLK Day of Service, Robert M. Coatie Youth Forum and Peace Walk, Liberty City MLK Parade, Black Student Union MLK Dinner, an exhibition at the Patricia and Phillip Frost Art Museum, and more. 

Shabazz has authored five books and served as project advisor for the award-winning PBS documentary, “Prince Among Slaves.” She is also co-chairperson of the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. In her work to preserve the legacy of her parents, she has dedicated herself to institution building and intergenerational leadership development with the tenants of diversity, equity and inclusion. She is also a member of the boards of multiple education and service organizations.

Members of the MLK celebration committee posed the following questions to Shabazz prior to her campus visit:

Q: Beyond your biography, what are some things that make you you?

A: I love to read, write, take walks, and be outside. I am a big believer that we need to fuel ourselves with goodness and love in order to continue to do work like my father and MLK.

A: The new generation, a.k.a. the younger generation, must take ownership and responsibility for their lives and the greater good; identity, purpose, and legacy are interconnected. I think it’s crucial to find your voice—to know the love of who you are at your core, so you do not look to others for validation of your worth, and then to find your purpose for both self and others, grounded with a focus on improvement and change ultimately for the collective us. This is what life symbolizes. Recognizing these lessons allows for a more fulfilling life rather than having epiphanies when we or our loved ones fall ill.

Q: As FIU celebrates Dr. King’s life and legacy, what are some discussions you believe he would most want us to have?

A: Citizens of the world recognize, as my father said, that "those in power have misused it" and are demanding change, rolling up their sleeves, and willing to do the necessary systemic work themselves. This generation realizes we need people in positions of power willing and able to accomplish the goals of "all" instead of the goal of "one." Sadly, there are entire populations marginalized and locked out of prosperity, unable to lead dignified lives based on systemic historical “hogwash”—a false systemic imposition of inferiority and superiority complexes. While these past years have made us aware of our collective wounds, we must reform the unjust, separate sets of rules under which America (and the world) operates. America’s truth and its history must be taught to these new generations of students with textbooks that teach every child that Black history is American history—and that American history also includes Hispanic, Native American, and Asian history. Our students deserve a fully comprehensive curriculum that does not falsely glorify one and ridicule/pigeonhole others. There is no American history unless every voice is heard on the pages of our textbooks. It is the beauty of our country—out of many, one!

A: In the 1950s, when young people marched, protested, and organized for equal access to education, housing, employment, and others, my father said, "We demand our human rights as your brother, ordained by God." My father was ultimately led by his service to God. He recognized ill will and systemic practice against one is against all human beings across the globe. Hence, he sought solutions to restoring the true origin history and empowerment of first world nations relative to the urgency for this generation of critical thinkers to do the necessary work. I learned most about my father's humanity through my mother, Dr. Betty Shabazz, who was an exemplary model of a victimless mentality. Whether Malcolm was my father or not, it is his principled work that guides me in my everyday efforts, and I tribute to my mother for that.