Attallah Shabazz, daughter of civil rights leader Malcolm X, spoke to Kentucky State University students Thursday about her father’s legacy – and urged them to embrace their own.
“It’s not just when you’re gone,” she said, to a standing-room-only crowd at the Bradford Hall Auditorium. “It’s how you live right now.”
Shabazz, the eldest of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz’s six daughters, is currently a scholar in residence at the University of Louisville. She spoke at the University of Kentucky Wednesday.
She told KSU students that they don’t have to wait until they are 30 or 40 to build their own legacy. That means “being your best self” now, she said, not seeking fame or notoriety later.
“I’m the daughter of a man who was assassinated – I don’t feel like a star. I would rather have him here,” she said. “I’m the daughter of a woman who was left without her husband.”
Shabazz’s father was killed in 1965 by three members of the Nation of Islam, a religious organization he’d left the year before. He was 39, and his eldest daughter was just 6.
“I’m the daughter who, in the middle of the night, would listen to my mother smother her tears, but not in the sunrise when she was making breakfast,” she said. “An autograph doesn’t fix that, a movie doesn’t fix that.”
Her mother died in 1997 from injuries sustained in a fire at her apartment. Her 12-year-old grandson was later charged with starting the blaze.
“As a daughter, I would just rather have a dad. I would rather just have a mom,” she said. “They were great people, whether you know their names or not.”
She encouraged students to thank their parents and grandparents, and the people who inspire them. Her father was a first-generation American, who was an honor student as an adolescent and wanted to be a lawyer.
According to Malcolm X’s official website, he lost interest in school after his favorite teacher said his dream wasn’t realistic.
He dropped out of school, worked odd jobs in Boston, and then traveled to Harlem, N.Y., where he committed petty crimes. By 1942 Malcolm was coordinating narcotics, prostitution and gambling rings.
“You only do my father justice when you really take into consideration the circumference of who he was,” Shabazz said.
Malcolm X would have celebrated his 85th birthday this year, and Shabazz said people approached her, wanting to do something to remember him. She didn’t want to appear on CNN or do interviews, she said, but focus on inspiring young people instead.
She formed Inspiration Dowries, a campaign for youth “in the spirit of humanity by any means necessary.”
The phrase “by any means necessary,” used by Malcolm X during a speech in the last year of his life, is often used in a violent or aggressive context, she said.
“That’s not the intent,” she said. “It doesn’t mean hurt somebody by any means necessary. It means be your best self by any means necessary.”
Shabazz has spent 35 years speaking throughout the United States, Europe, Central America, the Caribbean and Africa about the importance of culture, personal development and empowerment.
She also creates educational programs focused on diversity for schools, corporations, organizations and correctional systems.
Shabazz founded the Pilgrimage Foundation, Tapestry Bridge, Legacy Inc. and Malcolm X Shabazz Birthplace and Foundation, organizations that serve the underprivileged, principles she said she learned from her parents and grandparents.
Prime Minister of Belize named her ambassador at large in 2002, and she has served as a cabinet member of the Ministries of Human Development, Culture, Education and Youth and Sports and was a participant in U.S. State Department diplomatic briefing forums.
She works to create unity and understanding among cultures.
She is an author, penning articles and opinion pieces for national magazines and newspapers. She wrote the new foreword for The Autobiography of Malcolm X.