On Feb. 11, the Undergraduate Student Government at the University of Connecticut hosted the event “Melting Pot: Multi-Cultural Diplomacy/Multi-National Patriotism,” a moderated conversation between activist and educator Ilyasah Shabazz and UConn student Shane Young. During the discussion, Shabazz preached that education, mutual respect and self-love are integral to the fight against racism and discrimination on both the national and global stage.
Shabazz began her keynote speech by discussing the importance of education in the fight against racism, set against the backdrop of George Floyd’s brutal murder and the subsequent protests that broke out across the entire country last summer.
“I see my role in this quest as an educator,” Shabazz said. She stressed the necessity of creating school curricula that highlight the truth of American history by including Black, indigenous and all people of color’s history rather than just the typical w
Whitewashed rhetoric. Additionally, Shabazz claimed, it’s important to include lessons on the great ancient civilizations of Africa in a similar manner to which Ancient Greek and Roman history is taught.
Shabazz spoke about her father, the late Malcolm X, and the legacy he left behind. She recounted the moment of his assassination on Feb. 21, 1965, during which she, her sisters and her mother were present. Although many have said that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were very different, Shabazz emphasized that “their respective moral principles enabled them to unite.”
Lauded as a “human rights strategist ahead of his time,” Malcolm X entered the spotlight of the Civil Rights Movement in his 20s and was one of the premier advocates for including a human rights agenda in the movement. As a devout Muslim, X made the hajj to Mecca (with Shabazz ultimately following in her father’s footsteps) and worked to include Africa and the entire African diaspora into a single international struggle for freedom and independence.
During the Q&A portion of the discussion, Shabazz discussed the essential role love played in the Shabazz household. The late Dr. Betty Shabazz kept X’s essence, values and morals as integral parts of her daughters’ upbringings; Shabazz noted that her father remained a part of household conversations for as long as she can remember.
In addition to upholding X’s legacy, Betty taught her six daughters about the significant contributions that Islam, women and the people of the African diaspora made to the world. In this way, Shabazz grew up with both a solid sense of self and a feeling of self-love. It is what inspired her to champion youth empowerment, with a specific focus on at-risk youth, as an adult.
“I believe that every child deserves the opportunity to know that they are loved and that they deserve equality and education,” Shabazz said.
Shabazz also noted the importance of unity in movement work, citing that multi-racial and intergenerational aspects are key.
“It’s our responsibility to understand that we are one,” Shabazz said, “We are one continued legacy.” Shabazz also stressed the fact that Black power is not exclusionary, but rather, rooted in the idea that freedom is total, following the idea that “no one is free until we are all free.”
Shabazz’s answer to the last question, pertaining to the key to the liberation of all people, was fairly straightforward but also deceptively difficult: the American education system.
“We have to learn how to control our narrative.”
“If we continue to be misinformed, we are never learning how to love,” Shabazz said. “We have to learn how to control our narrative.”
“I was truly honored to be able to speak with Ilyasah, the daughter of one of the most prominent activists of American history,” Young, a eighth-semester finance major with a minor in Africana studies, said. “Her quote about our legacy being shaped by our passions is an important maxim for everyone tuning in to take away as college students figuring out their identity and contributions in this world.”
The third daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz, Shabazz is not only a professor but also an author of both fiction and nonfiction works, as well as a global humanitarian activist. She has written multiple books, most notably her memoir “Growing Up X” about her childhood and the children’s book “Malcolm Little” about her late father’s childhood, both of which were nominated for NAACP Image Awards.
As a humanitarian, Shabazz served as a member of the U.S. delegation that accompanied President Bill Clinton to South Africa to commemorate the election of Nelson Mandela as well as served as a member of the U.S. Interfaith Leadership Delegation with the organization Malaria No More during which she traveled to Mali and West Africa. Shabazz is especially passionate about youth and female empowerment and continues to keep both of her parents’ legacies alive through her activism.
The discussion is part of USG’s Justice Now Initiative, which was conceived by Student Development Chair Christine Jorquera, USG Alumni Senator Darren Mack and Student Development Deputy Chair Rita Tsafack-Tonleu. Young described the mission of the Justice Now Initiative as serving “to bring truth to power” by inviting prominent activists and artists from the Black community to speak.
The next event to take place in the Justice Now Initiative will occur on Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. “The Paradox of Education for Black & Brown Children,” a moderated conversation between James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University Eddie Glaude and UConn student Iyanna Crocket, will be available via livestream the day of the event. For more information on the rest of the Justice Now Initiative, go to the USG Instagram or USG website.