Friday, September 22, 2023

A guiding light: Ilyasah Shabazz appearance closes Black History Month on campus 


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Photo by James Cessna, courtesy of MTSU

Story by Baylah Close

As Ilyasah Shabazz stepped onto the stage to speak as Middle Tennessee State University’s Black History Month Keynote Speaker, the energy of the room elevated as the crowd welcomed her.

Shabazz is the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, prominent civil rights leaders during the 1950s.

The author is the trustee for the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center, the Malcolm X Foundation and the Harlem Symphony Orchestra. She is an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice as well.

Shabazz has made her life’s work into encouraging people to find strength and purpose in their surroundings. She feels that how educators cheer their students on plays a crucial role in student development. One of her favorite phrases is “The youth of today are the future of tomorrow.”

An audience member watches closely as author and educator Ilyasah Shabazz, right, signs a book for her after Shabazz’s keynote address Monday, Feb. 27, in the Student Union’s ballroom to conclude Middle Tennessee State University’s 2023 Black History Month activities. (MTSU photo by James Cessna)

“When young people are at a crossroads with questions and uncertainty, they need educators who are willing to guide them; Educators that carry responsible forward-thinking adults, who are willing to nurture and protect their way back home with truth. When we tell students what they can’t do, we create a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Shabazz said. 

Shabazz travels through the country talking to students, educators and people of all backgrounds. Topics of discussion are her parents, civil rights and ensuring that her father’s legacy is remembered accurately.  

Her father, Malcom X, was a prominent figure during the civil rights movement. He was arrested in 1946 and served 7 years in prison. He then went onto become a minister and national spokesman for the Nation of Islam. In his role as spokesman he established new mosques in cities such as Detroit and Harlem.

“Malcolm X did not emerge in a vacuum. He did not go to prison as an illiterate teen and miraculously walk out as Malcolm X the icon. That’s a false narrative,” Shabazz said.

She discussed his time debating for Norfolk Penaly Colony Prison’s team, which debated and won against several ivy league schools.

“Malcolm studied the dictionary not because he couldn’t read or write, but because he was fascinated by etymology—the root of words. He worked hard to become his best self, and that’s exactly what he became,” Shabazz said.  

Shabazz compared and contrasted her father’s role as a civil rights leader and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s. She debated aspects like their differences in philosophical values. King is often seen as a nonviolent leader while Malcolm X is seen as more radical. Shabbaz said two prominent leaders aren’t as different as the world portrays them to be.

“My father’s point of view was human rights and Dr. King’s point of view was civil rights. We need both to accomplish our collective goals of peace, freedom and human dignity,” Shabazz said. 

Shabazz strives to create a narrative of equal rights for all people, education for at-risk youth and empowerment for girls and women.  

To contact Lifestyles Editor Destiny Mizell, email more news, visit, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter at @Sidelines_News.

For more news, visit, or follow us on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines or on Twitter and Instagram at @mtsusidelines.

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