How does Malcolm X’s daughter feel about Martin Luther King Jr.?
Popular culture suggests the philosophies of the two civil rights icons clashed, after all. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ilyasah Shabazz, the third eldest daughter of X and Betty Shabazz, aligned herself more with her father’s approach to liberation. That, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.
“We do not have to choose sides,” Shabazz said Friday morning to an audience at Florida International University’s 32nd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Breakfast. “Both men shared the same goal of challenging an already unjust world. So what they had philosophical differences? My father’s point of view was human rights and Dr. King’s point of view was civil rights and we need both to accomplish our collective goal.”
The gathering was just the beginning of a weekend’s worth of activities centered around FIU’s theme “Daring to Dream: The Radical Imagination of a New Generation.” During the breakfast, students who won a scholarship essay contest about the theme were announced. FIU’s celebration of the MLK holiday will continue throughout the weekend with students, faculty and alumni participating in a day of service on Saturday followed by the Liberty City MLK parade on Monday.
In her speech, Shabazz challenged the audience to continue fighting for equality while emphasizing the role of education as a tool for radical change.
“We must take responsibility for the holistic development of all of our students and communities ensuring the curriculum has the power to bring about change: personal change, institutional change, systemic change,” said Shabazz, an author, professor and chair of the Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center.
Shabazz spoke with the same fervor that made X such a renowned orator. The audience, comprised of hundreds of students, educators and community stakeholders dressed formally in suits and dresses, hung on every word, erupting into applause on numerous occasions as she both expounded on her father’s philosophy and humanized him. In doing so, she sought to highlight the importance of community not just in X’s activism journey, but for everyone.
“When we allow others, however, to control our narrative, what we hear is that you can go to prison an illiterate and miraculously walk out as Malcolm X, an icon,” Shabazz said. “Such a narrative diminishes the importance of family, it diminishes the importance of one’s foundation, of his or her morals, values, mentors.”
That foundation, Shabazz continued, was laid by her father’s parents, Earl and Louise Little, who were staunch supporters of Marcus Garvey’s Black nationalist movement. Activism made them a target: white supremacists later murdered Earl while Louise was eventually institutionalized against her will.
“Malcolm’s parents were models of selflessness and sacrifice as they deferred personal freedom for the betterment of society much like Malcolm X and Dr. King,” Shabazz said.
At times, Shabazz seemed to be directly addressing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who has declared the Sunshine State where “woke comes to die.” Efforts to limit how schools teach history and civics have been a hallmark of the governor’s tenure ever since the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests for racial justice. Shabazz, however, deemed “education the most powerful tool to combat systemic racism.”
“America’s truth and its history must be taught to its students,” Shabazz said. “Textbooks must teach every child that Black history is American history and that American history also includes Latin American history, Native American history and Asian American history.”
Here again a thunderous applause arose from the audience. As the noise died down, Shabazz doubled down one last time:
“There is no American history unless each and every voice is heard on the pages of our children’s textbooks.”