Ilyasah Shabazz at Drew: ‘This Generation of Leaders Gets It’
Daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz urges students to realize their power.
February 2017 – “Own your power!”
That was the core advice that Ilyasah Shabazz gave to students at Drew University during an inspiring address that explored the legacies of her parents, Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. Repeatedly, Shabazz urged young people to realize their capacity to work together to better humanity, not just for a particular group but everyone. By helping someone else, she reasoned, you help yourself.
“When one of us is mistreated, all of us are mistreated. When one’s human rights are violated, all of our rights are violated,” said Shabazz, an activist, author and professor. “Our humanity must be respected by one another and our humanity must be protected by the law.”
An iconic father
Shabazz’ words echoed those of her iconic father, who redefined civil rights abuses in America as a human rights problem. As he said in 1964, “We can never get civil rights in America until our human rights are first restored. We will never be recognized as citizens until we are first recognized as humans.”
Shabazz went even further to personalize the issue, suggesting—in response to a student question—that how you respond to injustice defines who you are.
“You can’t turn your back to it because … what does that say about you, if you do nothing?” Shabazz said. “If you see that there is wrong, that someone’s human rights are being violated and you do nothing about it? What does that say about your character, your value system? What does that say about you?
“My mother didn’t raise me that way—to turn a blind eye—and I’m very grateful because it is a much more rich life, a much more meaningful and purpose-driven life than just living life in your own little bubble and pretending that the violations that are occurring around you, aren’t.”
Praising young people
About 250 attended the address at The Concert Hall, which was organized by the Muslim Students Association. The night began with Drew Theological School student Saffet Catovic reading passages from the Quran and ended with Shabazz signing books and taking photos with students. In between, Shabazz spoke fervently about her parents, the values they instilled in her and the promise of young adults. At one point, she saluted the intelligence of “this generation of leaders” by asking for a round of applause.
“Young people have the ability to organize themselves through social media at the touch of a button all across the world,” Shabazz added, echoing what Newark Mayor Ras Baraka told Drew students in the fall of 2015. “We’ve seen it with the Dakota access pipeline. We’ve seen it with the women’s march. We’ve seen it with the Muslim ban. It’s a call to you, a calling to your compassion, to your leadership, to your power.”
Shabazz, who teaches at John Jay College in New York and spoke at the Women’s March on Washington last month, noted the importance of thinking strategically about societal issues and proposing solutions. And while hashtags and slogans can be effective, they’re not enough, according to Shabazz.
In sum, she challenged students to use their education to serve others, just as her father and mother had. And above all, she urged them to be compassionate.
“Keep pushing, persevere,” Shabazz said. “You’ll find that all of your studies, all of your experiences, the challenges, the joys have everything to do with whom you’ll become.”