Atallah Shabazz, eldest daughter of Malcolm X, spoke to a full-capacity crowd at CSUN in the University Student Union on Monday.
As she gazed upon an audience consisting of more than 200 students and faculty, Shabazz opened the doorway to her past, retelling accounts and memories of her father, while addressing the present, expressing an overall advocacy for unity among people.
“The fact that we can share, get together, interact, pass the torch, ‘each one reach one,’ is essential to our core development,” Shabazz said as she ushered in the idea of a collective togetherness through learning from one another. Pointing out the divisions between humans as misinterpretations and misrepresentations, Shabazz asked that the audience members do their best to represent themselves and their culture in the best way available to cast aside these social divisions. In doing so, Shabazz said, people can learn from each other, thus creating a bond.
CSUN’s Muslim Student Association hosted the event in a joint effort with the Black Student Union and the CSUN chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Even with the audience relating to the idea of unity, the leader’s assassination was an unavoidable interjection during the forum. “I live it,” was Shabazz’s straight-forward, honest response to one audience member who apologized for bringing up the memory of her father’s death during the question and answer session. She addressed her father’s death with the reality of her feelings, worded unapologetically. Shabazz told the audience that to everyone else, the day of her father’s assassination, Feb. 21, is just one day out of the year, yet her family has to relive that day for the rest of their lives.
“I am a woman whose dad died for the movement, plain and simple,” Shabazz said. “I’d rather have my dad back.”
In Shabazz’s recount of him, Malcolm X was as much a prominent father figure as a best friend while she was growing up. Shabazz never realized the magnanimous character of her father in a single instance of a “wow” moment, but rather it was felt all throughout her life with him, she said.
“What she had to say was real and authentic because she knew her father,” said CSUN student James Darby IV about Shabazz’s experiences with Malcolm X. “No one knows her father the way she knew her father.”
With her first-hand experiences of Malcolm as her proof, Shabazz disputed some alleged facts that was commonly said about her father. One of these alleged facts is about Malcolm X being a notorious hustler and pimp during his teenage years.
“How much of a pimp and hustler can you be between the age of 14 and 17?” asked Shabazz, a question that was answered with a collective chuckle emanating from the crowd. She examined more contradictions in the recounts of her father’s life. For instance, Shabazz said that many sources say that Malcolm X was a straight-A student throughout his elementary and middle school, which is true. But other sources say that he learned to read during his time in prison, while simultaneously becoming a part of the penitentiary’s debate club that held debates with college students from surrounding universities. Shabazz asked, “How can a person debate on a collegiate level while they are just learning to read?”
With the facts of both her father and people in general being misconstrued, Shabazz underlined the importance of seeking truth and knowledge. In regard to her father, Shabazz said, “Instead of hearing professors and stuff theorize about Malcolm, he is documented-hear what he has to say from his own words.” Shabazz encouraged the same type of research for learning more about yourself as well as others.
The documentary that was shown before Shabazz spoke, “Malcolm X: Make it Plain,” dove deep into the life of the prominent figurehead, examining his achievements and struggles while exploring the message to which he dedicated his life conveying to the people. Not simply putting his life on display, the film showed the viewer a Malcolm X beyond the controversy that surrounded him, leading them closer to the man and his message with actual footage of him speaking, along with interviews and recounted events from people who had working or personal relationships with him. Interviewees included renowned writer and poet Maya Angelou, famed actor Ossie Davis and groundbreaking author Alex Haley, as well as Malcolm X’s family members.
Although the movie ran roughly 20 minutes longer than anticipated, Shabazz expressed the importance of the audience viewing significant parts in the film that would better depict the transition in belief Malcolm X experienced throughout his life. “I understand there is a logistic of time, but had the movie been cut any shorter, (the audience) wouldn’t have seen the journey,” Shabazz said. “You would not have seen the impact his death had on those who had lost him.”
Aliya Choudhery, secretary of the MSA, thought that the extra time spent was well invested for what the audience received from hearing Shabazz speak. “A lot of people were waiting anxiously throughout the movie because it was pretty long, but those that heard Ms. Shabazz speak walked away really empowered. It was worth the wait,” Choudhery said.
In the end, Shabazz brought home her underlying point of people becoming more unified with one another. Toward the end of her speech, she had everyone in the audience introduce himself or herself to the person sitting to their right and left, saying, “I wish you the best, but if you get there before me, then take me with you.”
Concluding with the famous phrase by her father, Shabazz encouraged everyone in attendance to touch someone’s life in a positive manner, to do it well, and do it “by any means necessary.”