In a speech delivered yesterday to a packed audience in Barnard College's LeFrak Gymnasium, Attallah Shabazz demonstrated that she is more than the oldest of African-American civil rights activist Malcolm X's six daughters.
Shabazz is also a film producer, director, writer, lecturer, motivational speaker, co-founder of a motivational theater group called Nucleus, and president of Prism International, an organization dedicated to building understanding between cultural groups.
Her speech commemorated Malcolm X's last public address, which also took place in the LeFrak Gymnasium, exactly thirty-six years ago, only three days before the civil rights leader was assassinated.
After introductions by Ebony Burnside, BC '01, Barnard College President Judith Shapiro, Professor Thulani Davis, BC '70, Director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies Manning Marable, and movie and audio clips of Malcolm X's speeches, Shabazz spoke to the 950 audience members in the gymnasium and to the 300 people viewing a simulcast in an upstairs room of Barnard Hall.
Shabazz spoke confidently to the large crowd, often stopping to ask the audience if it understood her points. Her rapport with the audience was obvious through her joking and through the standing ovation she received after her speech concluded.
Shabazz presented a more personal side of Malcom X, calling him her "first buddy," a freethinking father who treated her to ice cream to celebrate high test scores and who treated her with dignity, even when she was a child.
She also spoke of her father's passion, emphasizing that it was "love that put him in the forefront, not hate." She knew him as the father who spent his "everyday life being dedicated to people" and refusing to alter his lifestyle out of fear.
Shabazz stressed that her father's philosophy came not only from him, but also from those around him. Like her father, Shabazz said, she is the product of a long lineage of ancestors with distinguished histories.
She told the audience that her father had taught her that "we are all descendants of a continuum" and therefore should not judge each other based on lineage.
To illustrate her point, Shabazz told audience members to introduce themselves to the people whom they were sitting next to.
"By the power invested in me, I now pronounce you all brothers and sisters," she said afterwards.
Shabazz also challenged listeners to embrace their ethnic backgrounds fully.
"Find that bounty [of cultural heritage] and claim it because it's already yours. Whoever you want to be, dare to be it!," she said. "If you descend from different groups, you are not one-quarter this and one-quarter that; you are one-hundred percent of each."
Attendees cited a variety of reasons for attending the lecture.
Sheila Garden, a member of the Marxist-humanist organization News and Letters, said she attended Shabazz's lecture because she regards Malcolm X as a "crucial freedom fighter."
Jamye Ford, a first-year GSAS student, said she admires Malcolm X because of "his courage to say what he thought and not to filter his perspectives in fear of what other people thought of him."
Ford and many other attendees also expressed respect for Malcolm X's transformation from what they called his early separatist and militant politics, and involvement with the Nation of Islam, to his later, more peaceful ideology of racial cooperation.
Other attendees praised Malcolm X's legacy for more personal reasons.
Isabelle Coles-Dunbar lived in the same house that Malcolm X's family moved into after its house was bombed towards the end of Malcolm X's life. She recalled that even during her childhood "he made us aware of who we were and the political games that were played on us," she said. "He gave me self-esteem ... and taught me about the psychological games that are still played on us by the media."
Coles-Dunbar noted that movie heroes wear white and villains wear black as examples of this subtle racism. She also pointed out the designations of angel's-food cake as light and devil's-food cake as dark.
Allen Glover, an African-American who attended the lecture with his white girlfriend, Jennifer Sowell, gave Malcolm X partial credit for "the fact that I can live freely in New York City as an equal with a modicum of decency."
Garden said that she personally identified with Malcolm X as an activist for "a total transformation of society."
Shabazz's speech moved Brooke Bowzer, BC '02, to tears. She called it "the most real speech I ever heard" and said that it "included words I want to live by for the rest of my life."