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On Jan. 23, 1963, one of the most influential figures in the Civil Rights Movement, Malcolm X, made a speech at the Erikson Kiva at Michigan State University addressing race problems and the Black Muslim religion to students and faculty.
This week, Malcolm X’s daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, will be returning to that exact spot as a part of her tour through Michigan with the Michigan Humanities Council’s Great Michigan Read program. Shabazz’s visit is sponsored also by the Historical Society of Greater Lansing, Michigan State University’s Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiative, MSU’s Office of Cultural & Academic Transitions and MSU Student Affairs and Services. Her work, “X: A Novel” was chosen for their 2017-18 edition and is a fictionalized version of Malcolm X’s early life, especially while he lived in Lansing and Mason from 1928 to 1940.
“I’m honored to come specifically to the state of Michigan because both of my parents spent a significant time of their young development there,” Shabazz said. “I like visiting the areas where they were, where they grew up as children. You know, pivotal moments in their lives that defined them in their adulthood. I’m honored to come back to this state and sort of step in their shoes.”
The appearance at Michigan State will include a facilitated discussion with Shabazz and audience members on the life of Malcolm X led by John Aerni-Flessner, an assistant professor in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at MSU.
“I think the Lansing history of her father and her father’s family is little known and little understood, and I think it’s a really important part of the chapter of both her father’s life and also the life of his siblings,” Aerni-Flessner said. “I think it’s really important for just increasing community knowledge of it and thinking through some of the racial issues that still linger in this country.”
Shabazz is the third daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz and was born in Queens, New York. She was only 2 years old when her father was assassinated and didn’t know much about his life as a cultural icon until she read his autobiography while she was in college.
Today, Shabazz is a social activist and motivational speaker. In 2002, she wrote a memoir about her childhood called “Growing Up X,” before she wrote her 2015 book “X: A Novel,” alongside Kekla Magoon. Shabazz credits the way her mother raised her for allowing her to speak up for social injustices in today’s political climate.
“I do this on behalf of my father, but it’s because of the model that my mother portrayed in my life of unconditional love, and so forth, that allowed me to go and do this,” Shabazz said. “I think that we are so much more educated and compassionate, and we understand that we have to fight for tolerance on behalf of everyone’s life.”
Michigan State, like many universities, has been a place for people of all natures to speak and have their opinions heard. Aerni-Flessner said that he is excited for a new generation to catch a glimpse of the campus’s history of that through this presentation.
“MSU is a site of great intellectual learning for lots of students and lots of faculty, but it has also been a site of nationwide and global significance,” Aerni-Flessner said. “I think having students understand and grapple with that and having community members do the same is really important.”
Shabazz said that keeping her father’s message strong is more important than keeping the legacy of who he was as an icon alive. That’s what she hopes to convey during her appearance.
“It is the reason that I do my work — to make sure that Malcolm’s work and messages are properly documented for future generations to learn, to understand their role. All the things he did was for others. It wasn’t for himself, and it wasn’t for a spotlight,” Shabazz said. “It was so that future generations would learn tolerance, would learn compassion and care, would understand their roles to society so we really are living more purposeful, meaningful lives and we appreciate one another and we tell the truth of history.”
During her time in the Lansing area, Shabazz will also be visiting the place where her grandfather, Earl Little, was killed in 1931 under “suspicious circumstances.” She will be placing a wreath in memoriam on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Detroit Street in Lansing.
From her appearances, Shabazz hopes that people, especially the younger generation, will understand their worth and their ability to change the climate of today’s society.
“Oftentimes, young people find themselves at a crossroad,” Shabazz said. “They find themselves pained by different kinds of social challenges and instead of that, (I hope) they recognize their power, their will, that they have control of their lives and that we have to give something back.”
Ilyasah Shabazz at MSU
Thursday, Oct. 12 7 p.m. FREE Erickson Hall Kiva 501 Erickson Hall, Room 103, East Lansing, Michigan ow.ly/hizt30fMtSW