Ms. Magazine: “What Growing Up X Taught Ilyasah Shabazz About Feminism”


Ms. Magazine Ilyasah Shabazz articleThank you Carmen Rios and Ms Magazine for publishing my article:

What Growing Up X Taught Ilyasah Shabazz About Feminism

Ilyasah Shabazz wasn’t yet three years old when her father, Malcolm X, was gunned down in 1965 in front of his wife, young daughters and supporters. Yet the story of her life Shabazz told in her memoir, Growing Up Xended with words of resolve and optimism

“Life is not a destination,” she wrote. “It is a journey. Faith makes everything possible. In order to succeed in life, we must first believe that we can.”

In the coming-of-age memoir, Shabazz explained that her father “dedicated his life to opening the eyes of black Americans to their own worth,” calling “this re-liberation from the self-loathing branded into our souls by four hundred years of slavery, racism and oppression” her father’s “greatest gift to his people.”

Shabazz was raised in the aftermath of her father’s death by her mother, Dr. Betty Shabazz, in a small but supportive community. In an interview, she opened up about “the importance of self-love” that she and her sisters learned from Betty.

“If you don’t love yourself, you cannot fully love others,” she explained, “let alone care for others. My sisters and I learned about the importance of one’s identity. We learned about the significant contributions that Africa and its Diaspora gave to the world. We learned about the significant contributions of Islam and of women. We learned that each of us is a reflection of one another. When we saw any form of unfairness, we were for the most part compassionate and cared enough to want to help out.”

In Shabazz’s middle school historical fiction book, Betty Before X, she writes that her mother learned at a young age about self-acceptance, compassion and activism. She describes her mother as a “devoted wife, a selfless mother, a compassionate friend, a bold activist and most importantly a caring human being who lived her life with integrity and grace.”

With Betty as her mother, Ilyasah learned the importance of helping others and yourself. “It is not falling that defines you,” she writes in Betty Before X. “It’s the process of what you ‘muster’ deep within yourself, the self-discovery and determination to stand each time you fall that builds tremendous character.”

Shabazz’s parents also raised her as a feminist. At the beginning of Betty Before X, Shabazz declares that “a society is measured by the progress of its women.” It’s a lesson she learned at home. “My father said: ‘When you educate a boy, you teach a community; when you educate a girl, you raise a nation.’” Shabazz also dedicated Betty Before X to her mother because of her “belief in the potential of every single girl.”

Shabazz’s parents knew that education was a critical part of that potential. Their six daughters went to private schools and spent summers at a camp in Vermont steeped in Quaker and Native American values. They participated in music and dance lessons. They attended tutorials in Islam and the history of the African Diaspora.

Its Lit with Ilyasah Shabazz – The Doles Center – Mount Vernon NY – 2018 ©Sean J. Rhinehart

“Education is an important element in the struggle for human rights,” Shabazz quotes her father as saying in Growing Up X. “It is the means to help our children and our people rediscover their identity and thereby increase self-respect. Education is our passport to the future and tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Shabazz took the message to heart: she’s an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and has taught classes there including Race, Class and Gender in Corrections, Institutional Law and American Cultural Pluralism and Law.

Shabazz has also written several books aiming to empower young people to self-actualization, furthering the mission her father embarked on and devoted his life to. Fittingly, she is also a trustee for both the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center and the Malcolm X Foundation.

“Being the daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz is a gift for which I am forever grateful,” she writes in Growing Up X. “Malcolm X was a man absolutely committed to changing the way people of African descent viewed themselves, one another and their place in world history. He attempted to resolve the psychological scars and racial barriers that kept a people from reaching its full potential. He gave African Americans one of the greatest gifts possible, the gift of self-respect. He is my hero and my mother is my heroine. I wouldn’t change that for anything. Because of them, I know true love. I am a product of love.”

But being the daughter of Malcolm X also meant living a private life with public expectation—something Shabazz explores in her memoir, calling out “how deeply and sadly Malcolm X is misunderstood in American today, and how that misunderstanding often casts its shadow on my sisters and myself.”

Many African-American students at Shabazz’s college, for example, assumed that she would be a “firebrand” who wanted to live in the W. E. B. Du Bois house and be the chairperson of the black student union. In fact, they moved her to that dorm, nominated her as chair and wrote her speech to make it happen.

“I remember always wanting to have the fire,” she told me. “I wanted to be a passionate speaker. I wanted to be able to walk onto a stage and deliver whatever it is that people wanted. I wanted to please and meet people’s expectations. They expected me to be my father. People wanted me to come on stage and deliver what my father delivered. I felt the disappointment and disillusionment when I was in college. I decided to focus on my own perspective and experience. I saw people speaking from anger or discontentment and I realized that wasn’t me, I did not have that. Instead of living for others, I began living for myself, and that has made it much easier to find my own voice. I could not to be what others wanted me to be, but I could be what I thought God would want me to be—just who I am.”

Shabazz today encourages her students to “teach the class which helps them find their passions, their voices and acceptance within themselves.” She’s interested not in molding them to fit someone else’s ideas, but in giving them the help they need to find their own way.

“When you are unsure of yourself, you miss out on opportunities because you are quiet,” she explained to me. “You don’t raise your hand and ask questions. You’re removed from the discussion, from an opportunity to learn and to engage others. You need to accept who you are and love who you are and share that with the world.”

Want to hear more? Join Ilyasah Shabazz and Lisa Niver

at the Metro Women’s Leadership Summit on June 7!

Read this article on Ms. Magazine:

What Growing Up X Taught Ilyasah Shabazz About Feminism

Lisa Niver's article on Ilyasah Shabazz in Ms. Magazine

Lisa Niver speaking at Metro Womens Leadership Summit
Lisa Niver will be speaking at Metro Womens Leadership Summit June 7, 2019


Lisa Ellen Niver

Lisa Ellen Niver, M.A. Education, is a science teacher and is an award-winning travel expert who has explored 101 countries and six continents. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she worked on cruise ships for seven years and backpacked for three years in Asia. You can find her talking travel at KTLA TV and in her We Said Go Travel videos with over 1.3 million views on her YouTube channel. As a journalist, Niver has interviewed an Olympic swimmer and numerous bestselling authors and has been invited to both the Oscars and the United Nations. She is the founder of We Said Go Travel which is read in 235 countries and was named #3 on Rise Global’s top 1,000 Travel Blogs. She was named both a Top 10 Travel Influencer and a Top 50 Female Influencer for 2021 by Afluencer and is the Social Media Manager for the Los Angeles Press Club. She has been nominated for the inaugural Forbes 50 over 50/Know Your Value list due out in Summer 2021. She has hosted Facebook Live for USA Today 10best and has more than 150,000 followers across social media. Niver is a judge for the Gracies Awards for the Alliance of Women in Media and has also run 15 travel competitions publishing over 2,500 writers and photographers from 75 countries on We Said Go Travel. For her print and digital stories as well as her television segments, she has been awarded two Southern California Journalism Awards and two National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards. From 2017 to 2021 in the Southern California Journalism Awards and National Arts and Entertainment Journalism Awards, she has won four times for her broadcast television segments, print and digital articles. Niver won in 2021 as Book Critic and in 2019 for one of her KTLA TV segments NAEJ (National Arts and Entertainment Journalism) award. Niver won an award for her print magazine article for Hemispheres Magazine for United Airlines in the 2020 Southern California Journalism Awards and a 2017 Southern California Journalism Award for her print story for the Jewish Journal. Niver has written for National Geographic, USA Today 10best, TODAY, Teen Vogue, POPSUGAR, Ms. Magazine, Luxury Magazine, Smithsonian, Sierra Club, Saturday Evening Post, AARP, American Airways, Delta Sky, En Route (Air Canada), Hemispheres, Jewish Journal, Myanmar Times, Robb Report, Scuba Diver Life, Ski Utah, Trivago, Undomesticated, Wharton Magazine and Yahoo. She is writing a book, “Brave(ish): It's All About Perspective 50 Adventures Before 50,” about her most recent travels and insights. When she's not SCUBA diving or in her art studio making ceramics, she's helping people find their next dream trip.

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