A daughter of slain civil rights icon Malcolm X on Monday urged students at two Long Island high schools to engage in social activism, saying they have the power to continue the struggle for justice — a cause for which her father gave his life.
Ilyasah Shabazz also defended Beyonce’s Malcolm X-inspired Super Bowl halftime performance, saying the R&B and pop singer acted bravely in singing lyrics from a video released the day before that alluded to police shootings involving unarmed black people.
Shabazz told students that America’s minority youth — whose hip-hop and salsa-infused dance, music and engagement in social protest have international influence — inspire young people around the world.
“It is important that young people recognize that they have to take the baton from those people before them, that the struggle is not over and there are still injustices all around the world,” she told an audience of some 200 students in the gymnasium at the Brentwood Freshman Center in Brentwood. “You guys must recognize your roles as activists.”
Shabazz, an author and motivational speaker, was 2 when her father was assassinated in front of his family in a Harlem arena. But she grew up in a racially integrated suburb north of New York City, shielded from the social activism that defined her father.
On Monday, she spoke for almost an hour at the ninth-grade school facility in Brentwood. Later, she addressed the audience in the packed Wyandanch Memorial High School auditorium.
“You are their role models, and whatever you do, they watch you,” Shabazz told students in Wyandanch, urging them to inspire social change among other young people worldwide.
Malcolm X was one of the most controversial civil rights figures of the 1960s. As a spokesman for the Nation of Islam, he frequently indicted white America in stark terms for what he called racial oppression that brutalized much of black America. But he eventually rejected that religious sect after becoming disillusioned with its more racially inflammatory teachings. He embraced racially inclusive Sunni Islam in 1964, but was murdered by three members of the Nation of Islam a year later in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom.
Jerry Cheng, principal at the Brentwood facility, said Shabazz was asked to speak as part of his school’s Black History Month programming.
“It’s an opportunity for our kids to see . . . the legacy he left behind,” Cheng said.
Shaun Bailey, 16, a Brentwood student, asked Shabazz whether she would have become a rights activist herself had her father not been killed.
“If my father was still here, we would not have to fight against injustice, because those were the issues,” he confronted, she replied.
“My father influences me tremendously,” she said.
Shabazz, who is among the roughly 3 million Americans who practice some form of Islam, expressed support for broad religious acceptance.
“I’m very proud of my religion, as I am of my uncles who were Baptist ministers,” she said. “I’m very confident of who I am because I do good stuff.”
After Shabazz spoke, Bailey said he would heed her call to social action.
“It was inspiring to hear her tell us that we can help her bring about change,” he said, “help to stop the shooting.”