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Malcolm X's daughter speaks to NYC children as 50th anniversary of assassination nears

Ilyasah Shabazz, 52, daughter to Malcolm X and

Ilyasah Shabazz, 52, daughter to Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz, at The Merrick Academy in Queens on Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

Only a few hands sprang up Saturday when Ilyasah Shabazz asked a roomful of children in Queens if they'd heard of Malcolm X.

So -- as the 50th anniversary of her father's assassination nears -- Shabazz told them stories about the civil rights leader, focusing on lessons learned from a difficult childhood.

"If you haven't yet accomplished your goal, you just have to think a little bit harder and you're going to be more clever than you were the first time," she said. "Keep persevering."

Shabazz, 52, of Westchester County, read excerpts from her children's book, "Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up to Become Malcolm X," at Merrick Academy, a charter school in Laurelton, Queens.

She was just a toddler, sitting in Harlem's Audubon Ballroom with her mother and other family members, when her 39-year-old father was gunned down on Feb. 21, 1965. Three members of the Nation of Islam, the black power group he had criticized, were convicted of the slaying.

Shabazz has written other books about her father, including "Growing up X," and "X: A Novel." She says she's proud of what he accomplished.

"It's the reason that I'm committed to doing this work," she said after the academy event. She hopes to help preserve an important piece of American history and "properly put Malcolm in context."

Her father was born into poverty as Malcolm Little in Omaha. He joined the Nation of Islam while in prison and rose to become a respected civil rights activist in the turbulent '60s.

Shabazz said it's fulfilling to share the stories she learned about her father "with young people who may find themselves at a crossroads in their own lives."

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Queens), a former Merrick Academy board member who attended the event, said Malcolm X encouraged him and other African-Americans to embrace their heritage and realize their potential.

"There would not have been a Gregory Meeks if there was not a Malcolm X," said Meeks, who grew up in Harlem. "Malcolm taught black people how to . . . be proud of who you are."

Meeks was 12 when he saw his father cry for the first time 50 winters ago.

"He said to me, 'They shot Malcolm.' "

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