November 21, 2016
NEW YORK, NY
Members of the Black Student Union and Muslim Student Association at NYU orchestrated an event last night with Ilyasah Shabazz, the 54-year-old third daughter of Malcolm X, in order to discuss a positive way to navigate growing racial tensions in America. Speaking to a room of over 100 students, educators, and admirers, Shabazz delivered a message Monday night rooted in unity and perseverance.
“We’re not looking for, but demanding civil rights,” she says, addressing an audience full of people of color. “You are the leaders who are going to help create solutions.”
The event comes in the aftermath of an election cycle riddled with islamophobia and racial discrimination, as well as five days after the defacement of a Muslim prayer room at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering. Muslim-oriented hate crimes like these have risen 67% in 2015 according to a report released by the FBI last week, the sharpest increase of all hate crimes reported and the highest number since 2001. Police brutality against black Americans has also increased, with 234 black people killed by police as of November 4th this year, including Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, who sparked national uproar this past July in groups like Black Lives Matter.
Shabazz, a Muslim, black woman who works as a community organizer and speaker, represents the intersection and relevance of these issues. In response to growing tensions, she says, “My father didn’t create this climate- he had a profound reaction to it.” This is paralleled today by the passionate movements for change, especially among students. But activism isn’t just a reaction, she says, it’s a way of life.
“When we teach our children to hate other people, we teach them to hate themselves,” Shabazz says. And so she calls for recognition of common humanity, togetherness that will help tackle these deeply ingrained problems. This event, and others like it, are a small start.
“The goal was to set a precedent of how different marginalized groups can come together and start a dialogue,” says Harry Boadu, president of the Black Student Union at NYU. The Muslim Student Association president, Afraz Khan, echoes him, saying they were “hoping to find a common thread between [the] two communities.” By engaging this way, they set an example of the unity and commitment Shabazz says can foster change.
In addition to mutual understanding, however, there must be a clear goal. Underlying the conversations, protests, and marches must be a mission. Because many organizers are young, this can be cultivated with the help of social media, where people can “organize, galvanize, and communicate at the touch of a button.” And though she speaks primarily to young leaders, Shabazz promotes the idea of an intergenerational discussion, inciting older citizens to provide guidance.
Though her father was assassinated when she was two years old, she recalls always wearing his shoes because they both had big feet. While a charming anecdote, it’s also somewhat of a metaphorical reminder of the shoes to fill and roles to assume as young people taking on the fight for equal, unalienable rights. Shabazz’s mother, from which she gets a lot of her personality, used to tell her, “Just as one must drink water, one must give back.” She reminds us that compassion and dedication are not simply acts, but ways of being. And for those not engaging, she says, “You can turn your back to injustice, but it will always find you.”