As the 50th anniversary of the death of Malcolm X approached, his daughter, author Ilyasah Shabazz, gave words of wisdom to students on the importance of education and enunciated her father’s legacy at the Merrick Academy in Springfield Gardens Saturday.
Shabazz, who was born in Queens, announced her new book, “X,” which she co-wrote, chronicling the legacy of her father, an African-American civil rights activist and major figure of the Nation of Islam. She asked students questions based on passages she read aloud from her other book, “Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up To Become Malcolm X,” which received an NAACP Image Award nomination.
She has written other books on her father, including “Growing Up X” and “Diary of Malcolm X.”
Shabazz pointed to the cover of “Malcolm Little,” which features Malcolm as a “young, impressionable child.” She said it represents the importance of quality education for youth.
“He would grow up to become one of the world’s greatest leaders for human rights for all people,” Shabazz said. “One of the greatest leaders around the world. And so it says that we have to celebrate and prepare you now while you are nice and young.”
In a speech that captivated the entire room, U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica) recalled his father crying for the first time when Malcolm X died.
Malcolm X paved the way for African-Americans to attain leadership positions and credited him with teaching black people how to be proud of their race and their history, Meeks said.
“I wanted to make sure that I had an opportunity just to stop by and to see you because the truth of the matter is, there probably would not have been or not be a Gregory Meeks if there wasn’t a Malcolm X,” he said, addressing Shabazz.
Gerald Karikari, chairman of the board of trustees of Merrick Academy, said the charter school — the first in Queens — was the perfect place to host Shabazz to give students the idea that they can make history.
“For these children to grow up in this community and not know and not feel history is a shame and so we want to reverse that,” Karikari said. “For children to be able to touch someone like the daughter of Malcolm X I think is powerful in terms of bringing the characters in the history books to life.”
This year marks a half century since Malcolm X — born El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Neb. — was gunned down in the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan Feb. 21, 1965 in the midst of the civil rights movement in the United States.
Malcolm X and his wife, Betty, raised their four children in East Elmhurst.
Shabazz’s book, “X,” follows Malcolm X from his childhood to his imprisonment for theft at the age of 20, when he found the faith that would put him on the right track.
The book explores the challenges he faced as he navigated his father’s murder, his mother being taken away and being mocked at school for wanting to become a lawyer. She gave out and signed copies following the ceremony.
Merrick Academy students said they took away powerful messages from Shabazz’s speech. Alanee Ricketts, 8, a third-grader at Merrick Academy, said one message she absorbed was to stay on the right path.
“If you know something that’s good for you, you should do it instead of doing the wrong thing,” Alanee said.
Her older sister, Zahniyah Ricketts, 10, a fifth-grader at Merrick Academy, said she learned not to be afraid to ask questions in class.
“She said ask questions if you don’t know them because when you get out of school, you get smarter,” Zahniyah Ricketts said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtour