This week, the Michigan Humanities Council kicks off the 2017 Great Michigan Read. It’s a statewide literacy program that encourages people to learn more about our Michigan culture by reading a selected book.
This year’s choice is “X: A Novel,” by Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of civil rights activist Malcolm X.
Born with the surname Little, Malcolm X spent most of his childhood in Lansing. On Thursday (10/12), Shabazz will deliver a speech at Michigan State University, in the same room where her father once spoke in 1963.
WKAR's Kevin Lavery asked Ilyasah Shabazz about what she learned about her father that wasn’t in the history books.
“I learned about my dad how loving, compassionate, humorous he was. My mother (Betty Shabazz) was amazing. She had his clothes, his hat, his briefcase, his papers and books in our study. So she really kept him alive in our household. If we did something that was great, you know, she would marvel about how ‘Daddy would be so proud of you.’ If we did something that was not so great, she would say, ‘Daddy would not approve of this.’ So, I guess you could say that I learned about his humanity, his integrity, about his compassion and care.”
“Did you find learning that from your family meshed with what you learned about him through history?”
“No! That’s why I wrote my books. The history that was told of him was so inaccurate. And not of just my father, but so much of our history has been inaccurately portrayed. So, I write my books to make sure that I am presenting the most accurate story as possible, and a book that serves to inspire the reader in any way.”
“As an author, how did you find your father’s voice? How did you develop his frame of mind?”
“Gosh...so my father came from a great family. His parents were educated, they were activists, they were humanitarians...and they instilled specific values in their children: compassion, care, literacy, leadership. My aunts and uncles always said about my father that he was the leader, he was charming, he’d get you to do his chores. And, my father had made so many attempts since his adolescence to write a book...”
“Right. And he did eventually write his own biography.”
“Absolutely, he did...and so all of those things made it so much easier to write his story.”
“Malcolm X spoke here at Michigan State University in January 1963 at Erickson Hall. In fact, you’ll be speaking in the exact same room where he spoke. Certainly, there are people who know much of the story of his early life, about being burned out of his home in Lansing; his father Earl was believed to have been murdered by whites who pushed him into a streetcar. But in that particular speech at MSU, he never mentioned his childhood. He very well could have said, ‘see what this community, see what your community did to me, see how that shaped me?” But, he didn’t do that.”
“That’s right, because I think he was such a selfless man and it was more about, ‘how do I inspire people to understand their humanity,’ and to share that compassion and care and to make this society the best that we individuals in it can.”
“If your father were alive today, he’d be 92 years old. Given his transformation near the end of his life; his split with the Nation of Islam, with Elijah Muhammed...what do you think he might say today about our relationship as a country with Islam?”
“The same thing that he said when he was alive; I mean, he believed that we were all brothers and sisters under the fatherhood of God, regardless of whether you were Muslim, Christian, Agnostic, Buddhist, Jewish. So I think at the end of the day, it’s about our humanity and finding that common bond, that we are of the human race.”