They gathered to pay tribute yesterday to Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, who was killed earlier this month in Mexico just as he was “stepping into the shoes” of his famous grandfather by becoming a fiery leader in his own right.
More than 200 people gathered at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem to say goodbye to the 28-year-old, who was beaten to death on May 9 over what witnesses say was a $1,200 bar tab. Two waiters have been arrested in connection with his death.
After a procession of drummers and a line of family members walked hand-in-hand into the church on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, just a block west of Malcolm X Boulevard. There were prayers, songs, spoken word and speeches for the next three hours, while several large television screens flashed photos of Shabazz.
Ilyasah Shabazz, one of Malcolm Shabazz’s aunts and a daughter of Malcolm X, described his “biggest smile that would light up a room.”
“He was smart, enormously intelligent,” she said. “A little bookworm.”
As a youngster, Malcolm Shabazz was incarcerated for four years for starting the 1997 fire that killed his grandmother and widow of Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz. But he turned his life around in prison, just as his famous grandfather did. In recent years, he became a forceful activist, traveling the world and speaking out against youth violence.
Family members said Shabazz, who was fluent in multiple languages and spent a year studying in Damascus, Syria, had traveled to Mexico because he was wanted to “aid the plight of African-Mexican construction workers.”
“He was stepping into his grandfather’s shoes,” Ilyasah Shabazz said.
Retired NBA player Etan Thomas, a friend and author who included an essay by Malcolm Shabazz in his book, “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge” (New American Library), said there was a lot more to Shabazz than the troubled man portrayed in the media.
“We cannot let them define Malcolm,” said Thomas. “The people in this room know who he was (and) what he was about. His sincerity connected with people instantly.”
Thomas talked about the time he and Shabazz spoke to about 500 young men at the prison on Rikers Island as part of President Obama’s fatherhood initiative.
“That’s power,” Thomas said. “Malcolm was just scratching the surface of where he wanted to go.”
Dominique Sharpton, the daughter of civil rights leader the Rev. Al Sharpton and goddaughter of Betty Shabazz, said Malcolm Shabazz was a role model.
“This was a young man who was really on the cusp of a breakthrough — not only in his life, but (also) on his way to achieving greater things that would make us all very, very proud of him,” she said. “We will not forget him. We will pick up his flag, and we will finish the race.”
Malcolm Shabazz’s funeral was held May 17 at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California in Oakland. He was buried May 21 at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, N.Y., beside his grandparents.