TAMPA — Ilyasah Shabazz was just 2 years old when assassins gunned down her father, civil rights activist Malcolm X, 50 years ago at Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom.
She doesn't have many memories of her father, other than his "big, beautiful teeth and his smile." Much of what Shabazz knows about him she learned from her mother, Betty Shabazz.
Inside their Mount Vernon, N.Y., home, Betty, a professor and university administrator, kept many of Malcolm's personal affects including his coat, hat, briefcase, and size 14 shoes, Shabazz said.
"She kept his presence very much alive in our home," she said.
Of all of Betty and Malcolm's six daughters, it is Shabazz who has picked up her mother's mantle of keeping Malcolm's legacy alive. Since 2003, Shabazz has authored three books about her father or based on his life. She published her memoirs, Growing Up X, in 2002.
Shabazz will share her experiences of being the daughter of Malcolm X this Saturday at the Robert W. Saunders, Sr. Public Library's grand opening gala. Sponsored by the Robert W. Saunders, Sr. Library Foundation and the Greater Tampa Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Shabazz also will host a reading in the library's children's room that afternoon.
After Malcolm's death, Betty moved her daughters away from the glare of New York City to Westchester County. As Betty put herself through college, the six daughters attended preparatory schools and were active members of Jack and Jill, a social organization for African-American children.
Shabazz's background in Jack and Jill made her an attractive speaker for the foundation's first gala since the reopening of the Saunders library, said Carolyn Johnson, event co-chair and immediate past president of Tampa's Jack and Jill chapter.
Event co-chair and foundation president Fred Hearns said response to Shabazz's appearance has been enthusiastic.
Shabazz said Growing Up X was written partly in tribute to her mother's efforts to preserve Malcolm's legacy. Betty Shabazz died in 1997.
"She gave me and all of her daughters so much love," she said. "I wanted to share the inspiration and source of strength she was to me."
Shabazz's latest book, X: A Novel, chronicles Malcolm's life from young man to his conversion to Islam in 1948. Co-written with Kekla Magoon, it is one of this year's 10 nominees on the National Book Awards' longlist for young people's literature.
Shabazz admits she hasn't always been comfortable with being the daughter of Malcolm X.
When she went to college at State University of New York at New Paltz, other black students assumed she was following the black nationalist path of her father, even suggesting she head up the Black Student Union.
"People had so many expectations," she said. "I wasn't prepared."
Shabazz said it was only after some soul-searching and growing in her faith that she began to fully embrace her heritage.
It was Malcolm, she said, who encouraged African-Americans to know their history and instilled in them a sense of pride.
"We didn't know that we were descendants of African legacy," she said. "He told us we were one and that in Africa is where our legacy began."
Contact Kenya Woodard at email@example.com.