Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education


Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education


Article excerpt


The first time I met Betty Shabazz I was, frankly, in open-mouthed awe of her. I sort of buzzed around her, hovered in her orbit, but didn't say a word. She had been married to Malcolm X, I told myself. And after his assassination, she raised six daughters by herself. She earned a Ph.D. as an adult, and was running a major department at Medgar Evers College. The woman must be awesome, I told myself. So I watched and I wondered when and how I could approach her and share my admiration.

As things happen, she and I ended up at the same side of the swimming pool, our lounge chairs separated by one of those rickety tables that tries to support an umbrella. I introduced myself and awkwardly gushed out my admiration for her, so brimming over with hyperbole that I realized I was being foolish.

Still, I continued on for several minutes, until a deep chuckle emerged from someplace near her gut.

"Child," she told me with a husky laugh, "you had better get over all that."

That's the thing about Betty Shabazz that the obituaries missed -- that humor, that approachability, that self-imposed notion that she was not larger than life, but simply life itself.

Since June 1, when the news that she was badly burned hit the media, I've thought much about Dr. Shabazz, her approachability and about the way she was able to put everyone at ease -- all the while carrying the Malcolm X torch, all the while protecting his legacy.

Betty loved life, which is perhaps why she clung so tenaciously to it, living for three weeks after doctors said she would not make it because of the severity of her burns. Her love for life was reflected in her determination to live it well and wisely, -- and to communicate that desire to others. As counselor and dean at Medgar Evers College, "Dr. Betty's" love for life equipped her to teach and talk about overcoming adversity. After all, who can say they "can't" overcome when they are speaking to an icon of a woman who has cleared every hurdle that adversity placed in her way.

Betty Shabazz didn't want to be a role model, but she could not help but be one. Her life is an example of triumph over tragedy, an affirmation of the way that African American women have "a habit of survival," of "making a way out of no way." As the widow of Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz had to rebuild her life, and redefine herself as a single mother. She triumphed in the process of her redefinition. As professor, educational administrator, talk show host, and leader, she became a role model for every woman who has had to reinvent her life in the face of misfortune. …

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