When I first learned that Dr. Betty Shabazz attended New Jersey City University in Jersey City for her Bachelor of Arts in Health Education and her Master of Arts in Public Health Education, I was surprised by the year of her completion in 1971. Her husband, Malcolm X, was assassinated only a few years before, on February 21, 1965. It made me think about what she must have been going through, and I asked myself if I would ever have the courage to continue seeking education after such a devastating tragedy. 

Despite all the challenges, she continued her studies even after her time at NJCU and received her doctorate in higher education administration and curriculum development at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

During the time of Malcolm X's death, the couple had four daughters, Attallah (age 6), Qubilah (age 4), Ilyasah (age 2), and Gamilah (6 months), and were expecting twins. As a woman who has just found herself newly widowed in the 1960s, I wonder how many options seemed available to her. The assassination was not just a catastrophe in her personal history. It changed the whole American Civil Rights history. It permanently marked the American psyche. How does one move forward from there?

Yet Dr. Shabazz continued to fight for justice for all as a civil rights activist and educator. In 1976, she became an assistant professor of health sciences at Medgar Evers College of CUNY. According to the book, Betty Shabazz, Surviving Malcolm X: A Journey of Strength from Wife to Widow to Heroine, by Russell Rickford, 90 percent of the student body were black and predominantly working-class, and black women made up most of the faculty, and 75 percent of the students were female, two-thirds of them mothers. From the time she started teaching until her death, she held multiple positions at the school, from a professor to the director of institutional advancement and public affairs. 

In 1997, Dr. Shabazz died at her home during an unfortunate accident. After she passed that year, the Community Healthcare Network in Brooklyn renamed one of its clinics the Dr. Betty Shabazz Health Center. In 2005, Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center opened in the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York, where he was killed. 


Personal note:

The more I learn about how she was able to persist at every turn, the more I am in awe of her. As an expecting mother, I hope to be as loving and trusting to the people and causes I believe in no matter how difficult.


Made possible by the Mellon Foundation-funded DEFCon initiative at New Jersey City University.

We thank our generous hosts at NJCU DEFCon, Jennifer Musial, Sonya Donaldson, and our student researcher, Patrick Craig.