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Growing up X

Growing up X

4.4 9
by Ilyasah Shabazz, Kim McLarin

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“Ilyasah Shabazz has written a compelling and lyrical coming-of-age story as well as a candid and heart-warming tribute to her parents. Growing Up X is destined to become a classic.”

February 21, 1965: Malcolm X is assassinated in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. June 23, 1997: After surviving for a remarkable


“Ilyasah Shabazz has written a compelling and lyrical coming-of-age story as well as a candid and heart-warming tribute to her parents. Growing Up X is destined to become a classic.”

February 21, 1965: Malcolm X is assassinated in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. June 23, 1997: After surviving for a remarkable twenty-two days, his widow, Betty Shabazz, dies of burns suffered in a fire. In the years between, their six daughters reach adulthood, forged by the memory of their parents’ love, the meaning of their cause, and the power of their faith. Now, at long last, one of them has recorded that tumultuous journey in an unforgettable memoir: Growing Up X.
Born in 1962, Ilyasah was the middle child, a rambunctious livewire who fought for–and won–attention in an all-female household. She carried on the legacy of a renowned father and indomitable mother while navigating childhood and, along the way, learning to do the hustle. She was a different color from other kids at camp and yet, years later as a young woman, was not radical enough for her college classmates. Her story is, sbove all else, a tribute to a mother of almost unimaginable forbearance, a woman who, “from that day at the Audubon when she heard the shots and threw her body on [ours, never] stopped shielding her children.”

Editorial Reviews

Thirty-seven years after Malcolm X's assassination, his life and words remain vital and controversial. Unfortunately, this memoir, by his third daughter, doesn't deepen our understanding of the complex, charismatic man. Apart from the author's moving account of the death of her mother, Betty Shabazz, in 1997—from burns sustained in a fire set by one of her grandsons—the memoir mainly consists of not-very-remarkable memories of childhood, summer camp, first boyfriends and college parties. These accounts are interspersed with admiration and praise for the author's martyred father and her courageous mother. Readers seeking substantive insight into the character of Malcolm X or Betty Shabazz, or even a novel perspective on current race relations in America, will be disappointed.
—Eric Wargo

Publishers Weekly
One of Malcolm X's six daughters, Shabazz was two when he was assassinated in February 1965. The bulk of the book covers the day-to-day specifics of Shabazz's childhood and adolescence as a middle-class African-American Muslim girl, punctuated by small brushes with her parents' past. Malcolm X is justifiably sentimentalized via the fragmentary memories and second-hand stories of Shabazz's childhood perspective (including a visit to the soon-to-be Muhammad Ali's training camp). Shabazz's mother, Dr. Betty Shabazz, eventually a professor of health administration at Medgar Evers College, is a constant presence in the book; "Mommy" shepherds Ilyasah and the other girls through school, and herself through graduate work, with "amazing strength and perseverance." Ilyasah's often ordinary existence is rendered in unadorned prose (to the point of listing teachers she had in various schools or chronicling a standoff with neighborhood girls), and her insights into herself and those around her can be cursory (a rape is covered in two pages) if honestly rendered. Shabazz is working on a book about her parents, which may explain why it sometimes feels like anecdotes and information are being held back. By the time Ilyasah comes to a more nuanced understanding of her identity as the daughter of Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz is killed by a fire set by one of Ilyasah's nephews in 1997. The book ends there, with exhortations that "Life is not a destination; it is a journey." (May) Forecast: Despite this memoir's thinness, it should generate a great deal of attention, not least via a 15-city author tour and a host of media appearances. Media interest in Islam has not resulted in a resurgence of interest in the Nation of Islam, but this book could be a first step, though it is far from a political or religious history. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Presented as a behind-the-scenes look at the life of Ilyasah Shabazz's father, Malcolm X, the book is actually a tribute to her mother, Dr. Betty Shabazz. Ilyasah was only two when her father was assassinated, and she candidly admits, "I'm not sure how much I really remember of my father." In the first half of the book, she tells how her mother put her life back together for her six young daughters, returning to school to obtain bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees so that she could provide the best of everything for her children. Friends and family helped Betty raise her daughters in the Muslim faith chosen by her husband, and she was fiercely protective of her children. This part of the book would be easier to read if the author did not skip around through time and lose her train of thought so frequently. The second half of the book focuses on Ilyasah's ordinary search for her purpose in the world, the only highlight her account of learning how to deal with her father's legacy. Throughout, she repeats that her mother was the most important person in her life. The book ends where it begins, with an account of Betty's injuries and death in 1997 resulting from a fire started by grandson Malcolm. One cannot help but wonder if such a private woman would appreciate the public account of her death, but the book allows the Shabazz family to publicly forgive young Malcolm his terrible mistake. Photos. VOYA Codes: 2Q 2P S A/YA (Better editing or work by the author might have warranted a 3Q; For the YA with a special interest in the subject; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult and Young Adult). 2002, One World/Ballantine, 235p,
— Carolyn Carpan
The Autobiography of Malcolm X is frequently required reading in high school courses, and certainly this memoir by one of his six daughters, complete with a section of b/w photographs, will interest many. Ilyasah was two years old when her father was gunned down. Her mother, pregnant with twins, covered little Ilyasah with her own body that horrible day. It is this mother, Betty Shabazz, who is the real focus of Ilyasah's memoir. She died in 1997, burned by a fire started by the 12-year-old troubled grandson who lived with her. Ilyasah honors her enormous courage and strength, raising six little girls alone, keeping alive the memory of her beloved husband, developing her own career and urging her daughters to fulfill their own destinies. The family members are devout Moslems, but they certainly don't fit any stereotypical notions about what this means in modern America. Betty Shabazz wanted her daughters to get the best educations possible, and this generally meant that the girls attended private schools with predominantly white students. Ilyasah describes the complications of these experiences, doubly challenging, perhaps, because the other students and teachers knew she was the daughter of Malcolm X. Ilyasah doesn't go into great detail about the tragic events in her sister Qubilah's life. (Qubilah was arrested for plotting the murder of Louis Farrakhan, believing that he had been responsible for the assassination of her father.) Ilyasah, herself, has had many difficulties: she was raped as a teenager; she had several heartbreaking love affairs as a young woman; and she lost her mother in terrible circumstances. Just as her mother had raised her, she has found her own strength to facetragedies and difficulties. She is smart, beautiful, and strong—a tribute to the love and nurturing of her parents. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Ballantine, One World, 235p. illus.,
— Claire Rosser
Library Journal
The third of the six daughters of assassinated Black Muslim leader Malcolm X (or Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) and Dr. Betty Dean Sanders, Shabazz reminisces about her childhood and life in the 32 years between her father's being gunned down while speaking at Harlem's Audubon Ballroom in 1965 and her mother's dying of injuries suffered in a house fire in 1997. Two years old when her father died, Ilyasah has only a few remembered moments with him, but she offers much more to correct what she views as the usually fragmented and false understanding of him and his contribution to America and the world. While promoting her father's legacy as a messenger of black self-assurance, self-respect, and self-defense, Ilyasah also argues that great men marry great women, for her true hero is her mother. "Mommy" dominates the narrative, and her often hard-learned lessons carry the character and course of the journey toward the self-identity shared here. This interesting memoir, the first by any of the children of Malcolm X, is valuable for rounding out our understanding of the man and his milieu. Recommended for collections on African American biography. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/02.] Thomas J. Davis, Arizona State Univ., Tempe Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Shabazz was two years old when her father was murdered in the presence of his young family, and she describes how her mother heroically raised her and her sisters in his absence. Betty Shabazz got help from friends and wealthy celebrities to buy a big, beautiful home in Mt. Vernon, NY, after the Nation of Islam evicted them from the small house it had provided during Malcolm X's ministry. The girls led comfortable, sheltered, upper-middle-class lives, complete with housekeepers, chauffeured cars, exclusive social clubs, and expensive, predominantly white private schools and summer camps. In her well-meaning attempts to protect her daughters from emotional trauma, their mother didn't teach them anything about their father's work and philosophy. Shabazz was in college when she read The Autobiography of Malcolm X for the first time. The author obviously idolizes her mother, who was always studying and working hard to provide for her daughters in style, but also indicates that she was controlling-even to the point of selecting Shabazz's college and dismissing her daughter's expressed desire to attend a black university. Teens who have been inspired by the life and speeches of Malcolm X will undoubtedly find this memoir interesting.-Joyce Fay Fletcher, Rippon Middle School, Prince William County, VA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Malcolm X's daughter follows her father's famed Autobiography with a forgettable memoir, plainly written and significantly lacking a narrative arc. Although Shabazz grows up in these pages, she doesn't appear to mature. From the start, the reader is presented with a fun-loving girl who loves her mother-cloyingly referred to as "Mommy" throughout-and who changes little along the way. Shabazz's mother, Betty, was doubtless a strong woman who made the best of difficult circumstances, having lost a beloved husband and raising five daughters on her own. But it is also clear that she was an overbearing parent. Throughout, Shabazz offers anecdotes intended to demonstrate her mother's good sense, while they in effect tend to reveal Shabazz's inability to speak for herself. This may be for the best, since when her voice does come through, it is painfully self-congratulatory and unaware-as when she describes childhood artwork hung in her mother's front hall as "a thought-provoking selection of neon triangles painted by me, [and] a provocative handprint transformed into a turkey by Malaak." None of this is to say that Shabazz has no material to work with, having grown up with a world-famous, absent, yet omnipresent father. Her undertaking, however, of fitting herself into the legacy of Malcolm X is apparently, in her view, unproblematic. Yet she seems never to have missed having a father, nor does she ever suggest regret that most of what she knows about him comes from his autobiography. She is, apparently, content to be a third-tier luminary who has met a lot of famous people because her father was great. If Shabazz is seeking to preserve a legacy, she does so in a manner that offers no substance.
From the Publisher
“Only Ilyasah Shabazz could have told this story. . . . I congratulate her on the courage to remember, the courage to see, and the courage to say what she saw.”

“AN INTIMATE LOOK AT THE MAN WHO BOTH REVOLUTIONIZED AND NATIONALIZED THE COLLECTIVE BLACK PSYCHE. A cultural deity is rendered by his daughter’s clear-sighted portrait.”
Author of Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine and What You Owe Me


Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
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6.46(w) x 9.46(h) x 1.11(d)

Read an Excerpt


I was there that day. We all were, all except baby Gamilah who, in the last-minute rush to go hear Daddy speak, got left behind with friends because her little snowsuit was too damp to wear out into the cold. But the rest of us were there, sitting stage right on a curved and cushioned bench: Mommy, Attallah, Qubilah, myself. Even the twins, Malikah and Malaak, were present to bear witness, carried not in Mommy’s arms but inside her womb, deep beneath her heart.

It was February 21, 1965. My father, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz—Malcolm X—telephoned my mother at the Wallace home that morning with a surprising request. He wanted Mommy to bring us girls and come to the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem to hear him speak. My mother was elated; just the day before he had warned her not to come, saying it was too dangerous.

We were staying with the Wallace family because eight days before our house in Elmhurst, Queens, had been firebombed. It was early Sunday morning and cold outside. Mommy and Daddy were asleep in their bedroom, Attallah, Qubilah, and I were in our room, and Gamilah was in the nursery when a blast awakened us all. Barking orders and grabbing terrified children, my father got us all up and out the back door into the yard. It took the fire department an hour to extinguish the flames. Mommy telephoned the Wallaces, saying, “The house is on fire.” The Wallaces put their twelve-year-old daughter Gail—our baby-sitter and play “big sister”—in the car and drove to our house. Gail told me she remembers walking into the house and being almost overwhelmed by the smell of smoke.

“Everyone was in thekitchen,” Gail said, “and to get to the kitchen you had to walk through the foyer, the living room, a long hallway, and your room, the room you girls slept in. That room was a mess, burned and wet and scattered, because that’s where the bomb had been thrown. I saw all these people standing in the kitchen. I remember crawling through men and women, Muslim men, to get to your mother. She was sitting at the kitchen table talking and when she saw me she said, ‘Oh, dear heart, they’re trying to burn me out of my house.’ She was happy to see me because she knew once I was there I would take over the girls enough so she could get the situation under control. She had a little grin on her face but it wasn’t one of pleasure.”

The Wallace family—Antoinette, her husband Thomas, who is Ruby Dee’s brother and was known then as Thomas 57X, and their four children—took us in that night. My father made sure we were settled at the Wallace home, then checked into the Theresa Hotel. He knew he was a walking target and he didn’t want anyone else to get hit. He told Mommy he wanted to take the trouble away from us.

Four days later, the Nation of Islam went to court to evict us from our home.

In the aftermath of the fire, my father never stopped working. Friends like Ossie Davis begged him to flee. His brother Wilfred advised him to “hush and forget this whole thing” and go to Africa until things cooled down. There were any number of African nations whose leaders would have been happy to offer him refuge, but Daddy refused to even discuss the idea. He was not about to run. He took what security precautions he could, but through it all he kept working, flying to Detroit to speak at an event in honor of Charles Howard, a renowned journalist who covered the African liberation movement for Muhammad Speaks and other black newspapers, then turning around and flying back home to New York for another flurry of speaking engagements and interviews. In between all this activity, he worked hard to find new housing for all of us.

He knew the end was coming soon.

Percy Sutton tells a story of sitting in the backseat of a car with Daddy and two armed guards around this time. Mr. Sutton asked my father if it bothered him being surrounded by people with guns.

My father said to him, “Have I told you the story of Omar the slave? Omar said to his master, ‘Give me your fastest horse, I’m going to escape the Face of Death.’ It being a slave belief that if you rode by day and got through the day with the swiftness of the horse, you were safe by night. There were seven paths down which Omar could go. He started down the center path, pulled the horse back. Started to the left, and pulled back again. Only a short distance down the third path stood the Face of Death. Death said to Omar, ‘For three days I’ve waited at this spot for you to come. Why has it taken you so long?’ ” And then Minister Malcolm said, “So you see, counselor, you can twist, you can turn, but there’s destiny.”

Meanwhile we stayed with the Wallaces and waited for Daddy. The NYPD sat outside the Wallace home and followed us everywhere. They even followed the Wallace children to school, until Gail Wallace and her brothers gave them the slip by sneaking out the back window. They said they were there to help but no one believed it. What they were really doing was shadowing my father, casing him and his movements, preparing for February 21.

On February 20 Daddy came by the Wallace house to check on us. As he was leaving, Brother Thomas asked what he could do to help. Our exhausted-looking father shook his head. “It’s something unseen all around me,” he told Brother Thomas. Then he climbed into his car and drove away.

“A funny feeling came over me hearing that,” Mrs. Wallace told me years later. “I felt like I was seeing this man for the last time.”

So when Daddy called that morning of February 21 and asked us to come hear him speak, Mommy was happy. She loved Daddy and missed him and wanted to be present for support. She hurried about, dressing herself and us, then Brother Thomas drove us into Manhattan and up to Harlem to the Audubon. We arrived just after noon.

After we left the telephone rang and Mrs. Wallace answered it. It was Wallace Muhammad, son of Elijah Muhammad. Elijah Muhammad was the spiritual leader of the Nation of Islam, the man my father had once credited with saving his life and the man whose followers my father now suspected wanted to take it. Wallace Muhammad was agitated. He said he’d been trying to reach my father for days. He wanted to warn him, to tell him they were going to kill him soon. He did not say who “they” were.

Brother Thomas dropped us off at the front door and went to find a parking space. I cannot begin to imagine my mother’s feelings as she ushered us into that ballroom to hear her husband speak. My mother loved my father deeply, and she admired his commitment to changing the lives of black people in America and throughout the world. But she also knew the toll that work had taken on him. She knew how draining was the constant traveling, how wearing were the harassment by the FBI and the intimidation by the members of the Nation of Islam. She knew how deeply pained he was by the attack on the house where his wife and daughters lay asleep. She knew how tired he was, and she knew that as much as she wanted to make it all better, she couldn’t. No one could.

I imagine my mother walked into that ballroom full of joy, pride, anxiety, love, and not a little fear.

And she walked out shattered in a way that could never, ever be repaired.

I write all this as though I remember, which I do not, Allah be praised. I was two years old, going on three, and though I surely felt confusion and fear at the time, I have no memory of any of it. From these experiences I carry only a dislike of endings, a lingering uneasiness with good-byes. My oldest sister, Attallah, was six years old when my father was assassinated; Qubilah was four. How much, exactly, they remember is something we never discussed while growing up. Somehow Mommy kept us so busy and fulfilled we never talked about it, or maybe it was just too hard. It wasn’t until recently, just a few years ago, that I finally asked Qubilah if she remembered that day. I was in graduate school working on a paper and she was visiting me. We began discussing the condition of African people throughout the world, and from there the conversation turned to Daddy and his work.

Yes, she said. She remembered him and she remembered that day in all its confusion and terror. She remembered noise and screaming and confusion and Daddy not coming home.

I didn’t push her on her memories. Really, what more was there to say?

It was a fairly mild February afternoon. Outside the Audubon, children played on the street while Christian men and women strolled home from Sunday church services. My mother took us girls and went inside the auditorium, which was quickly filling up. More than four hundred people, many of them non-Muslim, had come to hear Malcolm X speak. He had promised earlier to present the charter of his newly formed Organization of Afro-American Unity on that day, but the drafting committee had fallen behind, the charter was unfinished, and he was upset. My father did not like to break his word.

We sat right up front in a reserved booth near the stage where we could see our father clearly and be sure he saw us. We settled in; my mother took off our snowsuits. My father was backstage, preparing to speak. The ballroom grew full. Time passed. The program was late getting started because they were waiting for two invited guests, the Reverend Dr. Milton Galamison, a civil rights activist, and Ralph Cooper, a popular disk jockey. After awhile my father’s assistant, Benjamin X, took the stage. He spoke for about twenty minutes. He talked about a ship crossing the ocean, about the storms and trade winds and doldrums and other delays that might keep even a well-captained ship from reaching its destina-tion on time, alluding to the delayed charter. Then he introduced Daddy.

Copyright 2002 by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kim McLarin

Meet the Author

Ilyasah Shabazz holds a Master of Science degree in Education and Human Resource Development from Fordham University. She is the Director of Public Affairs and Special Events for the City of Mount Vernon, New York.

Kim McLarin is the author of the novels Taming It Down and Meeting of the Waters. She formerly worked as a journalist for The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Associated Press. She lives with her family outside of Boston, Mass.

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Growing up X 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Although the book was inspiring, I was fairly disappointed with its content. My impression of this book was that it would provide information having to do with Malcolm X. Rather than hearing about her family after her father was murdered, I would have liked to know more about her father. On many instances she remarks how she was not present during events which makes the information she gives about the event unreliable. I am aware of the fact the book was to be about her, however, the author should have written more about her father's work and how it affected her. The book lacks details that are important, such as her mother and father's relationship. I think the author should have stuck to writing about what she knows, rather than rephrasing what was said in another book. I do not recommend this book for research, however it would be a good book to read for inspiration.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After the story on her father, felt like reading the same story over and over again about race. Little bit disappointed, but still I kept my deep respect to the family of Malcolm X. Lacks explanation on the inconsistencies. Also, North Africa is very different from South Africa, not just race, but specially the culture, traditions, and values. That's my personal observation.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ilyasah did an extraordinary job telling her story. She lives under the legacy of her great father Malcolm X and mother Dr. Betty Shabazz. I know how it is to grow up without a father so I can relate to some of the obstcles and joys of her life. I would love to meet her some day in the future!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ms. Shabazz told her story of being a child in a society and the difficulties that exist where the father is not present in the home. She honors both of her parents, Malcolm and Betty. It is a book that should be in the home of every Black American. I RECOMMEND IT TO YOUNG ADULTS.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book tells the untold story of how Betty Shabazz was able to gather her courage and raise her daughers after the death of Brother Malcolm. Readers will find themselves in awe of Dr. Shabazz and her determination and strength. She was no ordinary woman just as Malcolm X was no ordinary man so it is no great surprise that his widow was able to accomplish what she did in her lifetime. The book gives the reader an inside account of the Shabazz household as the daughers come of age under the awesome responsibility of being the daughers of Malcolm X. You will both laugh and cry as you experience the family ancedotes and stories of how Dr. Shabazz making her daughter's her first priority, was able to move on past her own grief to raise her daughters and provide for them giving them a legacy of dignity, pride and love by her example. Growing up X is a testimony to Black women who have persevered over the years and IIyasah Shabazz managed to do a fine job with a task that was difficut, at best. She brought her readers even closer to her mother in her writings and told the story we all have been wanting to know. Those close to her mother have called IIyasah; Dr. Shabazz's best friend. It shows in this book. I reccomend this book to both teenagers and adults. It erases the mistique that showered the Shabazz family; a family of women destined to survive despite the odds. It should stand to give encouragement to human beings everywhere.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading about the strength her mother had. I love how she honors both of her parents however,admittedly she is unapologetic for not knowing everything about them. It is a true testament to her faith how Dr. Shabazz was able to stand in the midst of all she had been through. It is an inspiring book for me as a parent. I cant even imagine what her journey was like however, Thank you for providing a glimpse of what your life was like growing up...
Guest More than 1 year ago
In a moving memoir, Ms. Shabbazz covers the difficulty growing up under her father's shadow. A must read and a good complement to her father's own autobiography
WilliamBT More than 1 year ago
Ilyasah Shabazz has put together a Memoir about the works and times of her father the late Malcolm X. This is a great book and Ilyasah has done a good job on this book. This book has a lot of good information in it that everyone would benefit from reading. It’s full of a wealth of information for all to read. I commend Ilyasah on the works of her book. A job well done. William B. Turner Author