THE SHABAZZ CENTER
The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center @ The Audubon transforms the site of my father’s martyrdom into an oasis of support for the ongoing struggle for social justice. For years the fate of the Audubon Ballroom and Theater was uncertain. Located in the Washington Heights section of Upper Manhattan, the doors of the Audubon closed shortly after my father’s assassination. Due to a lack of payment back taxes, the City of New York assumed ownership of the building in 1967. It was eventually purchased by the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, which intended to demolish the entire building and erect a medical research center in its place. This plan however was met with fierce opposition by grass roots groups as well as my mother—all of whom wanted the building to remain standing as a memorial to my father’s humanitarian efforts; and, as a permanent symbol of the African American struggle for equality.
After much debate, an agreement was reached to restore a section of the building as a memorial to my father. My mother was integral to the planning for The Malcolm X Memorial Center. She looked forward to “retiring” to the Center where she would continue her work but now full-time preserving the integrity of her husband’s legacy.
My mother was fond of sharing the plans for the Center with me. And, I enjoyed seeing her filled with love, admiration, and pride as she talked about the Center’s mission to carry on my father’s vision and work. But with all meaningful work, there were challenges. And I can recall visiting the Audubon on occasions when my mother expressed her concerns about the promises that were not being kept in making the Center a real and living memorial to her husband. My mother was detail-oriented and she would always say to my sisters and me as we were growing up, “If you’re going to do something, for God’s sake – do it right.”
Dr. Shabazz was certainly not going to permit any imperfection or misconstruction of history in this place being established to honor her husband and his legacy. For example, when she showed me the initial rendering of the life-sized bronze sculpture of my father on the lobby level, she explained how the suit was wrong because “[her] husband didn’t wear Armani. He wore single-breasted suits. He was conservative.” Later, the sculpturer Ms. Gabriel Koren corrected the suit. Upstairs on the ballroom level, California artist, Daniel Galvez had been commissioned to paint a mural depicting my father’s life. Again, my mother insisted that the mural be historically accurate. She prevailed upon Mr. Galvez to correct the mural’s details; she explained to him that a bassinet was needed to prevent her fourth baby from feeling left out and she insured that the crescent and star on my father’s ring were positioned correctly. Needless to say, she was instrumental in identifying key moments in history that would be featured in the mural.
The operational structure however would not be implemented by the time of my mother’s transition in 1997. The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center officially opened its doors to the public in May of 2005. It is in collaboration with my family and Columbia University, and it houses the most expansive work cone on my parents’ lives and legacies anywhere in the world. Touch-screen multimedia kiosks invite visitors to learn about the lives and work of my parents—who one Columbia University writer describes as, “… two of the most important social leaders of the 20th century.”
The kiosks include short videos, photographs, postcards written by my father, documents, and commentary by family friend, the legendary Ossie Davis who gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral. The information is presented in a manner that is as easy for school children to understand as it is for adults.
The Malcolm X & Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center is located between West 165th and 166th Streets at 3950 Broadway. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 AM to 4 PM. Tour groups are invited to make an appointment by calling 212.568.1341.