Ilyasah Shabazz calls for optimism and hope

As the keynote speaker for the tenth annual Trailblazers of Color Leadership Conference at Mount Holyoke College, Shabazz discussed enlarging people’s capacity for care.

Dr. Ilyasah Shabazz made a triumphant return to Mount Holyoke College on April 6, 2024, for the tenth annual Trailblazers of Color Leadership Conference

In attendance was conference founder Quanita (Q) Hailey ’14. Hailey developed and led the Trailblazers of Color Leadership Conference when she was a student and remains committed to its growth and progress. Shabazz took a moment to have the audience honor both her and Latrina L. Denson, associate dean for community and belonging.

“What a beautiful campus and beautiful students!” she said from the stage of Chapin Auditorium. Surrounding the rapt audience were tables where businesses owned by people of color and organizations that serve people of color offered information, food, books, CDs and other wares.

The 2024 Trailblazers of Color Leadership Conference theme was “Looking Back to Look Forward,” marking a decade of commitment to empowering gender-diverse individuals of color across western Massachusetts and beyond. Shabazz returned to be the keynote speaker after having been so in 2015, the first year the conference was open to the public.

Book cover of Growing Up X, by Ilyasah Shabazz.

Shabazz is an author, producer, educator and public speaker. Shabazz is the third daughter of Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz and the author of the memoir “Growing Up X.” She is an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She spoke after the conference’s full day of networking, panel discussions and business expo. 

Shabazz told the audience that the theme of this year’s conference resonated with her. “It’s only when we know our history that we can go forward,” she said. “We are strong, we are interconnected.” 

She discussed the Betty Shabazz Cultural Center on campus, the first cultural center at Mount Holyoke, and shared remembrances of both her parents. 

“I knew my father loved me,” she said. “I remembered his beautiful smile, his love of jazz, poetry and literature … he was a dashing Renaissance man.” After Malcolm X was assassinated, Shabazz’s mother raised all six children by herself. “This young woman never gave in to bitterness and despair,” she continued.  

Optimism and renewed hope were Shabazz’s themes. “Our capacity to care must reach beyond ethnicity, gender roles and religion,” she said. “Let us become a community of optimists. We’re called to be the light for others.” 

“We must adopt a mindset of futuristic thinking,” Shabazz continued. “We must stay focused on who we’re fighting for and not who we’re fighting against. We must build bridges and not walls.” 

The Trailblazers of Color conference was originally operated under the Women of Color Task Force; currently, it is sponsored by the Student Government Association Students of Color Committee (SOCC) and the Office of Community and Belonging in the Division of Student Life.

An article will be in the next issue of the Alumnae Quarterly with fuller coverage of the Trailblazers of Color Leadership Conference.

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