Like Grandfather, Like Grandson: The Life and Death of Malcolm Latif Shabazz
Artist, activist and educator Ras Ceylon discusses the recent sentencing of Malcolm Shabazz’s killers and the many misconceptions about the life and work of Malcolm X’s grandson.
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: What’s up world, and welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.
The grandson of legendary activist Malcolm X, Malcolm Latif Shabazz, was murdered in Mexico in May of 2013. Like his grandfather, Malcolm Shabazz went from a destabilized home to street life and later to activism only to have that work cut short by a death shrouded in mystery, confusion, and too much inattention. Shabazz’s second accused killer, David Hernandez Cruz, was sentenced in Mexico last week to nearly 30 years in prison, with two others in custody and a fourth is yet apprehended.
But who was Malcolm Shabazz? Why is so little attention paid to him? Why was he in Mexico, and what in fact is thought to really have happened there? To help us attempt an answer to these questions is Ras Ceylon. Ceylon is an Oakland-based area hip-hop artist, activist, and educator who is among many other things a representative of the mighty Zulu nation, and Prisoner of Conscience Committee, and a former friend and comrade to Malcolm Shabazz.
Welcome, brother Ras, to the program, thanks for joining us.
RAS CEYLON, HIP-HOP ARTIST AND EDUCATOR: [Inaud.] and greetings, peace.
BALL: So first before we get into anything I want to back up very quickly and ask you to explain your name. Ras Ceylon I think has a particularly important history that’s relevant to what we’re going to talk about here. Could you just quickly tell us about your name?
CEYLON: Right on, for sure. Yeah. So Ras in Amharic means head, or also refers to a general. And Ceylon being the formal colonized name of Sri Lanka. Under British imperial rule it was known as Ceylon. So we kind of take the name to be a mission statement, Raz Ceylon meaning to decolonize our mentalities. And particularly I came up with that name during, when Sri Lanka was under a civil war, so kind of really attacking the reason why it’s happening. So to decolonize the name, that’s Raz Ceylon.
BALL: That’s what’s up. And your music does a lot of that. At another time we’ll have you back to talk more about your music. But if we can let’s now turn to the subject at hand, your friend and comrade Malcolm Shabbaz. Of course, the grandson of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. He was of course implicated as a young boy in the fire that led to the death of Betty Shabazz. Went to a, I believe a group home or foster home and then later into political life. Could you tell us a little bit about Malcolm Shabazz, and then let’s talk about what he was doing politically and why he was in Mexico in the first place.
CEYLON: Definitely. Definitely. Well, el-Hajj Malik Latif el-Shabazz, rahim Allah, which means may the mercy of Allah be upon him, was the first male heir. So Malcolm X had six daughters. And so Malcolm Shabazz was the first male heir, the namesake and the grandson of what he would refer to as the greatest revolutionary of the 20th century, el-Hajj Malik Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X.
And as you said, he had a bit of a troubled childhood. Really since the day he was born I believe that he was seen and treated by the system as a threat, being the first male heir of obviously a huge revolutionary legacy of Malcolm X. And so he went through a lot of things. And his life paralleled his grandfather’s in many ways, particularly being criminalized at a young age and then being incarcerated for a good majority of his life. But he made a lot of changes while incarcerated, and came out I believe in the late 2000s and really hit the scene, and was embracing activism, or was traveling nationally, internationally, working with the youth and working with Muslims and revolutionaries all over, for the purpose of human rights. And really to defend and honor his grandfather’s legacy, which in my opinion he did an outstanding job of, up until the time he was assassinated at a young age of 28 years old.
BALL: So we know that he was the daughter of Malcolm’s–or rather he was the son of Malcolm’s second daughter Qubilah. And at the time of his death, and I’ve seen you elsewhere call it an assassination, he was engaged in work with African descendants in Mexico, or Afro Mexicans. Could you tell us a little bit about why, A, you call it an assassination, and B, or maybe even reverse that, and go A why was he in Mexico doing that work, what was the work that he was doing? And then why do you call this an assassination?
CEYLON: Right on. Well, the thing about young Malcolm is he was pretty much–any time he got a call out to appear somewhere or to show up in solidarity he would go, whether that was in Libya or Canada, UK, all over the place, he would pretty much show up if somebody reached out to him. And that’s how we linked up here in Oakland. And particularly in Mexico, I’m not sure of the exact details around who contacted him or what exactly transpired. But I know it was definitely as you said to work with the community out there and to help lift some situations out there.
And one of the reasons why I call it an assassination is because for one thing, three months before his trip to Mexico City he was actually detained by the FBI, and he made a statement about that. And you can find that statement online. And it’s concerning his harassment by police and by federal agents. And in that statement he says clearly that basically he was perceiving a lot of threats, and just different contact with government officials, with state officials who were concerned with his international work and things of that nature. And in fact in there he talks about how before there’s a public assassination there’s a character assassination. And I think a lot of the information that came out in terms of him being at a bar and all this stuff with a bar tab and all that, and then ended up murdered is, it points to what he was warning us about three months before he passed, you know.
BALL: There’s definitely the ongoing issue as we’ve seen in other cases, as he pointed out, where we do know that there are attempts to disparage someone’s character, to then justify what would then happen to them either in terms of an assassination or imprisonment. And we certainly see that generally speaking there is a quickness in popular media to demonize someone, or entire communities as we saw here in Baltimore, as thugs, or something else. And then lose sight of all the conditions that they’re actually struggling with, or the work that they’re actually doing.
So again, I see that this would be–we see this happening with Malcolm Shabazz, and one of the reasons why we wanted to do this interview to sort of try to help quickly clear up some of the misconceptions of who he was and the work that the was still trying to do at the time of his death.
So in the few moments that we have left, if you could again just sort of recap for us the work that he was trying to do, what were some of his goals in life and what did he see for himself, and what did he see as his legacy, perhaps. And what, finally, did he want to leave the world with?
CEYLON: Right on, right on. Well, I think very much–you know, he was very much inspired by his grandfather, and was moving in the footsteps of Malcolm X. And similar to his grandfather, going from NOI to Sunni Islam, even young Malcolm went from Sunni Islam and he embraced the Shia practice, or the [inaud.] practice of Islam, which has some international repercussions as well.
And basically, he was all about unity and education. We met a few times here in Oakland, and he would do public speaking events, particularly with the youth. And he was really concerned with what’s going on with black people, and the hood, and oppressed people in general. And he was really concerned with Muslims, as well. And that’s why we see him as a martyr, as well.
BALL: You know, Ras, just real quick. Forgive the interruption, but it occurred to me, I just want to ask. We only have a few minutes left. But you mentioned his impact with the youth. How did young people respond to him, themselves not having known much about his grandfather? I’m sure that there was some question about who is this brother that we’re dealing with, as he would appear. What were, how was he welcomed? What was the response that he got from young people?
CEYLON: He was always embraced. He was very, very humble. So he would be right with the youth on their level. It was interesting because every time he would speak he would always ask his audience to raise their hand if they A, read the autobiography of Malcolm X, or B, seen the movie. It was almost like he was doing a little personal tally for himself, you know. It was really interesting.
But you know, being a cat that actually came from the streets as well, he knew how to engage with his people. He was very much one with the people. The youth were always excited about him regardless of, even just him being for who he was, not necessarily who his grandfather was, but the energy and the spirit that he was bringing. And also the discipline. You know, he was a very articulate, well-spoken, very, very intelligent, political brother. You know, we would build on all kinds of things going on.
When we first met it was after the OPD killing of Oscar Grant, and he was helping out with that case and met with the family and whatnot. And he would continue to get involved with different campaigns. He would literally help anybody out. He was a Muslim and he was a revolutionary, and he stood on those principles to the day of his death, or assassination, or martyrdom.
BALL: That’s what’s up. Ras Ceylon, thank you very much for joining us here at The Real News Network.
CEYLON: Right on, appreciate it. Solidarity and justice for Malcolm Shabazz, rahim Allah.
BALL: And thank you for joining us here at The Real News Network as well. And as Fred Hampton used to say and as we always say here at the end of our segments, peace if you’re willing to fight for it, everybody. Catch you in the whirlwind.
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