When Brittany Ferguson painted her childhood hero, Malcolm X, in July, she had no idea his daughter would be holding the painting two months later.
Monday afternoon, she watched as his daughter, Ilyasah Shabazz, accepted her painting, a portrait of Malcolm X in hues of blue, after Shabazz spoke to a crowd in the Bob Graham Center for Public Service. Sharon Austin, the director of UF’s African-American Studies program, had purchased the painting at Ferguson’s art show in July and made a point of passing the painting along.
Ferguson then approached the stage and the two embraced.
"First of all, it’s a humbling experience to be here to hear her speak," Ferguson, 29, said. "It’s a massive honor for her to have a little piece of something I did."
Students packed into Pugh Hall to hear Shabazz’s speech, filling all three floors and standing in the back of the room.
Though Shabazz, 53, speaks at colleges regularly, it was her first time in Gainesville. She spoke at both the Graham Center on Monday and the Alachua County Library District Headquarters Library on Sunday.
Shabazz said her message was mostly the same in both speeches: to focus on education to affect change.
Shabazz said she studied biology in college, which for her emphasized the vast difference between humans and insects, amphibians and plant life: humanity.
"The only reason why we do this work is because of love and compassion," she said to the crowd. "My father did it because he loved his people so much that he sacrificed his life going around the world trying to figure out how to end injustice."
Shabazz said not much has changed about institutionalized racism in America since the 1950s and ’60s. But now we have smartphones, she said.
"This is the time in your lives to organize yourselves through social media all across the world," she said during the speech. "Just as those who labored before you, you will set promising examples to the next generation of justice seekers."
Shabazz also pointed out the importance of taking steps beyond posting a Black Lives Matter hashtag and calling oneself an activist.
Suroosh Mostoufi, a UF international studies senior, said he liked Shabazz’s emphasis on history and education as the key to solving global issues.
"Like she said, without a full understanding of history, your education is incomplete," the 22-year-old said. "You’re doomed to make the mistakes of the past."
Shabazz said one solution is having faith.
"You are the leaders that have to make a difference," she said. "If you believe you can make a difference, change will happen." READ MORE