I’d been looking forward to it for weeks: the world premiere of the Lifetime movie Betty & Coretta, the stories of Dr. Martin Luther King’s widow Coretta Scott King (played by Angela Bassett) and Malcolm X’s widow, Dr. Betty Shabazz (played by Mary J. Blige). However, when the movie, which chronicles the friendship the women shared in the aftermath of their husbands’ assassinations in 1968 and 1965 respectively, premiered at 8:00 pm EST last night, February 2, I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. I just wasn’t ready. I still miss Dr. Shabazz too much.
To me, she’s not just a civil rights icon or figure from Black history. Dr. Shabazz is a real person, who was good to me. I got to know Dr. Shabazz early in my career, when I became the managing editor at the Brooklyn-based weekly black newspaper Big Red News (now the New York Beacon) almost 30 years ago. At the time, she was an administrator and former professor at Medgar Evers College and a Big Red columnist. She was always and wise encouraging to me and the other young editors on the newspaper staff who, like me, had just earned their undergraduate degrees. Dr. Shabazz always took us seriously and exhibited genuine interest in our thoughts and ideas, when she could have easily patronized us, or dismissed us altogether as unworthy of her time and attention.
Over the years, after my time at Big Red, Dr. Shabazz would treat me like a favorite nephew whenever she saw me. This treatment always caught me off guard, like receiving a wonderful gift out of the blue for no apparent reason, from someone who had been carrying it around with her until we had occasion for our paths to cross. The last time I saw Dr. Shabazz was at the National Council of Negro Women‘s Black Family Reunion celebration in Washington, D.C., not long after I’d been promoted to chief editor of Black Enterprise magazine. When she saw me, she hugged me and told me how proud she was of my career success since my beginnings at Big Red. Her tragic death happened less than two years later. I don’t want to say anything more about that, or even think about it. I prefer to treasure her life, not dwell on her passing. Selfish, I know.
I will always love Dr. Betty Shabazz for always enfolding me with her love, faith and high expectations for what I and others of my generation could do and achieve. She, like Percy Sutton (the Shabazz family attorney), Maynard Jackson, Reginald F. Lewis, Gil Noble, and other greats, personally took the time to encourage, invest their hopes in, and uplift me. Because of their example, I can do—I will do—no less for others.
I feel better now. Perhaps getting this off my chest—at 1:00 in the morning—has strengthened me. I think I’m ready to watch Betty & Coretta. (I did record it.) I will always love Dr. Betty Shabazz.