Next time you feel overwhelmed, traumatised (their home was fire bombed before Malcolm X was killed in front of her and her children), grief-stricken, spare a thought for the amazing Dr Betty Shabazz.
I grew up aware of Dr King’s legacy (I remember us solemnly learning about the then new Day when I was at a previously segregated elementary school in Wilmington, Delaware for 6th grade). I read Malcolm X’s memoir as a teenager. And I’d remembered, from somewhere along the way, that Coretta was an activist in her own right.
She wouldn’t have married Martin if he wasn’t actively working to help shape the world into a better place for everyone. But, until I saw the Lifetime film, Betty and Coretta, I don’t think I had even heard of Dr Betty Shabazz (played by Mary J Blige).
While Coretta (played by the ever amazing Angela Bassett) spoke out publicly from the time her husband was murdered, Betty, initially, felt that arguing against people who were misunderstanding her late husband’s message (violence as a last resort), was futile.
By the time she was widowed, Betty had 4 children and was pregnant with what turned out to be twins. I feel overwhelmed at the idea of twins on their own. But 6 children? On top of all that trauma, grief, loss and misunderstanding? (Her link with Malcolm X meant she faced a lot of extra predjudice.) My hero.
I loved watching Betty begin to find her voice and to use it. She went back to college to get her doctorate and spent her life doing her best to empower countless students and others. At one point, she tells a struggling young woman not to thank her but to ‘Pass it on. People helped me when I needed it.’
The film was (for me at least) a bit of a tear-jerker (I lost count of the number of times it made me cry) but a wonderful reminder of this amazing woman and how far so many people have come (and how much further we need to go for social justice for all).
And I know that next time I feel like something’s beyond me, thinking of the amazing Dr Betty Shabazz, will help me dig deeper.