By Emily Skehan | CNN
By tomorrow, longtime civil rights activist and university professor, Malik Zulu Shabazz, will celebrate his 56th birthday.
Today, he is living quietly in Brooklyn, New York.
Shabazz, the son of Malcolm X, was nominated for the U.S. Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the White House in 2015.
Shabazz did not attend.
In a subsequent interview with CNN, Shabazz called his nomination for the award “truly humbling.”
“President Obama’s statement was an honor. … I can also say thank you to the young people who nominated me,” he said.
His father died at the age of 46 in 1965 while in New York fighting for civil rights.
A recent interview with the Brooklyn Defender , an award-winning newspaper covering issues related to the black community in New York, offers a glimpse into the mind of the third-generation activist who lived in Cleveland and Memphis before arriving in his native Brooklyn about 20 years ago.
“All I want to do is get my point across to young people about the love and commitment that have sustained the fight for justice,” he said in a recent interview with the Brooklyn Defender , an award-winning newspaper covering issues related to the black community in New York.
“I look at my auntie as my inspirational mentor. I’m not afraid to face challenges head on because she never did.”
A self-described “networking activist,” Shabazz in recent years has focused his efforts on encouraging black youth in places like Newark, New Jersey, Boston and Washington to break the cycle of negative behavior, which can carry over into adulthood.
“I just want young people to have exposure to various aspects of the black community, to understand the wealth that’s available to them to bring into their homes,” he said.
“Not only should young people be given access to resources, but they also should be given a sense of responsibility. They should always be prepared to embrace opportunity when it presents itself.”
Shabazz has been criticized by some for spreading what he says is “plagiarism” — the jargon used by scholars to communicate complex ideas in easy-to-understand terms, something that has also been the subject of controversy.
In an article titled “Intellectual Plagiarism & the Destruction of African American Philosopher,” Atlanta civil rights leader Elder Sammy Olengunnu wrote that Shabazz’s “authoring, analysis, review and interpretation of the latest set of Georgetown studies on black history … immediately raised red flags” and “arguably constitutes intellectual plagiarism.”
In a response posted to Facebook, Shabazz declined to give “definitive answers” to the critique, which he said he was responding to with “counterargument, comparative analysis and measured dialogue.”
“This should not only be considered but also remarked upon by the one who also concerns him,” he wrote.
“My responsibility is to my own people and not to you, the black people, who might find me as the ‘dangerous man.’”
Shabazz does not deny being influenced by his father’s work and decades of history in America. But he insists that his approach to activism is the work of his own conscience.
“The basic relationship between Malcolm X and me should be ignored as my own analytical construct,” he wrote.
His father’s words and the inspiration he draws from them, he said, “always motivate me.”