Ismail Omar Shabazz passed quietly at his daughter’s home on Mahogany Street Tuesday morning. He had been suffering from diabetes complications.
A strong and steady man, Shabazz was the glue who held the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) together from its foundation in February of 1969 until he resigned UBAD in November of 1972 to work full time in Nuri Muhammad’s revived Nation of Islam. Within a couple months after Shabazz’s resignation from UBAD, the organization began to fuss and feud and divide. During his years in UBAD, Ismail was the secretary/treasurer.
Sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s, Ismail spent some years in Los Angeles, where he worked with Nuri Akbar and Bilal Morris, younger Belizeans living in L.A., to establish BREDAA. Shabazz also re-connected with the late Edgar X Richardson, a UBAD officer who had left Belize around September of 1969 to live in Los Angeles. I don’t know much about Ismail’s time in L.A., except that he did important work with BREDAA and young Belizean Muslims. I’m sure Nuri Akbar will be telling us about this segment of Shabazz’s life.
Shabazz was “George Tucker,” working with the Malaria Eradication Department at the old Belize City Hospital, until he attended a public meeting held in 1962 by the late Charles X “Justice” Eagan, later “Ibrahim Abdullah.” A primary school dropout who was a functional illiterate, Justice had been deported from the United States after serving time at the Atlanta State Penitentiary. This was a few months before Hurricane Hattie in October of 1961. Justice converted Shabazz and Rudolph Farrahkan (formerly Rudolph Trapp) to the Nation of Islam. Farrahkan also worked with Malaria Education. He and Shabazz were lifelong friends.
The three Muslims became committed to an agricultural program in the Cayo District village of More Tomorrow, where Justice was elected village council chairman. Shabazz had literacy skills, so he added vital correspondence and communications capacity to Justice’s oratorial skills. Justice was a remarkably magnetic personality, but he was a flawed man and, to repeat, a functional illiterate.
So then, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam in Belize was limited to these three men – Justice, Shabazz, and Farrahkan, even though Elijah’s most famous disciple, heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, had paid a spectacular visit to Belize in July of 1965.
I believe I first met Ismail Omar Shabazz when I began to lecture at the Extra-Mural Department of the University of the West Indies in October of 1968. This was at the old Bliss Institute. I had begun teaching English at Belize Technical College in September that year, whereupon I was approached by the Extra-Mural Tutor, the late Vernon Leslie, to do an adult extension course. I chose as the title of the course, “The Black Man in America Literature.” I was a disciple of Malcolm X and a black power advocate at the time. Shabazz appeared at one or two of these lectures.
In early January of 1969, when Robert Livingston, the secretary-general of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Belize, got me to begin lecturing at Liberty Hall, both Justice and Shabazz came to these lectures. They became founding officers when UBAD was established on February 9, 1969. Farrakhan became a UBAD member.
I have written before that, during my presidency and in my opinion, UBAD went through five different phases before it was dissolved in November of 1974. Justice was there for three of those phases, until he was jailed in January of 1971, and Shabazz was there for four, until he joined Nuri Muhammad in November 1972.
In July of 1970, Ismail and I were tried in the British Honduras Supreme Court before Justice Charles Ross on a charge of seditious conspiracy. We were defended by attorneys Assad Shoman and Said Musa, and we were acquitted.
In December of 1971, Ismail and I ran as two of the three UBAD candidates in an NIP/UBAD coalition which contested the 1971 Belize City Council election. The ruling PUP won all nine CitCo seats in that election.
In late December that year, Ismail and I left Belize for Los Angeles by bus. We then made our way by bus from Los Angeles after a week, to New York City, our primary destination. After three weeks in New York City, where we addressed a meeting of Compton Fairweather’s British Honduras Freedom Committee and visited Harlem’s famous Mosque No. 7, we returned to Belize by bus through Mexico, arriving in Belize in early February of 1972.
All this bus travel took place because I was afflicted with plane phobia. Ismail Shabazz was my traveling companion for five weeks. We became even closer than we had become during the seditious conspiracy trial.
Ismail experienced two terrible accidents during his life. In the first, while he was working on a jeep in the mechanical section of the Malaria Department (old Belize City Hospital), a fan blade broke and chopped him in the chest. He was hospitalized for some time and was lucky to survive. This was in the summer of 1969. I think it was sometime during the 1980s that he was involved in a frightening traffic accident on the Chicago freeway one night when the vehicle he was driving suddenly lost all power – lights, engine, everything. He was again lucky to survive, though badly injured.
Ismail was a man of faith. He believed in Islam, and his faith sustained him, through thick and thin. Two weeks ago, Rufus X and I went to visit him at his daughter’s home. We arranged to drive him to More Tomorrow that coming Sunday at 6 a.m. but that Sunday morning, rain, thunder, and lightning began from around 3 a.m. More Tomorrow was Shabazz’s true love, and he wanted to make that trip. He was already experiencing serious health problems, but his spirit was high. This was my last memory of Ismail – a man of strength and a man of faith. I honor him deeply and I will always cherish his memory.
As I mourn Ismail’s passing, I extend deep condolences to his brothers and sisters, his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, his Muslim community family, and all his relatives and friends. We have lost a very good Belizean, a man of love, of dignity, and of faith.