Daughters of King, Malcolm X Also Have a Message

Times Staff Writer

Their fathers were civil rights rivals whose goals were far apart--and whose fates were tragically intertwined.

But the daughters of slain black activists Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X set aside their fathers' differences to produce plays and musicals that promote self-esteem among young blacks.

On Friday, Yolanda King and Attallah Shabazz were honored by Los Angeles County supervisors for the unifying message they put on stage Thursday night at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. Supervisors praised the 75-minute musical, "Stepping Into Tomorrow," as "entertaining and enlightening."

Officials could have also added the word "timely" to colorful scrolls bestowed upon King, 32, of Atlanta and Shabazz, 28, of New York. The play's three-week run began as authorities stepped up their attack against street gangs that have terrorized some parts of Los Angeles.

King said the production company has been approached by several organizations that want to arrange special stagings of the play for gang members before the show's run ends May 1.

"Almost all the characters embody the kinds of problems that far too many contemporary young people have that can make them turn to gangs and that kind of violence," King said.

Shabazz said the aim of the play is to give "a sense of hope and motivation" to young people. "All of the things that we fall prey to--peer pressure, drugs, gang violence--the reason is because of low self-esteem, not liking yourself and having a small will or none at all," she said.

The pair said they decided to team up to write plays after they met at a lecture. Their first meeting was awkward, primarily because of the public's perception of their respective fathers, King acknowledged.

Baptist minister Martin Luther King Jr., whose 1968 assassination is being remembered this week, was a Nobel Peace Prize-winning advocate of racial harmony. Malcolm X was a fiery Black Muslim who recommended black nationalism and violence for self-protection for his followers.

Shabazz said her father met with King before Malcolm's assassination and "realized they had much more in common as men, as humans, than people realized."

"Though our parents may have walked different paths, they were heading toward the same candy store--to similar horizons," Shabazz said.

Supervisor Kenneth Hahn presented the scrolls to King and Shabazz and to play cast members Sherri Poitier, daughter of actor Sidney Poitier, and Gina Belafonte, daughter of entertainer Harry Belafonte. He said he knew King, but never met Malcolm X.

"I sensed I was in the presence of a great man the first time I met your father," he told Yolanda King. To Shabazz, he added: "Your father was famous, too. He set the world on fire."

King said commitments in Atlanta today will prevent her from marching in a downtown Los Angeles parade in honor of her father. But she urged clergymen who have withdrawn from the march in protest over some of the positions taken by sponsors of the event to reconsider and join the parade this morning.

"I'd urge people to set aside their differences and use it as a springboard to hopefully build some bridges," King said of the march.

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