Shabazz, only two years old, was present when her father was assassinated in 1965 at Manhattan's Audubon Ballroom. The only knowledge her mother gave her about her father was that he was a very important martyred human rights leader. In fact, she had to read to gather any other information she wanted about her father. But the presence of her father was very strong in their household. Shabazz’s mother placed many pictures of her deceased husband all over their home, and many books about him in their library. Her mother even kept all his suits and his briefcase in her closet.
Many people assumed that Shabazz would follow in her father’s footsteps, but her upbringing included minimal political aspects. Instead she and her sisters were raised in Mount Vernon, New York in an integrated community by their mother. They were a middle-class family, and she attended private schools, took ballet lessons and attended elite summer camps. When she attended college at SUNY New Paltz, in the mid-Hudson Valley, New York, her peers were quite surprised when she wasn’t the powerful, speech-giving African American woman they expected. Still, she moved into the black dormitory and was elected an officer in the Black Student Union.
Shabazz wrote Growing Up X, a book about being Malcolm X’s daughter, in 2002. She was very nervous about releasing the book because she did not want to ruin anyone’s expectations of her. She was featured in magazines and newspapers and was also nominated for an NAACP Image Award. Before her book was released, Ilyasah thought she wanted to be a songwriter or a model, but she seems to have found her calling as a writer.
She recorded a public service announcement for Deejay Ra's Hip-Hop Literacy campaign, encouraging reading of Malcolm X's autobiography and Alex Haley's books.