Teferi Brent has been friends with Malik Shabazz for more than 30 years.
The Detroit activists met in the 1980s during a protest of a liquor store that was selling spoiled meat and had pornographic magazines in an area that was accessible to children.
“He was responsible for getting all that shut down,” Brent said. “He was the one that made the grocery markets stop selling bad meat to the public and expired food.”
Over decades of friendship, Brent and Shabazz have worked to better the lives of Detroiters. The activists are known for speaking out against crime and gun violence, including protesting liquor stores and drug houses. In 2010, they created the community safety organization Detroit 300 alongside motivational speaker Raphael B. Johnson and the late Angelo Henderson, a former Detroit News reporter and radio host.
“It was born out of our utter disdain for seeing children murdered, women being raped and elders being terrorized,” he said. “As men, we had to stand up and do something about it.”
Now, Brent said he is sending prayers to his friend who is in Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit after suffering a heart attack Monday.
A vigil was held outside of the hospital Tuesday, with attendees like Shabazz’s wife Wanda Akilah Redmond, community leaders, residents and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Detroit Police Chief James White.
Aside from prayers, Akilah Redmond urged attendees of the vigil to “come together to reduce this crime in the neighborhood” stressing it’s what her husband would want and “it’s gonna take everybody.”
City Council President Mary Sheffield said in a statement to BridgeDetroit that Shabazz has been a shining example of service in the community over the last several decades.
“If society had more dedicated and selfless people like Minister Shabazz, the world would be a much better place,” she said. “I join the countless residents and activists praying for a miraculous recovery for our brother, friend and Detroit stalwart.”
An ‘irreplaceable’ person
Brent said Shabazz, who founded the New Black Panthers Party/New Marcus Garvey Movement, has a mission to change the negative perception of Detroit. He also works to ensure the safety of residents and that business owners and merchants respect Black residents. That led to another initiative called Dignity of Detroit, a coalition of organizations that work to protest establishments in the city, the majority of them gas stations. Brent said together, he and Shabazz have worked to shut down or boycott about 50 businesses.
“Ain’t no telling how much he’s done in addition to that; business that he’s successfully shut down to get them to transform their behaviors and how they interacted with our people and how they served and treated our people. Malik is really irreplaceable.”
Brent said Shabazz has been his longest standing brother and ally in the Detroit urban justice movement and has greatly influenced his community activism.
“He’s the brother I would call when it got real and I would be one of the brothers he would call when it got real,” he said. “He was a true brother, he wasn’t a hater. There was no competition. He wanted to see everybody do well. Anyone who does work in this city would be lying if they said they weren’t influenced by brother Malik.”
Luther Keith, the executive director of community service organization ARISE Detroit, said he has known Shabazz for more than 30 years, first meeting him while Keith was working as an editor at the Detroit News. Keith had the activist on his podcast “Neighborhood Transformers” earlier this month.
Keith called Shabazz a “gentle giant” with a sensitive heart.
“He had the mayor, police chief, Wayne County people, preachers, everyday Detroiters (at the vigil) and I think that’s a testament to the type of person he is,” Keith said. “That’s why people are taking it so hard, they’re praying and hoping he’ll pull through.
“We need Malik, we need a thousand more like him.”
Randolph said he and Shabazz connect on a spiritual level, with the activist being one of the few ministers that the pastor has let preach from his pulpit at the Church of the Messiah. The pastor recently honored Shabazz for his community service at the church’s Silence the Violence rally and was surprised to hear that he couldn’t attend because he was sick. Randolph said Shabazz usually attends every year.
“He will go out into the neighborhood, he will get down to the nitty gritty, he will talk to everybody in that community,” he said. “And it will be about bringing justice to victims, people who’ve been victimized, families who don’t have answers to murders. Malik is the person who has the boots on the ground who will get down to following up on whatever the issue is.”
Like Brent and Keith, Randolph agreed there’s no one else in Detroit like Shabazz.
“There is no replacement for Malik Shabazz,” he said. “There’s no other people waiting in the wings to go out and do the work that he does. We need him, we honestly truly need him.”