Dr. Shabazz is Promoting Equality For Women of Color in the Education Pipeline
Dr. Khalilah Shabazz likens the transformative journey of the butterfly to her own life of challenges, resilience, vulnerability, and change. An Indianapolis, IN native, Shabazz started college as an 18 yr. old single-parent purposed to shatter the stereotype of the uneducated and unproductive teenage mother and later became the first in her family to earn a college degree – a B.S. in Psychology from Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis (UPUI). Motivated by education and working with students, she earned an M.S. and Ph.D. in Higher Education through Indiana University. Shabazz’s 18-year career in higher education began working with first-generation students and in 2014, she became the second director of the IUPUI Multicultural Center spearheading efforts to promote the value of diversity, broaden multicultural awareness, and advance cultural competence. Dr. Shabazz also teaches (or has taught) courses on diversity and multiculturalism on and off-campus. Shabazz is also the Founder of Student African American Sisterhood National, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of young women of color in the educational pipeline. Dr. Shabazz balances her work life with her commitment to her partner Jamil and their blended family of 8 daughters. She enjoys cooking, reading, traveling, shopping, and being active with Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc.
I asked Khalilah some questions about her very hands-on philanthropic contributions. What follows are her responses:
Q & A with Khalilah:
Q: What is the United State of Women and how did you become Ambassador for Indianapolis?
A: The United State of Women is a national organization dedicated to convening, connecting, and amplifying voices in the fight for full gender equity. As the Indianapolis Ambassador, I represent one of two women selected in Indiana (the other in Fort Wayne) to bring together individuals whose efforts involve improving gender equity. My goal is to bring awareness to and connect individuals, organizations, companies, etc., who are committed in action. The USOW Ambassador program provides the training, tools, and resources to support and lead gender equity movements. In 2016, I was afforded the opportunity to attend the first USOW summit in Washington, DC. It was a phenomenal opportunity to learn from and engage with leaders around the country who spoke to gender issues that have affected my own life. Since that time, I remain connected to USOW and was invited to apply to be an Ambassador.
Q: What drew you to the equality issue?
A: Equality gives everyone the same thing; equity gives people what they need to achieve the desired outcome. I believe in gender equity because I know what it is like to not have the same starting point as others, yet be expected to achieve the same results on your own. I identify as a Black woman, mother, mentor, and educator, and I am committed to advancing the rights and respect of women in our country because it is a must. Gender inequities have been established on the backs and at the expense of the women who have helped to build our nation. As women continue to lead behind and in front of the scenes, it is important that we are duly respected, compensated, and empowered to do so. I want to be an active participant in helping to do this work that will improve the lives of my own daughters and future generations. We are at a pivotal point in society, where we are continually shattering our silence and lifting our voices to demand equitable experiences and it is my obligation to participate in the advocacy of gender equity for myself and others.
Q: You founded an organization for African American women who are in the field of education. What concern were you wanting to address? And, was it based on a personal experience you would like to share?
A: I was a first-generation college student who started as a single mother right out of high school. The statistics were not favorable for my success nor for many others who looked like me at predominantly white institutions. While I was able to navigate that environment with limited support, oftentimes, young women of color don’t. While working with many students over the years, I realized that many of the issues they faced, were very similar to ones I had faced on campus – invisibility, being stereotyped, lack of support, few role models, absent from curriculum, and more. Student African American Sisterhood National Organization, Inc. (SAAS) was established to provide institutions with a structured retention and support program to improve the retention, graduation, and experiences of young women of color in the educational pipeline.
Q: In the field of education, you mention the title of Cultural Competency Educator. Can you tell us a bit about that and the work you are doing?
A: I have had several opportunities to convene groups (schools, organizations, businesses, etc.) and facilitate dialogue around
diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through facilitated workshops about diversity, bias, microaggressions, privilege, oppression, understanding one’s own identity and those of others and more, I try to help people invest in their own cultural competency so that they
understand themselves and others better and do their part to positively affect social change.
Q: Where do you feel you are headed with your work and what impact are you most
proud of to date?
A: I have a desire to empower young women and particularly young women of color around the country. Through USOW and SAAS, I am hoping to build an impactful equity initiative in Indiana that celebrates the diversity of women in our state, teaches young girls about their strengths and opportunities beyond the inequities, and elevate and connect individuals and organizations who are doing this work in silos. By building a network in Indianapolis, our movement towards gender equity can be more powerful. To date, I am most proud of the relationships that I’ve been able to develop and maintain with women who are just as committed as I am. There are so many small (in scale) initiatives and organizations that are never recognized for their efforts but still tirelessly and relentlessly work to educate others, transform our community and build others up. I’m grateful for the wisdom and drive to have built SAAS National, educate others, volunteer in my community, and uphold the tenants of scholarship, sisterhood, and service through active membership in Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Incorporated.
Q: What legacy are you building?
A: The legacy I am building centers around my daughters (8 total – 4 biological and 4 bonus). I want them and the future generations of young women to KNOW and EXPERIENCE a life without the gender and racial inequities that exist today. I am hopeful that through my actions, advocacy, words, relationships, respect, acceptance, and support of others that they are empowered to do their part in changing our world.
Khalilah’s Networking Interests:
- Individuals who are committed in action to the development of ALL young
women and women’s equity
- Individuals who desire to help small nonprofits grow by seeding their initiatives
- Individuals who have the capacity to utilize their platforms to uplift diversity,
equity, and inclusion efforts for women