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Secretary of State Benson and Ilyasah Shabazz speak at Kalamazoo MLK Day events

Benson and 17 other people, including one small child, pose for a group photo. There is an NAACP banner behind them.
Jessi Phillips
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, standing in the front row and wearing a blue blazer, poses with community officials and leaders in Kalamazoo on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, January 15, 2024.

Shabazz, a daughter of Malcolm X, gave a wide-ranging speech at Western Michigan University while Benson focused on voting rights.

Some Martin Luther King Jr. events in Kalamazoo were cancelled Monday due to extreme cold weather. But Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson spoke at an afternoon event at Galilee Baptist Church, while Malcolm X's daughter Ilyasah Shabazz spoke about her father's and King's legacies, and other topics in the evening.

Election changes and voter confidence

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said Michigan is taking steps to improve voter confidence ahead of November. That includes developing local “voter confidence councils” made up of community leaders. Their goal will be to educate communities about early voting and other new options this year. Benson also said the state plans to track and quickly respond to misinformation.

"We want to send the message to people, if you're trying to lie to our voters, it's not going to work because our voters are going to be educated, they're smart, and we're going to work to restore and ensure people have rightly placed confidence in our elections," she said Monday.

This year Michiganders can take part in early voting for the first time, casting their ballots up to nine days before elections. Benson said this could triple or quadruple the number of election workers, enabling more people to observe the process.

"And if you do so, in good faith, you'll see indeed that our elections are highly secure, and that everyone should have faith in the results," she said.

Benson added that precincts will now be allowed to start counting absentee ballots nine days before the election, so complete election results may be available sooner. Benson said this could help alleviate suspicions that arise when counting continues after election day.

Ilyasah Shabazz on social media, HBCUs and more

Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasah Shabazz discussed her father’s legacy, her mother's influence on her education, social media’s uses and misuses, and challenges facing historically black colleges and universities. She answered a question about how to bolster HBCUs.
“Equity and funding is a start. Recruiting black teachers is certainly a necessity," she said.

Shabazz also emphasized the importance of truth in history education.

Lola Clark-Atkinson attended the talk with her sister, Sadie Clark-Miles. Clark-Atkinson said she grew up in the time of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. and she marched with King in 1963.

"I always admired Malcolm X for his opinions, his views, his courage," she said.

Clark-Atkinson said she agrees with Shabazz that you have to love yourself before you can love others.
Sadie Clark-Miles is a retired Kalamazoo Valley Community College instructor. She said she attends any event that has to do with Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I had a lot of respect for Malcolm X and I just wanted to hear his daughter speak about his legacy," Clark-Miles said.

She added that Shabazz connected compassion with purpose during her talk.