Special to the AmNews
Two mathematic scholars, Dr. Munaj A. Rachman and Asantewa McIntosh Dawson, painted a vivid picture of the life, work and accomplishments of the late math genius, Dr. Abdulalim Shabazz. Born May 22, 1927, in Bessemer, Ala., Shabazz fine-tuned his mathematical genius through academic achievement and a profound understanding of role and importance of math in everyday life. After earning a Bachelor of Science and Chemistry from Lincoln University, a Master of Science from Massachusetts University of Technology and a Ph.D. from Cornell University, Shabazz devoted his life to dispelling the myth that Black students could not master math.
The SRO tribute, held at the Dr. John Henrik Clarke House in Harlem Sept. 28, began with Dawson describing Shabazz as a genius, master teacher, visionary and revolutionary. She studied under Shabazz when he was head of the mathematics department at Clarke Atlanta University, where he taught his students the importance of discipline and integrity along with math. “Dr. Shabazz,” she recalled, “is credited with being directly responsible for half of all the Blacks in the nation who earned Ph.D.s in math.”
Rachman, who endowed Shabazz with a chair when he headed the math department at Grambling University, recalled how Shabazz recruited students whose math performance was poor. Rachman, a Shabazz student, recalled, “Within six weeks, Shabazz would dispel the fear and anxiety that his students had about math. He maintained an open door policy to his office. Any student needing help could come to his office at any time. Using his special method of teaching, students quickly became high achievers in all areas of the discipline. As a student, I was so impressed with Dr. Shabazz’s open door policy that when I was appointed head of the math department at Grambling University, I tried to replicate all that I learned from him.”
Shabazz will forever be remembered as a master teacher whose storied career included work at the Cornell Laboratory of Aeronautics in Buffalo, N.Y., and research mathematician for the Metals Research Laboratory of the Electro Metallurgical Co. of Niagara Falls. He functioned as director of education for the Nation of Islam from 1975 to 1986, as mathematics department head at Clark Atlanta, Lincoln and Grambling universities. He was the recipient of many national awards, including the Mentor Award in 1992 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for his leadership in efforts to increase participation of Blacks, women and individuals with physical disabilities in science and engineering.
His career was fraught with challenges to his successful way of teaching Black students. He fought racist opposition, lies and treachery throughout his career, yet his success as a mathematician remains unmatched. His students are now teaching math throughout the world. James McIntosh, Dr. Clarke House chair, reviewed excerpts from a broadside that he wrote detailing the most egregious incidents of Shabazz’s career. “His supreme wisdom and courage was a gift to the African race,” he said.