INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — A Hoosier native is following in her great-grandmother’s footsteps to be an agent of change in central Indiana.
She’s empowering hundreds of ladies across the country and the Circle City after being labeled as a statistic at the age of 16.
“My story is one of millions of the black women voices that have been silenced,” said Dr. Khalilah A. Shabazz, assistant vice chancellor for student diversity, equality and inclusion at IUPUI.
She’s referring to the black women who struggle daily to find a way or make one, with little or no support.
“I met Dr. K at a point where I thought I was out the door. I felt like I couldn’t do college. I couldn’t be away from home,” said Javecia Johnson, an IUPUI alum and member of the Student African American Sisterhood (S.A.A.S.).
Shabazz, also known as Dr. K, serves many roles: mother, wife, mentor and pillar in the black community.
“Dr. K is what every young black girl wants to be when they grow up,” said Zola Lamonthe, an IUPUI marketing student.
Dr. K was born and raised on the north side by her great-grandmother, Vivianne Marbury. Marbury is one of the founders of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority on the campus of Butler University–she’s the reason Dr. K is a Sigma woman and the reason for her success.
“I can’t even begin to tell my life story without talking about the significant role that she played in my life,” said Shabazz.
Shabazz attended some of the best schools. She says education was her coping mechanism to escape her troubled past of molestation, murder and trauma.
At the age of 16, she was faced with a challenge she knew nothing about: motherhood.
“In that moment I was scared,” she said.
She didn’t let that stop her. She went to IUPUI to earn a bachelor of science in psych. By the time she graduated in 2000, she had three girls. She still continued her education, earning her masters and Ph.D. in higher ed and student affairs.
“I’ve seen her literally start from scratch, but every time she said she was she was going to do something, she didn’t let anything stop her, not even me,” said her oldest daughter, Briana Payne.
Shabazz’s dissertation called on her to create change.
“My dissertation topic was black women on a white campus living through invisibility. Because I wanted to tell the story of what it meant to be a black girl going to college at a white campus and talk about their experiences and what their levels of support were,” said Shabazz.
Her dissertation made her realize there was a need on campus, which is why she founded Student African American Sisterhood, also known as S.A.A.S.
“Dr. K created this atmosphere where you can cry, you can laugh, you can do whatever you need to do to be able to feel like you can keep going,” said Johnson.
Shabazz has expanded Student African American sisterhood to 18 colleges and universities throughout the country.
“They are the future black women who are going to do the dang on thing,” said Shabazz.
After she does her thing with the students–it can include talks, mentoring, trips etc.–she goes home to a blended family that includes eight daughters.
“I haven’t always got it right, and I’m learning to be OK with that,” she conceded.
But to her daughters, she could do no wrong.
“She laid the foundation for us. And now when it comes to any adversity that I may be facing I kind of look at it like well what can’t I do. Because I’m Briana, and she’s Brandy, and she’s Brooklyn and our sister Brittney. We come from greatness. We come from Dr. K,” said Payne.
They carry a lot of pride knowing who their mother is and what she does for those who aren’t exactly related. Her husband Jamil says there’s only a handful of women who have made an impact on his life.
“She is the epitome of a woman in my life,” said Jamil Shabazz.
Dr. K plans to continue moving forward in life while empowering others. She says her story is that no one takes the time to listen to a black or brown girl in a downtrodden or minority community.
“I’m not speaking for, but I’m speaking with all the other stories that are never told and the successes of people that look just like me,” she said.
That’s where she hopes change will form.