Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Dr. Demetria Shabazz’s legacy lives on

Shabazz opened new doors for those wanting to preserve the past and make a path for the future
Rachel Maynard

Leaving a legacy is more than a name carved in a stone or on a building . It’s the impact left on a community, movement or person. Leaving a legacy is planting seeds in the ground, and knowing one day, you may not get to see them grow.

Dr. Demetria “Dee” Shabazz, a former assistant professor of communication and affiliated faculty member of the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, left her legacy as an activist, volunteer and leader of the Amherst community in media and communication studies. She passed away on Sept. 11, 2023, after a battle with cancer.

Demetria received her bachelor’s degree in English literature with a minor in African American studies from the University of Houston. In 1991 she met Amilcar Shabazz, who was pursuing his Ph.D. in history and teaching in the African American studies program. She took his course “Invisible Houston,” which emphasized community engagement and service learning, as she was already actively involved with the Self-Help for African People through Education (SHAPE) Community Center.

The two bonded over their interests in Black studies and the Black community. “We’re both active scholar activists in the tradition of Black studies,” Amilcar Shabazz said.

They both also had interests “in the power of the tools of mass communication, the printed word, newspapers, magazines, journalism, [and had interest in] the emerging internet [and] emerging digital technologies,” he said.

In 1995, Demetria received her bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Houston. In 2000, she received her master’s degree in telecommunication and film from the University of Alabama. Her thesis, “Television & the Politics of Identity: Race, Gender, and Class in the 1968 Sitcom ‘Julia,’” won the University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences Outstanding Thesis Award for 1999-2000.

In 2005, she received her Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Alabama. Her dissertation continued to explore Black representation and the effect of gender, class and race throughout the sitcom “Julia.”

In 2007, the couple moved to Massachusetts. As Amilcar became the chair member and professor in the Du Bois Department of Afro American Studies, Demetria joined the Department of Communication at the University of Massachusetts as an assistant professor. She taught hundreds of students the department and in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, as well as at Westfield University, Bay Path University and Cambridge College.

Vira Cage, board president for Amherst Media, said when she first met the Shabazz’s — especially Demetria — she felt comfortable “and the whole learning about community through their sharing of time, food knowledge, wisdom and resources [was impactful]. They were just a very supportive family.”

Demetria’s impact only grew as time went on . Her passion for media studies, activism, free speech and local media would ultimately help educate community members, Jim Lescault, the executive director of Amherst Media, said.

In 2011 Lescault started working with Demetria when she first joined the board of Amherst Media, and immediately became active in expanding local media’s outreach into the community.

He explained Demetria would encourage those who struggled find the confidence to use their voices and make a change in community politics or unjust environments because “if you don’t tell your story, someone else will tell it for you.”

Demetria was changing the environment of how the media saw themselves, Lescault said. The media always plays an important role in civil rights and everyday life and her constant presence as a board member, producer and community member helped encourage people to bring their problems to the larger community of Amherst.

“Let’s put a camera in everybody’s hands and let’s see what happens,” Cage said. “What kind of shows are you going to produce? What events are you going to cover? It’s about being creative and allowing people to sort of like validating and affirming the importance of your footprint, your voice, your impact.”

In her honor, Amherst Media’s new building will be named Dr. Demetria Rougeaux Shabazz Center for Media Arts. This will be the first building in the town of Amherst (not on UMass property) that will be named after a person of color.

The new building will have a television and podcasting studio, while serving as a media training site for youth and community members. According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, government transparency will continue and be enhanced by broadcasting and archiving all Amherst School Committee and Town Council meetings, and recording important town events.

By bringing new faces, voices and fresh ideas into the organization of community media, news stays relevant and ever evolving. Demetria made sure that if the mainstream media was not going to come and cover a story, the regular community members had the chance to. They had the equipment and opportunities to send in their work for Amherst Media and other organizations to air and share it with the greater community.

“Community media is about anyone being able to train and access equipment that doesn’t judge you based upon what occupation you have,” Cage said. “It’s about validating and affirming the importance of people’s footprint, voice and impact… [Demetria knew] that oral history is a tool for passing along history, wisdom, knowledge, and honoring the past and connecting to the contemporary.”

Continuing to work with the organizations that Demetria was a part of — such as the Voices of Resilience project, the National Council for Black Studies and the Association for the Study of African American Life and History and Seven Generations Movement Collective — helps uplift local minority communities and provide opportunities for people to get involved and take ownership.

The organizations, Cage noted, belong to everyone and everyone should participate in sustainability to preserve the past and make a path forward together for the future.

Demetria’s legacy also lives on at UMass, Amilcar said.

“I think her impact on the campus overall is one of continuing to build our excellence as a place that values community-engaged research,” he said. “True to our mission as a land grant institution, a lot of our research is meant to have a real impact on people in our local community [and] on advancing the lives of real people. She’s in the best of that tradition.”

Kalina Kornacki can be reached at [email protected] or followed on X (formerly known as Twitter) @KalinaKornacki.

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