The Sheps Hetep drummers, left, play as the family of Malcolm Latif Shabazz, including his aunts Malaak Shabazz, seated fifth from right, and Ilyasah Shabazz, fourth from right, arrive for his memorial service at the First Corinthian Baptist Church on Thursday, May 30, 2013 in Harlem.
The grandson of the late civil rights activist Malcolm X had a troubled past, but friends and family recalled Thursday how he "redeemed himself" before his own death at a young age.
Several hundred attended a memorial service for Malcolm Shabazz at First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem. The church sits a block from Malcolm X Boulevard.
The 28-year-old was beaten to death earlier this month in Mexico City in a dispute over a $1,200 bar bill, authorities say. Two waiters have been arrested in the case.
As a youth, Shabazz was incarcerated for setting a fire in 1997 at his grandmother's apartment in Yonkers that claimed the life of the widow of Malcolm X.
In recent years, he traveled around the world speaking out against youth violence. He reportedly was in Mexico to meet with labor movement organizers when he was killed.
"It was difficult to be the grandchild of such a powerful man," said Shabazz's childhood schoolteacher Angela Freeman, in whose house Shabazz lived for a few months as a child.
"He had to work through it (Betty Shabazz's death), and he did," she said after the service.
Freeman said she doesn't believe the fire he set, when he was 12, was intended to kill his grandmother.
"I hope people will realize that he redeemed himself," she said.
Friends have said Shabazz was working on turning his life around when he was killed.
Thursday's remembrance started with a drum processional featuring members of the Shabazz family marching hand-in-hand into the church. Speakers focused on the positive aspects of his life.
His aunt, Ilyasah Shabazz, said her nephew had the "biggest smile that would light up a room."
"He was smart, enormously intelligent," she added. "A little bookworm."
The memorial service program said Shabazz "embraced his legacy and with reverence for his grandfather identified himself as the grandson, namesake and first male heir of the greatest revolutionary of the 20th century,"
Malcolm X was shot to death in 1965 as he delivered a speech in a Harlem ballroom.
Malcolm Shabazz was buried last week near his grandparents at the Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, north of New York City.
His grandfather would have been very proud," Freeman said. "I'm sad today, but am also very proud of the young man he became."