Afeni Shakur was a philanthropist, businesswoman, social engineer, and political activist for the Black Panther Party. As a dedicated community organizer, writer, teacher, poet, and real-life revolutionary, Afeni Shakur was committed to impacting the lives of others. She was best known for being the mother of the legendary hip-hop artist Tupac Shakur.
Born Alice Faye Williams on January 10, 1947 in Lumberton North Carolina, a small town west of Fayetteville, Afeni Shakur derived from humble beginnings. She was the daughter of Walter Williams, a truck driver and Rosa Belle Williams, a homemaker. As children, Afeni and her older sister, Gloria Jean, had a troubled childhood. Their mother was physically abused by their father.
To escape the abuse, Afeni’s mother became a single parent and moved her children to New York in 1958. Mrs. Williams was frequently ill. Therefore, her daughters spent many of their formative years living with various relatives. Afeni attended the Bronx High School of Science
She joined the emerging Black Panther movement in 1964 after seeing revolunatry co-founder Bobby Seale deliever a powerful speech on 125th Street in Harlem. She became a section leader of the Harlem chapter and a mentor to new members. She also began writing articles for the party’s newsletter, the Panther Post. These articles included some of her original poetry. She also specialized in raising bail money for jailed Panthers and was successful in organizing a misdirection campaign which led the FBI to believe that the Panther Party was fading.
In 1968, she moved in with fellow Panther Lumumba Abdul Shakur and changed her name to Afeni Shakur, Afeni meaning “lover of people” and Shakur being Arabic for “thankful to god”, respectively.
On April 2, 1969, Afeni and 20 fellow Panthers were arrested, and charged with several counts of conspiracy to bomb police stations, department stores, and other public places in New York City, which amounted to 153 felonies. The bail was set at $100K for each Panther. As a pregnant, single mom with no law degree, she acted as her own criminal defense attorney. She made her arguments and interviewed several witnesses while facing a 30-year prison sentence. She and her fellow Panthers were acquitted of all charges. According to an account of the trial in the book The Briar Patch, by former lawyer Murray Kempton, Afeni Shakur was largely responsible for defeating the prosecution’s case. In her cross-examination of undercover detective Ralph White, Afeni performed like a seasoned attorney and won her freedom in May of 1971.
On June 16, 1971, Afeni gave birth to her son Lesane Parish Crooks. She later changed his name to Tupac Amaru Shakur, deriving his name from the Inca words for “Shining Serpent, Blessed One.” She wanted him to have the name of a revolutionary.
After Tupac’s birth, she did not return back to the Black Panther Party movement. She worked as a paralegal in the Bronx and in 1975 married Mutulu Shakur, an activist for New Afrikka Movement. He acted as a father figure for Tupac even after the marriage ended in 1982. She later moved with her son and daughter Sekyiwa to Baltimore, where Tupac attended the Baltimore School for the Performing Arts, studying dance and music.
During the mid-80s, Afeni turned to drugs in her struggle with the post-traumatic stress brought on by systematic oppression of the Black Panther Party. After seeing many leaders and fellow organizers killed, drugs became the way she coped. Her drug addiction eventually lead to homelessness. Although she battled drug addiction while raising her two children alone, she saw one thing clearly: “Arts can save children, no matter what’s going on in their homes,” she told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview. Afeni Shakur believed that the art programs in which Tupac was enrolled in saved his life.
In 1989, due to his mother’s abundant use of drugs, Tupac left home and had no contact with his mother or sister for a few years. He started performing as a dancer and “hype man” with the award winning rap group Digital Underground, and in 1991 released the album 2Pacalypse Now, which became a major success and launched the young musician into stardom. Afeni Shakur returned to New York City and started attending Narcotics Anonymous classes.
In 1991, Afeni became clean after completing a 12-step drug treatment program. Her sobriety ignited reconciliation between her and her son, Tupac which inspired him to write and record a tribute song, “Dear Mama.” The song went platinum. Rolling Stone named it one of the best hip-hop songs of all time. She was a constant inspiration in Tupac’s music. “Ain’t a woman alive that could take my mother’s place,” he said in the tribute, which was later added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
A year after “Dear Mama” was released, Tupac Shakur was shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas on September 7th, 1996. A week later, he died of gunshot wounds at a local hospital. Afeni was at his side.
A year after Tupac’s death, Afeni Shakur created the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, which sponsors programs to help young people succeed in art and musical projects. The foundation features a day camp for children, provides scholarships and grants for young artists, and hosts charitable events.The foundation is located in Stone Mountain Georgia.
She also founded Amaru Entertainment to keep her son’s music alive. She established the Makaveli Branded clothing line in 2003, with a portion of the proceeds used to support expansion of the Tupac Shakur Center, also located in Stone Mountain Georgia. In 2006, she added a six-acre memorial park to the complex, with areas for meditation, pavilions for visitors, and a seven-foot statue of her son. She was named co-executor of Tupac’s estate, estimated between $8 and $10 million in 1997 and included a library of unreleased material estimated at a value of more than $100 million.
Afeni Shakur traveled all over the country, making guest appearances and delivering lectures at various colleges and events. In 1999, her and Voletta Wallace, the mother of the Notorious B.I.G., appeared together at the MTV Music Awards to call for unity in the hip-hop community. In 2007, she gave the Keynote Address for Vanderbilt University’s Commemoration for Black History Month.
On May 2, 2016, Afeni Shakur passed away unexpectedly due to cardiac arrest at her home in Sausalito California. A large part of her fight and legacy was empowering people to use their voice and to know their rights. Afeni Shakur will always be remembered as a revolutionary who gave birth to revolutionary and even today, both voices continue to speak.
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