Afeni Shakur: Evolution Of A Revolutionary

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9780743470537: Afeni Shakur: Evolution Of A Revolutionary

One of the most visible figures in both the hip-hop and civil rights movements charts her moral and spiritual development in a stirring and poignant memoir spanning five decades.As a child growing up in North Carolina, Alice Faye Williams knew that the most important thing her impoverished family lacked was land; as she puts it, "The land, to live on and to cultivate and pass on to my family." But there was no land, and in the end her family moved to New York, where in her late teens Alice Faye became Afeni Shakur, a radicalized, prominent Black Panther. In 1969, she was arrested along with a number of other Black Panthers on suspicion of planning bombings -- she spent eleven months on remand before women of all races raised $64,000 in cash to bail her out. She was subsequently acquitted of all charges. While in jail, Afeni Shakur was pregnant with her son, Tupac, who went on to become Tupac Amaru Shakur, a rap megastar until his tragic death in 1996.Over the course of a decade, the renowned actress Jasmine Guy has been recording the thoughts of Afeni Shakur. In this unique book, Guy reveals the evolution of the woman through a series of intimate, revealing conversations on themes such as love, race, drugs, music, and of course her son. We see how the impoverished southern girl became a leading light in the Black Panther movement; how drugs brought her low; how her recovery filled her with new hope for herself and the future of black women everywhere; and how the work of her son has served to bring renewed hope and courage to people that this country has too often left behind.Beautifully written, and a beacon of understanding for all Americans, "Afeni Shakur: Evolution of aRevolutionary" will stand as a powerful testament to the perseverance of one woman, and the power of change and forgiveness.

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About the Author :

Afeni Shakur hails from Lumberton, North Carolina. She now lives in the Atlanta, Georgia, suburb of Stone Mountain. In 1997, she founded Amaru Entertainment/Records as a vehicle through which her son's work could continue to be legitimately released after his murder. Since then, Amaru Entertainment has successfully released several chart-topping albums as well a book of Tupac's original poetry with an accompanying CD -- both titled The Rose that Grew from Concrete -- as well as the movie, book, and soundtrack Tupac: Resurrection.

Ms. Shakur also founded the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, Inc., based in Georgia, which provides opportunities for young people to pursue their creative and artistic dreams. The foundation is also on a mission to build the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts, a multipurpose performance arts center in Stone Mountain, Georgia. This is her first book.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

Chapter ONE: The Stuff

"It's important to know the stuff you came from."

-- Afeni Shakur


I travel east on I-20 as the sun sets behind me, passing exits I no longer recognize. Old fears of being lost on the highway in Stone Mountain, Georgia, resurface, even though I'm told it's no longer the crackerland of my childhood. Black folk live out here now, far beyond the parameters of my youth. Today, Atlanta stretches past Cumberland Mall, Six Flags, and even Stone Mountain. Things have changed and I missed the transition. I feel strangely stuck right in the middle of my life. There was a time when my life was all ahead of me. Today, there is a big chunk behind me and maybe just as much in front. All this means is, I still have time to change my attitudes and sensibilities, but I am just less inclined to do so. Let's say I'm just a little less flexible. Like an uncle of mine who still says "colored" instead of "black." He just never got used to saying "Black" or "Negro," and didn't understand what difference it made or why he had to make a change. The change was irrelevant to him..."African-American" was out of the question.

So, the irony of the famed revolutionary and impassioned mother of a rapper -- superstar Tupac Shakur -- now residing in suburban, once-Klan-country Georgia is not lost on me. In fact, I have learned to expect the unexpected from Afeni Shakur. Not because she means to be complex or contradictory, but because she just is. That is her truth, and it's a truth that fascinates me. I've grown to love my friend Afeni.

As I drive I think back to December 1, 1994, the day I met Afeni. At the time, I was writing a screenplay about a fictitious young woman in the '60s who was raising her daughter while still living with her own mother. The piece was, or still is if I ever get finished writing it, a three-generation piece about Black women. The young woman in the middle is a fictitious, composite character of Angela Davis and Afeni Shakur. My plan was to meet Afeni and hopefully have her help me develop this particular character and perhaps give me her insights on the other two.

The way I met her was not how I'd imagined, though. In fact, I was thrust into a tumultuous family trauma her son, my friend, Tupac, had been brutally shot five times in the foyer of a New York recording studio on a Sunday night; had left Bellevue Hospital on a Monday, and was in court on a Tuesday morning for a sexual assault hearing. So, on December 1, 1994, I was early for the court hearing and waiting in a vast hallway with Jada Pinkett, a close friend of mine and an even closer friend to Tupac Shakur. We were waiting to get a glimpse of Tupac on his way into court and let him know we were near and there for him. At that time, I didn't even know the charges or the circumstances of the trial. I just knew that Tupac was shot the night before in the entrance of the recording studio, and I needed to be there to support my friends -- Jada and Tupac.

The crazy events of the last two days had me reeling, but I tried to consciously stay in the moment. It is Tuesday morning. Tuesday morning. You're in New York. You're at the courthouse. I remember talking myself into the present moment of that day, but I kept slipping out. Tupac is shot. Someone shot Tupac. Today is Tuesday morning...Five times! Who did it? He's at Bellevue....That was Monday, which would be yesterday....He's out. Tupac's gone. He left. The hospital? He didn't feel safe up in there. At Bellevue? Monday, that was yesterday. Where is he? I don't know, but I'm going to New York. Here I am Tuesday morning at the courthouse. Just be here. Just be present. Someone may need you.

And that's where I was -- jumping back and forth in my head -- this Monday, the day I first saw Afeni Shakur. A tight group clustered at the end of the hall, surrounding a wheelchair holding an ashen, bandaged, diminutive Tupac. Two women headed the clan that hovered over him, and I later learned that his family was indeed a "clan." At the time, however, it just looked to me like a bunch of folk. I mistook the lady in charge to be Afeni at first notice, but the lady was Glo, Afeni's sister. Afeni stood beside her. Glo was stern and serious, as I had imagined Afeni would be, and Glo checked me out when she first saw me, like I was some little wannabee trying to get next to Tupac. Afeni, on the other hand, was warmer. She embraced me like I was an old friend. Little did I know I would grow to be just that -- an old friend.

I sit with this memory of December 1994 when I first met Afeni. I sit with this memory now in Stone Mountain, Georgia, as I approach the long driveway of Afeni's house -- the house Tupac bought for her. Eight years later, I get to sit with my Afeni, and I relish my time alone in her world. She wants to talk of origins, beginnings. She is ready now to reveal her own history. She is ready now because she's taken some time with herself to reflect on her life. She needed this time because her beloved son died. He didn't die the first time he was shot five times in the foyer of the New York recording studio, but he was shot again two years later in Las Vegas. And this time, she lost him. September 13, 1996. So, Afeni needed some time to look at her life and work out why she is still here. Now, she wants to tell her story, and she called me to tell it to. She says she's been back to her home and has spent some time with her people. She understands more about her mama, her daddy, and their mamas and daddies. She's had some time to go back home to Lumberton, North Carolina, and Norfolk, Virginia, and revisit where her life began as Alice Faye Williams.


Her house is set back from the street. I park next to a few cars in the driveway, and I recognize one of them as Tupac's prized Mercedes. I smile and walk up the steps to Afeni's front door. It is ajar, so, I just step in and yell a few "hellos."

"I'm in the back," Afeni calls.

I follow her voice through the airy living room and wood-paneled den. On the walls are powerful oil portraits of Tupac. The photos on the mantel above the brick fireplace celebrate Afeni's babies, her grandchildren, nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, and the offspring of her ex-comrades and their children's children. A generation has passed since the revolution. My baby, Imani, is up there too. And I realize I am part of this family as well, and I'm grateful for the inclusion.

I reach Afeni's bedroom only to find her backlit in the doorway of her veranda, her silhouetted arms reaching out to me. I get closer and I see her glistening eyes smile broadly. She hugs me, strong and hearty, as if she were a big ole man instead of the small-boned little lady she is. I enjoy Afeni's hug. It carries weight and time and the sense that it may be the last one. So I hold on tight. There aren't many people in my life this happy to see me and she always is.

"Afeni," I say. "I can't believe your house. It's so warm and inviting and -- "

"I got furniture," she proclaims.

We laugh and I add, "I didn't crawl over lumps of sleeping teenagers on the floor either. And it's light in here. And clear."

"Yeah," Afeni says. "I only smoke back here now, in my room and on my porch. 'Cause of the kids, you know."

"It's lovely, Fe. I'm proud of you." Having a house that is a home is a major accomplishment for Afeni, who has spent most of her adult life an impoverished gypsy. In dire straits she always stayed with her sister Glo, and dire straits were frequent.

"Come on out here." Afeni leads the way. "Come on out here on my porch."

The porch is deep and long, and wraps around the house like a huge knitted scarf. In one corner, Afeni's chaise lounge sits to the right of a small table. Another cushioned chair to the left of the small table faces the sprawling pine forest of her backyard. In the farthest corner a large color TV flickers, on mute, but full of CNN.

"Shit, you might as well move the bed out here, too," I exclaim. I've never seen a TV on an outdoor porch before. I nestle in my chair and let the warm, rich Georgia air rest on my face. God, I miss humidity.

"This is all I ever wanted," Afeni says. "This right here? This is the best thing Tupac ever did for me."

"It is nice, Afeni, and very peaceful." I began to see why she's in Stone Mountain.

"Land. We always wanted land. Shit, I come from sharecroppers. Of course, they wanted land, too. They understood the value of owning your own land, 'cause they never owned nothing. My great-grandmother, Millie Ann, she was the last person in our family to have land, and it has taken all this time for us to own land again Now, Black people want trinkets, cars and clothes, and shit. That's part of the genocide, the loss of values. It is killing us, as a people."

Afeni shakes her head. "Millie Ann had land, and she lost it. Her sons got busted, and she put the house up for bail. Then it burned down. Black people had land, you know, but we lost it. It was hard to keep it, though, but when that land got taken, it broke us down a little more. So, the next time the children came up, they didn't know it is the land that is important. Now, they think the trinket is important 'cause their parents and their parents before them didn't own shit."

"And they died owning nothing," I add.

"And nothing to pass down," Afeni says.

"The Cadillac parked in front of unit B in the projects," I say to Afeni, the vision dear to me. Having grown up near a project in Atlanta, I get what she's saying about our skewed values.

"Exactly, but if you got your land, that's what you work for. I don't need no clothes, jewelry, and shit. Because now I work to keep the land. I want a generator in case the electricity goes out. I want space so if someone needs a place to live, they can put a trailer up right there and have a home. I want my grandchildren to know how to garden and cultivate their own food. I want them to know because I come from farmers and people of the land and I lost it. You see that," Afeni points to a patch of dark soil with cabbage, lettuce, carrots thriving. "I tried to do that garden and I got calluses and shit. I burned my hands up! That shit is hard work. Them women in those days, my great-grandmother, my people, they worked their butts off from sunup to sundown to keep it up. You can't be spending your money on trinkets if you have to keep up your land."

I join in. "When I first got A Different World I bought a house. Actually, I did a Burger King commercial for sixty grand, and that was my down payment. Before I bought a nice car or a nice stereo system, I made sure I had a home that I owned."

Afeni taps my thigh. "Yes," she says excitedly. "Priority. And I'm glad your people taught you that. You knew early. It's taken me so many years to find my priority in life, only to come right back here where I began. Now, I know what I'm working for and striving for. The real estate man who showed me this place was happy to sell it to me, you know, until he found out who my son was. Then he wanted me to go and get a big ole fancy house."

"Yes, 'cause your son's a superstar! You need some marble and a fountain, some gates and some statues, a swimming pool!" I laugh because such showy opulence would be untrue to Afeni's real self.

"And I wanted the land, not the house. The land, to live on and to cultivate and pass on to my family."

Afeni inhales her Newport and surveys the deep forest green of her backyard. I notice new saplings planted on the edge of her small pine forest.

"Those new trees are what the babies planted," Afeni says proudly.

Afeni's "babies" are the Shakur family's next generation. The two sisters, Glo and Afeni, are at the helm -- they are the keepers of the brood. Sekyiwa, Afeni's daughter, and Tupac's sister, has two children -- Nzingha and Malik. Jamala, Glo's daughter, has one daughter -- Imani. Katari, Glo's son, has a daughter as well, Kyira, the same name as my daughter. And on any given day, these cousins roam Afeni's yard, raid her refrigerator, and laugh up the rooms of her Stone Mountain refuge.

"Nzingha wanted a pine tree. So, that's her tree right there. That one is Imani's. And Leeki [Malik], he wanted a fruit-bearing tree. This one's his and look...there's some fruit! We plant a tree for Tupac on his birthday every year. Either here or on the farm."

Afeni also owns a 56-acre farm in Lumberton, North Carolina. She invites me to go there often, but I'm reluctant to travel too far from my double-tall, two-sugar-in-the-raw nonfat lattes.

"You got to come, Jasmine," Afeni insists. "Bring the children. Children love it. I got cows and pigs. We grow our own vegetables -- organic vegetables, without those chemicals and hormones that are killing our kids. We give away these clean vegetables to the people of Robeson County. They work the land, and they sell the produce. It's for them and by them." Afeni gets excited. "You see, Lumberton is the poorest county in North Carolina. Robeson County -- the poorest. And what this means is..."

Afeni looks nothing like she did when I first met her in the halls of the courthouse doting over her bandaged son. Then, she was reticent, kind of caved in. She looked sad and tired, worried and scared. She was skinny then, too, maybe one hundred pounds and some change. Now, when I look at her beaming over her newly planted trees, her skin has some red in it, and her head is full of new thick hair -- short and healthy without the patches of distress that once wore through.

"I've got some Lumbees helping me with my land," Afeni continues. "They come every day and work the land."

"What's a Lumbi?" I picture little gnomelike creatures with green skin and snakelike tails that only till the land at night.

"Lumbee's are Indians indigenous to that part of North Carolina."

"Lumbee. Never heard of them. But isn't that Cherokee country?"

"No, the Lumbee Indian came from the Sioux and Cheraw. They mixed with some Spanish explorers early on. Then, you know, the English and Scottish came and they mixed with them, too. By that time, they started to lose their language and their customs and nobody knew what to call them. They were all mixed up."

"They spoke English?"

"Yes," Afeni is emphatic. "I'm telling you, they lost their culture and their language but they stayed separate. They knew they were Indians. They just needed a name. First they were Croatan Indians. Then they were Robeson County Indians. Then, the Cherokee of Robeson County. They've been called a lot of names. Lumbee came after a long fight to be recognized by the North Carolina legislature as a tribe. They named themselves after the Lumbee River."

Afeni takes a long drink of water, grabs her pack of Newports and continues. "I thought my great-grandmother married a Lumbee. Well, at least part Lumbee, part white dude, but he was just a white dude, really poor white trash."

"Was this your great-grandmother's second m

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