by Mumia Abu-Jamal
She was born Alice Faye Williams in the dusty little town of Lumberton, North Carolina, on Jan. 10, 1947, a dimpled little Black girl, who grew into a petite young revolutionary known as Afeni Shakur, mother of a young rap icon and actor, Tupac Amaru Shakur.
Like many country people – and far too many Black people – she looked down on herself for years, as not smart enough, not pretty enough – you know: too Black.
When she joined the Black Panther Party in New York City in about 1966, she still had a lot of those attitudes, but the Black Revolution – at least for a time – changed some of those views.
She rarely knew the effect she had on others, for when she entered a room, one felt the urge to rise – not because she was a woman, not because she was a Black woman but because she was Afeni, a Black revolutionary. She seemed to wonder, “Who are they rising for?”
Safiya Bukhari, the late Black Panther and Black Liberation Army soldier, wrote in her book, “The War Before,” of Afeni, “an elfin dark-skinned woman with a very short Afro”: “Afeni Shakur exemplified the strength and dignity amid chaos that we needed to see.”
She walked with the grace that Safiya described as “regality.” She was far more than Tupac’s mom, but even he recognized her specialness as seen in his classic piece, “Dear Mama.” She was, in Tupac’s words, “a Black Queen.”
She had her demons, as do we all; drugs, poverty, homelessness. But despite her poverty of riches, she raised a bold, Black prince: Tupac Amaru Shakur, who, in his brief life, spit fire and rage and gained the ear of millions.
Afeni Shakur, after 69 springs, returns to the infinite.
© Copyright 2016 Mumia Abu-Jamal. Keep updated at www.freemumia.com. His new book is “Writing on the Wall,” edited by Joanna Hernandez. For Mumia’s commentaries, visit www.prisonradio.org. Encourage the media to publish and broadcast Mumia’s commentaries and interviews. Send our brotha some love and light: Mumia Abu-Jamal, AM 8335, SCI-Mahanoy, 301 Morea Road, Frackville, PA 17932.
‘You Are Appreciated’: My memories of Afeni Shakur
by Akinyele Umoja
In 1973 I attended a meeting at a local church to establish an acupuncture clinic to help poor Blacks and Chicanos in Los Angeles overcome heroin addiction. I was 19 years old and invited to the meeting by one of my movement mentors, Mamadou Lumumba.
A similar project had been implemented in the Bronx, New York, at the Lincoln Hospital by members of the Young Lords, the Black Panther Party and the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Afrika. A young couple, Mutulu and Afeni Shakur, were the representatives from the Lincoln Hospital revolutionary collective and organizers of the meeting.
After being introduced, I was like, “This ain’t the same Afeni Shakur I had been reading articles about in the Black Panther newspaper? The same sister who was part of the Panther New York 21 political prisoners? The same freedom fighter who passionately told her story in the book ‘Look for Me in the Whirlwind’?” She seemed so down to earth. Even though she was a leader in our movement, Afeni treated me, a younger comrade, as a peer. She listened. She joked. No airs or arrogance.
That same year, my comrade Kamau Umoja and I were visiting New York after a conference in Philadelphia. Kamau took me by Afeni and Mutulu’s apartment in Harlem.
We came to the door, which was adorned with a Black nationalist poster that had a red, black and green flag on the right and the U.S. flag on the left and asked the question, “To which nation do you belong?” The poster had been developed by the House of Umoja, a revolutionary nationalist collective, to promote Black self-determination.
On a cold December night, we were enthusiastically invited into the Shakurs’s quaint and culturally nurturing space by Mutulu. The house was decorated for Kwanzaa. The Shakur children, Tupac and Sekwiya, played as we talked about the movement and caught up. I listened to Afeni and Mutulu attentively. While they were only a few years older than me, I knew they were movement veterans with rich experiences and commitment to our struggle.
I would come to know the Shakurs better, particularly after they made trips to Los Angeles to involve our Los Angeles-based House of Umoja collective in the campaign to free Geronimo Ji-Jaga (Pratt) from captivity after he had been falsely incarcerated. The Shakurs spearheaded the National Task Force for Cointelpro Litigation and Research.
The task force was formed after white radicals discovered FBI documents proving a governmental conspiracy (Counter-Intelligence Program aka COINTELPRO) to repress the Black power and anti-war movements and other struggles for self-determination and liberation. Mutulu and Afeni spearheaded the task force by organizing the research and political organizing teams and coordinating the legal work that would ultimately lead to the freeing of Geronimo. They came to LA to get us and others organized to form a defense committee and get community support for the legal team.
I got to know Afeni better on these trips when she would come to the West Coast. She came to coordinate with the attorneys, interview witnesses, organize the task force members, and do public speaking to raise awareness and funds. Afeni Shakur was a prolific speaker, one of the best in the movement.
She was passionate, motivational and charismatic. She was the type of speaker who made you want to act. I used to tell folks, “After her speech, I would want to jump off a mountain, if that sister told me to.”
Afeni could speak to the brother or sister in the street, as well as the intellectual. She could touch the feelings you had and speak in a language that the “folk” could identify with. A sensitive person, Afeni could tap into the pain and suffering our people were feeling and connect them to the campaigns of the movement.
Afeni also loved our people’s culture. I remember when Bob Marley’s album “Survival” came out, she played it over and over. Afeni would constantly talk about how the movement needed our songs. We needed a soundtrack to the struggle.
She was passionate, motivational and charismatic. Afeni could speak to the brother or sister in the street, as well as the intellectual.
Besides being a great public speaker, Afeni was very personable and loved people, which made her an effective grassroots organizer in informal situations. She was a great storyteller who could take simple situations and draw lessons from them. She could also network people, making connections and building relationships.
Besides being a champion for the freedom of our political prisoners, Afeni was a fighter for the dignity and respect for Black women. I remember one time she attended a movement conference and made an observation. There was a session on “The Role of Women in the Movement.” Only women participated in this session.
Afeni noted a lot of the male movement leaders were in a session on “(Independent Political) Party-Building.” She revealed, “Wow, can I be in that session? I’m not sure I know enough.” But she decided to attend the male dominated party-building session.
After listening to the conversation, Afeni concluded, “Most of these men don’t know what they are talking about either …. I figured out I might as well stay and participate in this conversation. I had as much to offer as most of these men!” This story illustrates how Afeni was great at demystifying and challenging myths.
Besides being a great public speaker, Afeni was very personable and loved people, which made her an effective grassroots organizer in informal situations.
The 1980s brought a significant decline in the activity of the Black liberation movement. This decline was primarily a result of government repression and our own internal contradictions. Many became cynical and discouraged.
I lost track of Afeni during this period. I heard rumors of addiction to crack cocaine. Like many of our family members during the 1980s, Afeni was a victim of the crack epidemic.
During this period, I would develop a relationship with Afeni’s son, Tupac. Pac was 18 years old and became a member of the New Afrikan Panther group that I mentored along with others. In a private conversation, Pac revealed the pain he had from his Mom’s addiction.
One of Tupac’s biggest joys was seeing Afeni’s recovery. Because he was able to support his family through his music and acting, Pac physically reunited his family in Dekalb County, Georgia.
I was able to reunite with Afeni during this period. She thanked me for playing a role in her son’s life during the period she was challenged with addiction. She shared a commitment to healing, spiritual growth and transformation from her experience.
In a private conversation, Pac revealed the pain he had from his Mom’s addiction. One of Tupac’s biggest joys was seeing Afeni’s recovery.
Afeni and her sister “Glo” (Gloria Jean) formed the core of the family, which included Pac, Sekyiwa and Glo’s children and their extended family. Pac’s fame and wealth and Afeni’s recovery served to empower and bless this family and enabled them to pursue opportunities and confront obstacles.
Some of my comrades are concerned about Afeni’s legacy being solely limited to being known as “Pac’s mama.” On the other hand, one must note that many of the qualities that make Tupac Shakur a renowned artist are largely due to him being Afeni’s son.
Pac’s passion, ability to identify and express the pain and suffering of “everyday” people, and his allegiance to the “underdog” directly comes from his mother. His ability to tell our stories and love the culture of our folks is another “Afenism” that made him loved by millions.
Pac was truly a “Shakur.” What does that mean? The Shakurs love their ancestral culture and the experience of grassroots Black people. This is why “Thuglife” is not about crime and being a parasite in our community. “Thuglife” was meant to speak for the most oppressed in our community – the poor, incarcerated, those trapped in the underground economy and challenged by addiction.
Afeni’s life should encourage us to fight oppression. It should remind us that through love we can conquer addiction and re-unite our families. Afeni will be missed. She will be powerful as an ancestor. My life is certainly blessed because it was touched by her.
Rise in power, Afeni Shakur
Akinyele Umoja is a scholar-activist, professor and chair of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State University and author of “We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance and the Mississippi Freedom Movement” (New York University, 2013). Umoja is also a co-founder of the New Afrikan Peoples Organization and the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. He can be reached on Facebook. This story first appeared on The Black Scholar.
Panther Power: Afeni Shakur and the ‘New York 21’
by Lamont Lilly
On April 2, 1969, 21 members of the Harlem Chapter of the Black Panther Party were formally indicted and charged with 156 counts of “conspiracy” to blow up subway and police stations, five local department stores, six railroads and the Bronx based New York Botanical Garden.
By the early morning hours of April 3, mass sweeps were conducted citywide by combat squads of armed police. Law enforcement agencies ranging from the CIA, FBI, U.S. Marshalls and New York state police worked simultaneously to coordinate assaults on Panther homes and community based offices.
After numerous raids, 10 Panther men and two Panther women were formally arrested, processed and quickly jailed. To anyone who supported radical politics of the 1960s, there was no doubt that the indictment of the Panther “New York 21” was a political and racist frame-up to not only “disrupt, discredit and destroy” but to utterly dismantle the Black Panther Party from the inside out.
The absurd and excessive nature of such charges was clearly mounted as a federal effort to pit chapters and regions against each other, in a manner that would totally paralyze Panther party leadership. What these charges represented was a form of unprecedented legal repression, created as a structural alternative to break their stronghold, reputation and community base.
For the Panthers who fortunately weren’t murdered or assassinated, exiled or imprisoned, the courts became a convenient and effective form of legal lynching, a straightjacket beyond the walls – a robbery of valuable time and resources.
Each member of the New York 21 was held on $100,000 bail, totaling over $2.1 million. It was not until January of 1970 that the first Panther was able to post bail. That Panther was 22-year-old Alice Faye Williams, better known as Afeni Shakur.
Self-appointed, Black anointed
In a grueling and tedious trial, Afeni Shakur, facing 300 years of prison time, daringly chose to be her own attorney in court, partly because financial resources were already razor-thin. Afeni, however, meticulously conducted her own legal research, her own interviews, as well as in-court cross examinations – fully realizing that “she would be the one serving, not the lawyers.” She was the only Panther who served as her own counsel.
Here was a small-framed, impoverished Black girl from the backwoods of Lumberton, North Carolina, staring down a full team of New York state prosecutors – outwitting a full cast of establishment-owned media outlets. Here was a single mother with no formal degree, going legally toe to toe with COINTELPRO.
Despite the odds, after all the surveillance, warrantless wiretapping, infiltration and frame-ups, not one shred of state’s evidence stood in court. In their undying efforts to “discredit,” it was revealed during the trial that the FBI had actually planted undercover infiltrators who, under oath, admitted their role as provocateurs.
Though the case of the Black Panther New York 21 was the longest trial in New York state history, on her own guts and wit, Afeni Shakur would successfully secure her freedom. No money. No attorney. No privilege. Pregnant with her second child, Tupac Amaru Shakur, what Afeni was able to do in that courtroom was nothing short of miraculous. Magical. Mind blowing.
On May 12, 1971, after two years of legal proceedings, all 21 Panthers were acquitted of their charges. The jury needed just a mere 45 minutes to see the truth.
Sister soldier, woman warrior
Afeni Shakur may have hailed from the Black Panther Party’s esteemed Harlem Chapter, but her roots were originally from the Black Belt South. Viciously poor, but still mobile, her family moved to the Bronx when she was 11 years. Her inquisitive affection toward the Black Nationalist scene fit right in there.
Afeni first learned of the Black Panther Party at the corner of 125th and Seventh Avenue while listening to party co-founder Bobby Seale deliver a speech. A dedicated soldier from the very beginning, Afeni always placed principle over profit, the people above her own individual desire. Black Panther Party member and New York 21 co-defendant Dhoruba Bin Wahad very warmly remembers Afeni as “the type of person that worked hard, who would stay up all night to get leaflets done.”
Afeni was the kind of comrade who garnered respect from both the women and the men. As former Black Panther Jamal Joseph stated, “Afeni taught me more about being a man, more than any other man or woman.” As the only high school-age member of the New York 21, Joseph very often looked to Afeni for guidance and leadership.
The name Afeni was given to her by a community elder from South Carolina, a descendant of the Yoruba tradition who chose the name Afeni, meaning “lover of the people.” And love the people is exactly what Afeni did. A dedicated community organizer, fearless warrior, activist, scholar, teacher and real-life revolutionary, Afeni Shakur gave her life to the people, to the full embodiment of Black Power, people power and, as the sisters say today, Black girl magic!
As we commemorate the mother of Hip Hop’s “Black Jesus,” let us not forget the Black woman general who indubitably blazed her own legacy, who literally offered her life as a gift to the people, who taught her son, Tupac Amaru, to do the same. Farewell to the Black woman general who just joined Malcolm, Harriet, Ida. All power to the people! Black power!
North Carolina-based activist Lamont Lilly is the 2016 Workers World Party’s U.S. vice presidential candidate. He has recently served as field staff in Baltimore, Ferguson, Oakland, Boston and Philadelphia. In 2015, he was a U.S. delegate at the International Forum for Justice in Palestine in Beirut, Lebanon. He is currently working on his forthcoming debut, “Honor in the Ghetto” (fall 2016). Follow him on Twitter @LamontLilly.
Afeni Shakur: Three Black Panthers remember the multiple sides of the revolutionary
Former Black Panther Party members Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, Sekou Odinga and Bilal Sunni-Ali jointly recollect the life, times and legacy of the late revolutionary matriarch Afeni Shakur.
Afeni’s passing in the year that marks the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party, founded in Oakland, California, is a significant socio-political marker in the marginalization of Black radicalism in America. Her passing as a universally recognized hip-hop madonna and mother of the iconic Black rapper Tupac Shakur and daughter Sekyiwa practically obscures the formative years of her life as a Black girl from the rural South, transfigured in the southeast Bronx into a Black teenage fem fatale and “deb” in the Bronx Street set, Young Disciples and Disciples Sportsmen, as well as her transition from the harsh streets of the Southeast Bronx to the radical Black nationalism of the Black Panther Party and Black radicalism of the ‘60s.
Like a silent movie reel, Afeni’s passing means that the Black Panthers of Afeni Shakur’s generation of Black radicals, revolutionaries and activists is etched in time by media that portray them as forever young – while the conditions that nurtured their radicalism and inspired the freedom dreams of Afeni’s generation are reduced to hashtag militancy and posture politics.
We should not forget that she was a revolutionary leader and spokesperson for the Black Panther Party. Afeni’s real historical legacy and ultimately to celebrate her life depends on how we the living perceive that life.
The name Shakur further identifies her as at one with the legacy of the revolutionary family of the Shakurs – Aba, Lumumba, Zaid, Mutulu, Assata and their extended family of revolutionaries.
Because Afeni was one of us, one verse in our generational bio-story who grew to adulthood during the “cold war” of White America’s empire and White supremacy’s bloody domestic war on us, we not only mourn her passing but the marginalization of her “becoming” who she was. Across America, in every major urban enclave populated by the descendants of chattel slaves, freedmen and women, a generation that would embrace Black power, Black self-determination, Black pride that would typify the civil and human rights struggles of the ‘60s and ‘70s came of age.
Now Afeni’s generation’s time has passed but not the legacy of their struggles. The radical legacy of the Afeni Shakurs, Abdul Majids, Albert Nuh Washingtons, Zaid Shakurs is still accessible as long as their lives are not forgotten or what made them who they became overlooked and ignored.
We love you dear Sister Afeni. Although you are gone, you will never be forgotten. Long live the revolutionary spirit of Afeni Shakur!
Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, Sekou Odinga and Bilal Sunni-Ali
About the writers
Sekou Odinga is a former member of the Black Panther Party and a political prisoner who served 33 years in prison before being released in 2014.
Dhoruba Bin-Wahad is a former member of the Black Panther Party and was also a part of the New York 21. He later served an additional 19 years in a separate case before being acquitted due to the use of COINTELPRO. Dhoruba won lawsuits against both the FBI and NYPD for their use of COINTELPRO. His case against the FBI led to a massive release of COINTELPRO documents.
Bilal Sunni-Ali is a former member of the Black Panther Party and musician. He was a member of Gil Scott Heron’s ensemble “Midnight Band” and is a celebrated saxophonist, composer and educator. The writers can be reached by contacting Bilal, at firstname.lastname@example.org.