Who was Afeni Shakur?
Alice Faye Williams, better known as Afeni Shakur, was an American activist, businesswoman, and mother of American rap artist Tupac Shakur, who was killed in 1996. Born and raised in North Carolina, she later relocated to New York. She was a part of the ‘Black Panther Party’ during her youth. She opposed social injustice and racial discrimination. She was one of the 21 Panthers arrested on the charges of conspiracy to carry out bombings at public places. A pregnant Shakur represented herself and was acquitted of all 156 charges. She brought up her children as a single mother, but later got addicted to crack cocaine and had to live on the welfare money. Her son Tupac left home and later earned a name as a rapper. Afeni successfully overcame her addiction and reunited with her son. Her independent nature and revolutionary influences are reflected in her son Tupac’s lyrics. After her son’s untimely death she became a source of comfort for other grieving mothers. Traveling across America, she addressed gatherings and gave speeches. She successfully managed her son’s music legacy and estate.
Childhood & Early Life
Afeni Shakur was born on January 10, 1947, in Lumberton, North Carolina, to Rosa Belle, a homemaker and Walter Williams Jr., a trucker. She had a sister, Gloria Jean. She had a troubled childhood due to domestic violence. She along with her mother and sister relocated to New York in 1958. She was 11 at that time.
She attended the ‘Bronx High School of Science.’ (Some references state that she studied at the Visual Performance Arts High School, Manhattan). When she was 15, she got hooked to cocaine, and later in the life, too, she struggled with it.
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Life As An Activist
In 1964, Shakur met a co-worker of Malcolm Little (Malcolm X), who was recruiting youth in Bronx for the emerging ‘Black Panther’ movement. She joined the movement and according to her, it gave her a direction. She wrote for the party’s newsletter, ‘Panther Post.’ At 19, she took up a post office job.
‘Black Panther’ was a political party founded in 1966 by Bobby Seale and Huey Newton. She was highly impressed by Seale’s speech. In 1968, she married a party co-worker, Lumumba Abdul Shakur. She then changed her name from Alice Faye Williams to Afeni Shakur. Afeni means ‘Lover of people’ in an African language, ‘Yoruba,’ and ‘Shakur’ is Arabic for ‘thankful to God.’
Afeni Shakur was the section leader of the Harlem chapter of ‘Black Panther Party (BPP)’ and was also a mentor to the new members. Twenty one Panthers, including Shakur, were arrested on April 2, 1969, on the charges of conspiracy to carry out bombings at Departmental stores, subway stations, police stations and public places in New York. The bail amount was high and the party decided to bail out Shakur and Jamal Joseph and then let those two raise the bail funds for others. (Later in an interview Shakur stated that she specialized in raising bail funds for jailed Panthers).
While out on the bail and working with party worker and New Jersey truck driver William Garland, she became pregnant. Shakur read Fidel Castro’s 4 hour courtroom speech, ‘History Will Absolve Me,’ and decided to follow him and represent herself in the court. She cross-examined witnesses and argued her case. The trial, which was known as ‘Panther 21 Trial,’ ran for 8 months and in May 1971 all the 21 panthers were acquitted of all the 156 charges.
Shakur’s son was born on June 16, 1971, whom she named ‘Lesane Parish Crooks.’ However, in 1972, he was renamed ‘Tupac Amaru Shakur.’ In Inca, this name means ‘Shining Serpent.’
As the Mother of Tupac Shakur
Afeni Shakur did not return to the BPP, but she was always proud of her participation and felt that the movement taught her ‘to believe in herself.’ Later, she worked for Richard Fischbein in Bronx as a paralegal. She married Mutulu Shakur in 1975, and gave birth to their daughter, Sekyiwa. Mutulu Shakur was an activist of the ‘New Afrika Independence’ movement during the 1960s. Later, he acquired name as a drug-detoxification and acupuncture specialist in New York City. The two divorced in 1982, but he continued to support Tupac as his own son.
Shakur was proud of her son, but considered herself as a not-so-good mother. In 1984, she moved along with her children to Baltimore, Maryland. Tupac studied dance and music at the ‘Baltimore School for the Performing Arts.’ During the early 1980s, Afeni got addicted to crack cocaine and failed to keep a steady job. She used welfare money to bring up her children.
In 1988, she moved with her children to Marin County, California, in an attempt to get rid of her drug addiction. Because of her addiction, her son Tupac left in 1989 and did not contact his family for the next few years. He wrote songs and then joined the rap group ‘Digital Underground’ as a dancer. His 1991 album, ‘2Pacalypse Now,’ became a major hit and made him a star. The same year, Afeni Shakur came back to New York and succeeded in overcoming her drug use, with the help of Narcotics Anonymous. The mother-son later reconciled.
Tupac expressed his feelings about his mother, her addiction, and his troubled youth through his tribute song ‘Dear Mama.’ The song proved a great hit and was later added to the ‘Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.’
Tupac’s lifestyle led to many troubles. In 1993, he was convicted and sentenced to over a year in jail on the charges of sexual abuse. Again in 1994, he was in the jail for attacking his former employer. He survived a gun attack in 1994, but on September 7, 1996, he was shot 4 times and was declared dead at the University Medical Center, Las Vegas.
Shakur’s son had already purchased a home for her in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and had arranged for her to get $16,000 monthly. She became the co-executor of his multimillion estate. It also had a library of unreleased materials worth over $100 million.
One year after Tupac’s death, in 1997 she founded ‘Amaru Entertainment’ for the release of his posthumous material. First among these was ‘The Don Killuminati’ (1997), and 8 more albums, as well as film biography and other books about his life. She also established a charitable organization, ‘Tupac Amaru Foundation of Arts.’ This organization provides scholarships and grants to young artists, hosts children’s camps and charity events. In 2003, she launched her clothing line, ‘Makaveli Branded.’ A part of its profits are used for the expansion of the ‘Tupac Amaru Foundation of Arts.’
She married Dr. Gust Davis Jr. in 2004. Afeni Shakur’s biography, ‘Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary,’ by author and actor Jasmine Guy was released in 2005. Traveling across America, Shakur gave guest lectures and speeches at various meets.
On May 2, 2016, she died of a suspected heart attack at a hospital near her home in Sausalito, California.