[Pnews] “You Are Appreciated”: My Memories of Afeni Shakur by Akinyele Umoja

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed May 18 13:37:45 EDT 2016


http://www.theblackscholar.org/appreciated-memories-afeni-shakur/


  “You Are Appreciated”: My Memories of Afeni Shakur by Akinyele Umoja

May 18, 2016

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, Black Panther Party, and 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 asked, “To Which Nation, Do you Belong?”[i] 
<http://www.theblackscholar.org/appreciated-memories-afeni-shakur/#_edn1> 
On a cold December night, we were enthusiastically invited into the 
Shakur’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 Progam 
a.k.a. 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. 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.” 
There were only female participants 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.

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. 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*

[i] 
<http://www.theblackscholar.org/appreciated-memories-afeni-shakur/#_ednref1> 
The poster had a red, black, and green flag on right and the U.S. flag 
on the left and asked the question “To which nation do you belong?”. 
This poster was developed by the House of Umoja, a revolutionary 
nationalist collective, to promote Black self-determination.


*Akinyele Umoja* is a scholar-activist. He is a Professor and the Chair 
of the Department of African-American Studies at Georgia State 
University. He is the 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.

-- 
Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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