Those with the most gifts are often laden with the most conflicts. A proverb once warned that woe awaits those imbued with wisdom; the same fate awaits those who are blessed with extraordinary talents and out of this world genius. The list of tortured souls who have reinvented humanity is endless; at the top of this list resides artists who are able to create using their voice, canvasses, or words.
Tupac is one of these artists and supremely talented souls who was blessed with copious gifts. Way before he was discovered and found the big stage by way of Digital Underground, Pac was a virtuoso who possessed rare abilities to write and express emotions through poems. As common among uncommon artists, he was beset with a never ending conflict between better angels and the pride and ego which bedevils the best of us.
Perhaps it is fitting really that Tupac was in a seemingly perpetual state of turmoil and strife for he was a rebel the minute he emerged from the womb. He was conceived by two parents who were both revolutionaries and were part of the Black Panther Party during its apex as a social movement. Our destinies are written for us before we take our first breath—our names and the legacies of our parents chisel for us pathways for our life journeys. This was the source of conflict in Tupac’s songs, he yearned at once to be a revolutionary too while concurrently sipping from the chalice of materialism and gains that he knew were the roots of the very injustices he rebelled against.
Lesane Parish Cook was born in East Harlem, New York on June 16th, 1971 to Afeni Shakur and Billy Garland. Less than a year after he was born, Lesane was renamed to honor a Peruvian revolutionary by the name of Tupac Amaru II. Afeni Shakur and Billy Garland were both active members of the Black Panther Party in Harlem, New York. Afeni Shakur and Billy Garland were present during the height of the BPP’s merciless persecution by the Federal Government.
Afeni Shakur raised Tupac applying the same care and nurture that was the basis of the Black Panther Party’s initial thrust unto the public stage. While pop culture has bastardized the history and mission of the Black Panther Party to be that of violent revolutions and retribution, what made the Black Panther Party the singular most potent force of “black” liberation had nothing to do with guns. Only a fool picks up a gun to combat the morally bankrupt government—the founders of the Black Panther Party were far from fools. The true revolutionaries withing the Black Panther Party picked up spoons and forks to combat injustice.
Feed the people and the people will be your army. This is what the Black Panther Party and sisters like Afeni Shakur understood and what the Federal government feared the most. The BPP started soup kitchens where they fed the least of them for free and offered clinics and schools as well. Ignorance wants to fight injustice with hatred; visionaries and authentic freedom fighters fight iniquity with love in their hearts. Those who vilify the Black Panther Party should think twice about their antipathy for an organization they contextualize through pop culture and our depraved mainstream media and instead read up about their mission and their purpose. Perhaps more of us should turn to the blueprint of the Black Panther Party and feed people who are suffering instead of letting anger and animus be our north star.
Afeni Shakur was thus the womb that gave birth to Tupac’s rebellion and his quest to make a difference. Afeni, like the rest of the Black Panther Party’s leadership from Angela Davis to Fred Hampton and countless souls, were targeted by the FBI through a program called COINTELPRO. COINTELPRO one day will be fully be condemned for the despicable initiative that it was and will serve as a marker of when our government decided to view us, the people, as the enemies they fear most. COINTELPRO unleashed the full fury and power of the Federal government upon American citizens whose sole crime was to actually stand for justice.
Those on the “conservative” side of the fence should rethink their stance against the Black Panther Party for there is nothing more American than standing up to the excesses of a system that takes from the people in order to enrich the elite. There is no daylight between the Black Panther Party and the founders of this nation; both rose up against injustice—so if you speak against those who fought for equal rights you are also speaking against the founders of this nation. Perhaps it is better for the “left” and the “right” to join hands as one, for all sides are demanding the freedom to pursue a life unencumbered by oppression and the excesses of the powerful. Dignity and the yearning for liberty was the soil that gave birth to the Black Panther Party movement and the thinkers who decided to give a people beset by poverty and despondency hope by way of communal empowerment.
COINTELPRO, initiated by the soulless gnome J. Edgar Hoover—who was a deviant and a sociopath in ways that rivaled Hitler—treated the Black Panther Party as an enemy more menacing than the Red Scare. This is the same COINTELPRO that was behind the harassment and assassination of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King as they used overt extortion and covert means to marginalize and silence any “black leader” who refused to be bought out by the status quo. The same COINTELPRO targeted Afeni Shakur as she, along with the rest of the NY21, faced and eventually was exonerated from drummed up charges of conspiring to bomb New York jails.
It was from this fierce sister and revolutionary thinker that Tupac Shakur was birthed. Tupac has mentioned himself the depth of influence that his mother Afeni had on his life. The song “Dear Mama” was an ode that Tupac wrote that talked about his mom as he gave a nod to all mothers:
“A poor single mother on welfare, tell me how you did it
There’s no way I can pay you back, but the plan
Is to show you that I understand; you are appreciated”
Tupac was a paradox and a oxymoron wrapped in an enigma. His music reflected so much depth because he reflected the depth of his own mother. Growing up in New York, then California and Baltimore, Tupac bore the burden of an awesome poetic gift as he delved between the love in his heart and the need to fit in and find acceptance. This is what happens when a father is absent from a son’s life—especially when that son is as supremely gifted as Tupac was. This is not to state that daughters don’t suffer the same when a father is not around. Amie Ali (link), an avid fan of Tupac, stated “I have at lot painful memories not having a father and it is just as painful witnessing my daughter feel the same void in her life”. The pains are the same but the consequences are felt differently for sons and daughters who grow up lacking the presence of a father. Without the guidance of a father figure in his life, Tupac sought other means to get the love of a father that left a void in his heart.
The source of Tupac’s conflict was thus, he was always oscillating between the love of his mother Afeni and the absence of his father Billy. We are the fruit of the trees we take root from; Tupac was equally influenced by affection of his mother who raised him and the affliction of his father whose womanizing ways led to copious children with multiple women. This duality bled over into Tupac’s life and his music, the same Pac who poetically serenaded women with “Keep Ya’ Head Up” and “Brenda’s Got a Baby” also lashed women with songs like “I Get Around” and “Me and My Girlfriend”.
Tupac was and always will be a magnificent duality—a rapper who used the microphone the same way that Picasso used a paintbrush. Just like Picasso, Tupac was beset with conflicts and turmoil. It was this exact turmoil that made Tupac a force of nature to behold. If you really want to know the true soul of Tupac before he was greeted with the kiss of fame and acclaim, read some of his poems in his book “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”. One particular poem shook my soul when I read it the first time:
“Did you hear about the rose that grew from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it learned to walk without having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping it’s dreams, it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete when no one else ever cared.”
When movies make us cry; we are really crying for ourselves. I will never forget the night of September 13th 1996 at 9:07 PM. While I was returning back from delivering a Pizza for to a Domino’s customer, a breaking news shattered my heart as I heard Tupac expired from the gunshots he took in Las Vegas. I pulled over and cried as if I knew him personally—only the death of Aliyah would make me cry again to that level for someone I never met. I realize in hindsight that I was crying for Tupac because I was crying for myself. I was sobbing for the soul who was conflicted the same way I have felt the tinge of conflict between love and desires of the flesh.
Tupac admonished us to not cry for him; he poetically foretold his passing before he took his last breath. COINTELPRO never went away, the murder will never be solved but one thing has never changed. Those who speak too loudly about change and defy the system eventually get silenced once the status quo realizes their souls can’t be purchased nor will fame tame their rebellion. KILLUMINATI was Tupac’s last act of defiance; for his temerity and courage to speak against a closed society that bleeds the world, Tupac was given a bullet to the heart. But a poet’s message is made the greater when he is murdered—a rose that grew in concrete is now an oak tree who continues to speak defiantly from the grave.
True revolutionaries are not the ones who espouse violence—these people are reactionaries and suffer deficiency of the soul. True revolutionaries are fierce sisters like Afeni Shakur and Angela Davis who feed the people love in the face of injustice. Tupac was a rebel and a revolutionary who was nurtured in the womb of Afeni and fed wisdom by revolutionary thinkers who fought injustice with words instead of bullets. Tupac gave the ghetto a gospel of hope, told women to keep ya head up, and wrote a letter to the unborn of pride in our own. There is a place for a G in heaven for the heart is measured not by our vices but by our motives. Irrespective of Tupac’s conflicting messages, at the core Tupac was a poet who believed and uttered the revolution of love. This is what happens when a poet is birthed through the womb of a Black Panther and a mother like Afeni Shakur. #FromAfeni2Pac
“We know the road to freedom has always been stalked by death.” ~ Angela Davis
If you appreciated this article about Tupac, which aimed to tell his story as well as that of his mother Afeni in a fuller context, share this article on social media using #FromAfeni2Pac.
It’s only fitting that this song below is used to convey the impact that Afeni had on her son’s life. Check out the poem “Communique TuPac” below the video that I wrote to pay homage to Pac’s poetry.
You asked how long you will be mourned
The answer is for an eternity
A soul conflicted yet confident
You spoke of hip hop’s possibility
Can’t deny your brilliance
Through your pen you observed
And penned our collective confusion
Yet inside you there was a lion
You refused to compromise your pride
Your pride as in your people
You did not sell out for prominence
Your words reflected society
I understood your contradiction
At once shinning a light
You concurrently articulated our collective darkness
Our name is our destiny
And in yours there was always defiance
Resilient though they shot you
Audacious though they massacred your character
Time after time
You let your pen speak of rebellion
You refused to adhere or conform
Shakur became the quintessence of uprising
Through the curse words and harsh lyrics
Your music touched on the essence of poetry
True to your roots
You rebelled against the system
One can never tame a panther
That is what led to your assassination
A mind dangerous that questions the system
Blamed on black on black violence
The truth is that you spit at oppressors
Killuminati was your death sentence
But in your wake you left an eternal presence
Hip hop died with your last breath
From men to boys
All we are left are tokens
From message to rubbish
Hip hop has turned to genocide music
Dispatch to Pac you are not forgotten
You will be mourned forever
Let Jay have his fortunes
A sambo will be rewarded for tap dancing
But you retained your character
Z might have the fame
Let his kind destroy their people
But Pac’s message will be immortal
~ Excerpt from Serendipity’s Trace, a book of our common struggles and connective hopes. Click HERE or on the picture of “Serendipity’s Trace” below to check out the book of poetry ~
Post Script: True revolutionaries get the TuPac treatment; counterfeit change agents who work for the system (COINTELPRO stooges) get the Obama privilege::
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.