Ms. Afeni Shakur – founder of Amaru Entertainment, Inc., as well as a nationally-renowned leading youth and community rights advocate – sees her life as an ongoing mission. The noted cultural revolutionary, outspoken socio-political activist, former Black Panther Party section leader and the mother of rap music’s all-time top-selling superstar, Tupac Shakur (“2Pac”) has recently found herself serving as the key figure in her son’s formidable dynasty. Following Tupac’s passing, Afeni has taken on full responsibility for finishing the many noble goals her son was unable to complete. As the founder and head of Amaru Entertainment, Inc. (the umbrella company for a record label imprint, a film production company and a highly-successful clothing and jewelry line, among other Tupac merchandise) and also as the founder and CEO of the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation (TASF), Ms. Afeni Shakur has now officially become the keeper of her son’s visions and strives daily to make his dreams into other young aspiring artists’ realities.
Originally, Ms. Shakur (née Alice Faye Williams in Lumberton, N.C.), spent her life pursuing steadfast dreams of her own in the performing arts. She braved a move to New York at the mere age of 11 in order to attend the famed Performing Arts High School in Manhattan. However, this would not be the environment that would most profoundly affect the determined young idealist’s life – rather, a much more obscure locale, Manny’s Bar in the Bronx, would be where Afeni Shakur’s aspirations and worldview would forever change direction. Through her association with Manny’s radically extremist clientele, Afeni was introduced to the Nation of Islam and immersed in the teachings of Malcolm X, both of which started her down her personal path towards self-discovery.
Ms. Shakur’s journey would lead her to the Black Power Conference in Philadelphia and – ultimately – to a Black Panther Party Rally in 1968. It was also at this time that she would meet Lumumba Abdul Shakur, an Islamic member of the Panthers, whom she would soon marry. However, trying to maintain the semblance of a family while closely tied to such a volatile scene in a volatile era proved overwhelming. The political climate surrounding the Black Panther Party was becoming increasingly hostile at the end of the ’60s, resulting in several prominent Party members being killed. In 1969, Ms. Shakur was among the Party members arrested in what would become infamously known as the “New York Panther 21” case.
After successfully defending herself against all 156 prevailing charges stemming from the arrest, Afeni was released from prison exactly one month and three days before giving birth to Tupac Amaru Shakur in East Harlem.
The time period encompassing Tupac’s childhood was largely clouded amidst the confusion of the Black Panther political upset, the constant public scrutiny of Afeni and her political involvements, all worsened by increasingly-strained familial and monetary concerns within the Shakur household. Two years after Tupac’s birth, Afeni gained another daughter (Sekyiwa (Set) Shakur), but lost her partner, Mutulu (Set’s father), who was sentenced to 60 years in prison for Panther-related activities just prior to the birth of his daughter.
Ms. Shakur struggled valiantly to make ends meet for her family, primarily by working as a paralegal in the Bronx – with the added hope that her job choice might also impress upon her children the inherent value held in education and knowledge. However, the pressures of single parenthood, rampant poverty and the relentless series of struggles faced in keeping her family together led Afeni towards other methods of trying to escape her life’s harsh realities. Ms. Shakur’s resultant decent into a spiral of chemical dependency only exacerbated the overwhelming nature of her escalating crises. Much of Tupac’s home life during this time is chronicled in his early solo albums.
In 1990, Ms. Shakur would receive her profound “moment of clarity” when she was informed that Tupac had performed on national television on The Arsenio Hall Show without her having even been aware the momentous event was happening. “I didn’t have any idea at all what was happening in my own son’s life. People had to tell me how great he was doing,” reflects Ms. Shakur. “And all I could think was: ‘What am I doing?’” By 1991, Ms. Shakur had successfully overcome her drug addiction and had begun to work hard at re-establishing strong relations with her family. One of 2Pac’s best-known – and certainly most touching – songs, “Dear Mama,” is a loving, understanding and very personal account of his relationship with Afeni. As professed in the sentiments of Tupac’s song, Afeni and her son remained very close right up till his death in September, 1996.
In the wake of her son’s passing, Ms. Afeni Shakur officially founded Amaru Entertainment in early 1997, as a way of maintaining control over her son’s iconic image. The company was formed not only to handle reissues of the existing 2Pac records, but would also oversee all future Tupac products: in essence, ensuring the quality and integrity of Tupac’s legacy. Afeni’s first project through Amaru was the first in a series of “official” posthumous 2Pac releases, comprised of tracks carefully selected by Afeni herself from the over 150 unfinished recordings Tupac had left behind; Ms. Shakur would be just as careful in choosing the various collaborators responsible for completing her son’s “works-in-progress.” After seven (7) hugely-successful posthumous CDs featuring never before released music featuring her son, Ms. Shakur announced the upcoming CD “Pac’s Life” of unreleased and remixed 2Pac material – timed to arrive in November, 2006, to commemorate the historic 10th Anniversary of Tupac’s death.
In total, Tupac’s albums have exceeded sales of 50 million worldwide – half of that number consisting of the CDs constructed and posthumously released by Ms. Shakur. Clearly, under Ms. Shakur’s continued guidance, Tupac remains as vital a force on the rap scene ten years after his death as he has ever been. Moreover, Tupac’s complex and often-contradictory persona – combined with the mythology that has cloaked both his life and death – have granted him that rarest of labels: legend. And that has left Ms. Afeni Shakur occupying the vital position as sole caretaker of her son’s legacy – ensuring his artistic sensitivity and loving humanitarianism never get lost amidst the rumor frenzy that threatens to obscure any legend’s good intentions. Ms. Shakur takes her devotion and duty to preserving her son’s image with extreme seriousness, with every choice made according to Tupac’s character and his dreams – or, in Ms. Shakur’s words, “to doing things the way he would have wanted them done.”
Ms. Shakur also published The Rose that Grew from Concrete with Simon & Schuster a collection of Tupac’s poetry collected from his personal notebooks. This intricately complex, four-part “life cycle” garnered enormous respectful admirers across both the rap and literary scenes and even spawned an all-star spoken-word record and an album of entirely original songs “inspired by” Tupac’s poetry. More than any other work in rap history – on account of its soul-baring prescience, startling tenderness and intelligent insightfulness – The Rose that Grew from Concrete forever changed how Tupac would be perceived by his fans (no longer the dangerous “gangsta thug,” Tupac was now regarded as a “sensitive artistic soul”) and also further blurred the definition between “ghettoized” hip-hop rhyming and “legitimate” highbrow poetry.
In 2000, Ms. Shakur partnered with MTV Films and presented the first and only feature documentary about the rap icon. Entitled Tupac: Resurrection, the film was given a rare (for a documentary) wide theatrical release in 2003, meeting with both tremendous critical and fan acclaim. The result of years of ingeniously integrating Tupac’s unfinished recordings, countless hours of archival footage and materials from Ms. Shakur’s own personal collection, Tupac: Resurrection is so cleverly constructed, it creates the undeniable impression of being narrated by Tupac “in his own words,” immediately in the wake of his fatal shooting. In addition to the theatrical release of Tupac: Resurrection, Amaru released a hugely-successful soundtrack album and a best-selling coffee table book. And as the film’s crowning jewel, Tupac: Resurrection was nominated for Academy Awards® for Best Documentary Feature in 2005.
In addition to fulfilling Tupac’s artistic legacy by delivering his unfinished art to his fans, Ms. Shakur is also very determined to realize her son’s significantly grander dreams, through the creation of the multi-million dollar Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts (TASCA) in Atlanta, GA. For Tupac, attending the Baltimore School for the Arts as a teenager had been a life-defining experience – it was a safe haven and refuge from the outside world, wherein he was encouraged to freely express himself via the performing arts, rather than through the violent and instinctive ways of the street. It was this same opportunity Tupac had always hoped to provide all young aspiring performers – and it had been his lifetime’s vision to give back to the community the priceless gift that he had received.
With the TASF serving as its principal sponsor – aided by corporate and fan donations – the Tupac Center opened its doors in June, 2005 to rousing community appreciation, providing countless new opportunities for young artists the world over wishing to pursue a career in the arts without fear of reprisal. Once completed, the Center will give those wishing to follow in Tupac’s footsteps a specific path that Ms. Shakur is also determined will provide students with training in their craft, as well as coping skills they will be able to utilize throughout the entirety of their lives.
Ms. Shakur formed the TASF as a way of providing quality arts education to young people of today, regardless of background, ethnicity or class, through its annual Summer Camp program. The much-in-demand camp has helped hundreds of young people in all aspects of the performing arts, ages 12 to 18, over the past seven years during which it has been operational. With the ongoing construction of TASCA, Ms. Shakur’s goal is to ultimately inaugurate a full service school for the performing arts, open year round and able to accommodate countless more students.
An outspoken and eloquent advocate for the crises facing today’s youth, as well as a seasoned warrior for community rights, Ms. Afeni Shakur has overcome adversity in the face of triumph to bring a message of hope to those others also battling against the odds. She inspires audiences everywhere with her own remarkable road which has led her to personal peace and empowerment, celebrating the victories of her life and openly acknowledges her struggles, in order that others may rise above them. In 2005, she started the “Keep the Youth Alive” campaign – featuring 2Pac’s latest single, “Ghetto Gospel,” as its rallying anthem – in an effort to educate and enlighten teens on their high risk of mortality. Using outreach, seminars and other programs she has created through TASCA, Ms. Shakur is using the campaign to take an active stand against the astonishing statistic that a teenager in America will be killed by homicide, suicide or automobile accident every 18 seconds. Using her position as an advocate for youth education, Afeni Shakur is using TASCA to present programs and information for the artists of tomorrow – to face their futures bravely.
Ms. Shakur’s most recent celebrated achievement, Afeni Shakur: Evolutionary of a Revolutionary, a 2005 autobiography co-written by Tupac’s longtime friend, Jasmine Guy, was honored with a nomination by the NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Literary Work – Non-Fiction Category. The memoir is a touching compendium of Ms. Shakur’s life victories and resilient triumphs over adversity, and this honor from the NAACP places her alongside such luminaries as Bishop Desmond Tutu and Maya Angelou. Truly fitting company for so extraordinary a woman with just as many extraordinary life stories to tell…