How Tupacs Mothers Involvement with the Revoloutionary Black Panthers Inspired him to follow In her Footsteps as a leader of his people.
The tale of Tupac Shakur, who lived so fast and died so young, is at oncemore tender and more tragic than that of the woman-hating thug we saw instories about him. Quiet as it was kept, by the media and by Tupac himself, the effusively talented singer/writer/actor was the heir apparent of a family of black revolutionaries, most of whom wound up jailed, exiled, or dead during the1970's and 1980's. His ties to the remarkable Shakur family must have been a weighty psychicburden for the rap artist. The individual members of the extended clan commanded almost mythic respect from radicals of the black power period, especially in New York. This defining part of Tupac's background, incredibly, has been generally glossed over by the music and social critics trying to make sense of the contradictions that permeated his life. Given the radical diehard commitment of those relatives, it is no wonder that Tupac believed police agents were trailing him, like hunters after their prey. What was truly amazing was the grace with which, as an actor and rapper, he tied together feelings of love with the righteous anger that was a family legacy. Tupac Amaru Shakur was born in 1971 to Afeni Shakur, a Black Panther who carried the rapper-to-be in her womb while she was in jail, accused in a bomb plot. The Manhattan District Attorney tried to link 21 Panthers to the alleged plot, but the prosecutor's office found itself redfaced when a jury quickly rejected the charges. It is now believed the defendants were victims of an F.B.I.-led attempt to neutralize Panther Party members across the country. Afeni never revealed publicly who Tupac's father was. But one thing she did acknowledge: that the father was not Afeni's husband, Lumumba Shakur,who was the lead defendant in the Panther 21 case. Exhausted from the trialand angry at the romantic betrayal by Afeni, Lumumba left his wife and her newborn son; but Afeni quickly moved in with Lumumba's adopted brother, Mutulu, who would become Tupac's stepfather and spiritual counselor for the rest of the younger man's life. Those who knew the family describe Mutulu Shakur as the most influential male figure in Tupac's life, the man who taught him to stand up for himself and never to back down from a fight. But Mutulu, later to be known as Dr. Shakur, because of his training in acupuncture, was eventually to be taken from Tupac. In 1986, he was arrested as the reputed mastermind of the 1981 Brinks robbery, in which two Nyack, New York policemen and a Brinks guard were killed. To this day, Dr. Shakur denies that he had anything to do with the holdup, but he was nonetheless convicted and is now doing 60 years. In an interview two years ago at the federal prison in Lewisburg, Pa., where he was being held at the time, Dr. Shakur would not say if he saw Tupac during the years he was on the run from the Brinks charges. But it must havebeen painful for adolescent Tupac to know agents were scouring black neighborhoods all over the country looking for his stepfather. During thistime, Afeni and Tupac moved from Harlem to Baltimore. In an added trauma for Tupac, Lumumba Shakur, who remained on good terms with the family, was found dead in Louisiana several days before Mutulu was arrested. Mutulu says he suspects Lumumba was murdered by someone (perhaps a police informant) who learned of Mutulu's whereabouts and decided to kill two birds with one stone, taking the two brothers out of circulation. By this time, at age 15, Tupac must have been thoroughly convinced that to be a Shakur was to confront the possibility of death at an early age. He was learning such lessons almost before he could walk. In 1973, when Tupac was a toddler, his uncle, Zayd Shakur, was travelingon the New Jersey Turnpike with his companion, Assata Shakur, when they were stopped by a trooper. In a shoot-out that followed, Zayd and Trooper Werner Foerster lay dead. Assata, once known as JoAnne Chesimard, was wounded and later charged and convicted in the killing of the trooper. Taking the legend of the Shakurs to new heights, Assata escaped from prison in 1979 and fled to Cuba, where she is living now under a grant of asylum from the government of Fidel Castro. Assata, dubbed the "soul" of the Black Liberation Army, is arguably the most famous member of Tupac's extended family. Even as he climbed the ladder of stardom, and fought publicized battles with the law -- including the sex assault case and an allegation that he wounded a police officer in Georgia -- -- Tupac stayed in close contact with his stepfather Mutulu, talking with him by phone and seeking advice from him. Mutulu (born Jeral Wayne Williams) maintains he was having an impact on the young man, guiding him from street instincts and post-adolescent confusion, into a more coherent use of his energies. Mutulu praised the tender songs that Tupac would write, the ones with positive messages about family life and responsibility, like "Brenda's Got a Baby." Together, the step-father and -son team drew up a "Code of Thug Life," which was a list of rules discouraging random violence among gansta rappers. All of this wasdone away from the glare of media attention. nd perhaps there was good reason why Tupac did not want to publicize his relationship with Mutulu. He was already taking enough heat from local police around the country. Why aggravate the situation by further provoking federal agents who might have been monitoring Mutulu and his revolutionary associates? After all, federal authorities were known to be still interested in capturing Assata, who was close to Mutulu. Assata says she escaped from jail in 1979 because she had learned of a plan to have white prisoners assassinate her. Federal authorities said Mutulu was part of the team that broke Assata out of prison. It is perhaps difficult for some to remember the passion that Assata and her associates inspired in the law enforcement community. After I first wrote about Assata in 1987, I did a phone interview with F.B.I. official Ken Walton, who was prominent in the effort to capture her after her jailbreak. He told me in measured, angry words that he "or somebody like me" will one day capture Assata and bring her back to the States.