A full house roared with applause and a standing ovation as Afeni Shakur and Jasmine Guy entered the Great Court of Mitten Hall Oct. 7. Both Mitten Hall’s Great Court and Owl Cove were filled with white chairs for students, faculty and community members. Every seat was taken, and a large group of people were either left standing or sitting on steps in the back of the hall.
Shakur, mother of slain rapper Tupac, and Guy sat in two plush chairs, which faced the audience. Guy, an actress, producer and dancer, collaborated with Shakur on the book, “Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary,” which spans four decades of Shakur’s life. This was the first book for both women.
Shakur spoke eloquently about her life and her son’s life in front of an admiring audience. “I am overjoyed; I thank you so much,” Shakur said, adding a smile reminiscent of her late son.
Although the night was initially meant to honor the life and legacy of Tupac Shakur, Afeni took the night in a different, but morally informative direction. She spoke about her personal evolution as an activist, poet and mother. Shakur said she and her son were very close their entire lives.
“He’d call me up after a date and tell me what just happened,” she said, joking she didn’t “wanna know the details.” The only time they didn’t talk was when Afeni was addicted to drugs. Tupac, known on the street as 2pac, composed a song about his appreciation for his mother. “And even as a crack fiend, momma, you always was a black queen, momma,” Tupac rapped in “Dear Momma.”
Tupac was shot five times Sept. 9, 1996 while riding with Suge Knight of Death Row Records. He died four days later, and the case is still unsolved.
Shakur recalled praying to God the day Tupac died. “If you take him back, please make him a light on the hill,” she said, and quoted a song that calmed her while watching Tupac in the hospital: “This Little Light of Mine.”
Afeni discussed the importance of living life to the fullest while making wise decisions. Her up-front approach to life met an audience that hung on her every word.
“Here’s a news flash: you’re gonna die. You’re gonna die as sure as the sun comes up. But if it doesn’t, you’re still gonna die,” Afeni said.
Afeni quoted the letter she received on Sept. 13 from Nelson Mandella, marking eight years since Tupac’s passing.
“Our deepest fear is that we are inadequate,” Shakur said, quoting Mandella. “Our deepest fear is that we are powerless beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you…”
Afeni said there are pressing issues in the world, like the need for assistance in Haiti, where more than 1,500 people were killed in recent natural disasters.
“There are people wearing shower shoes,” Shakur said. “Why aren’t you sending food to Haiti? Are you waiting for CNN to tell you about Haiti? Aren’t you mad?”
A student asked a question to Afeni about the integrity of music that demeans certain types of women. Afeni said only “you have the ability to decide which records you listen to.”
She commented on the presence of negative references in hip-hop and rap music.
“You don’t understand how many bitches and hoes there actually are,” Shakur said to an audience reacting in agreement. “Be courageous about bitches and hoes in your community. I want you to challenge those bitches and hos on their behavior… I’m at war with bitches and hos. Call them what you will. Discuss it ’til its over.”
The final question of the night aimed to probe Shakur’s feelings about racism. “Take a year off the racism fight,” she said, alluding to prominent national issues. “Take a year and fight for yourself…Put racism in the closet for one year…Save your life first. Know what self-preservation is, the first law of nature…That [current issue] is your priority right now.”
Alysha Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.