Yes that Shakur. Yes the Shakur who gave us the hip-hop legend Tupac. And yes the “sweet lady” Shakur honored in the rap hit “Dear Mama.” At age 69 Afeni Shakur Davis passed away Monday afternoon in her Sausalito, California home. And while she may be chiefly remembered as the mother of a music giant, she is also a Black Panther, philanthropist, and political activist.
Shakur Davis was only 17 when she met with an associate of Malcolm X who was recruiting youth in the Bronx to join the Black Panther Party, and although she was young she quickly became a respected, invaluable member of the organization. She specialized in raising bail money for jailed members, wrote articles for the party’s newsletter The Panther Post, and is also credited for crafting a misdirection campaign that lead FBI agents to believe the Black Panthers were disappearing. Her dedication as an activist was unquestioned. She was so committed that four years after becoming a Panther she changed her birth name from Alice Williams to Afeni (a Yoruba name from western Nigeria) Shakir.
“[The Black Panthers] took my rage and channeled it. They educated my mind and gave me direction,” she said in an interview with biographer Jasmine Guy.
These lessons learned through her work with the Black Panthers followed Shakur throughout her life. With the death of Tupac in 1996 she poured her skills into ensuring the legacy of her son wouldn’t wane away. A year later in 1997 she created the Tupac Shakur Foundation to provide art programs to students. It was with the understanding that the arts can save youth from otherwise bleak paths that Shakur formed the center. In addition to the Tupac Shakur Foundation, she also founded Amaru Entertainment to disperse the unreleased material Tupac wrote before his death.
“Arts can save children, no matter what’s going on in their homes,” she said. “I wasn’t available to do the right things for my son. If not for the arts, my child would’ve been lost.”
Her dedication to philanthropy also spilled over to modern issues. In May of 2014 she was named the keynote speaker for a retreat sponsored by the Trayvon Martin Foundation. She used her experiences and her position to advocate on behalf of mothers whose children were victims of gun violence, thus aligning herself with the Black Lives Matter Movement. Put simply, her life was one characterized by activism and her legacy will be more of the same. And in her son’s words, “[our] plan is to show you that [we] understand. You are appreciated.”