I've always found it strange that my life's most important lessons came from people I would never meet.
We live in an age where vanity equates to dollars, and helping someone is not nearly as important as video recording it for an audience, so it's not hard to imagine why I find these occurrences strange. But to me, it's odd that the strangers who have helped me had done so in the spirit of Jesus Christ - a man they would also never meet.
When someone does something kind for me, or gives me an encouraging word, I can't help but to question how someone living in an age of egotism could find the time to care about me, someone who doesn't even know them? Why am I so special?
I don't think I'll ever have the answers I am looking for in these questions. In the end, I can't help but to be honored to have strangers walk among us in God's spirit, and I feel grateful for their lessons.
One of those strangers was Afeni Shakur, mother of legendary rapper Tupac Shakur. I started thinking about Afeni's amazing life lessons on womanhood when I discovered that she died on May 3. She was 69-years-old.
I've never met Afeni Shakur, and I probably wouldn't have recognized who she was if I saw her on the street while she was alive. But her biography, Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary, changed me.
Before I read Afeni's book, all I knew was that I was suffering from depression. By the time I put the book down, I felt like I had been slapped "woke." Everything that I needed to understand about what it meant to be a black woman going through the throws of life was available for me to read, and it helped me want to live a little longer.
Thanks to Afeni, I better understood the gift of life. Not many people have the opportunity to boast this spiritually liberating act, especially while they're alive. But Afeni did, and we have God to thank for her.
Thanks to her book, I don't feel like her spirit has completely left this Earth. Her soul is invincible, and she bared it all in a book that serves as a blueprint on how to be when you're a black woman, and your pain doesn't seem to want to go away.
This is what I learned about womanhood from Akeni Shakur:
1. ANGER WON'T DO ANYTHING FOR YOU BUT HOLD YOU BACK
In her biography, she talked a lot about how angry she was with her mother, who was physically abused by her father. Afeni thought her mother was weak for allowing her father to beat on her. So Afeni turned into a tough girl. She would beat up on other kids, because she thought that she had to be that way in order to feel protected.
Eventually she discovered that the only thing anger did for her was kill her slowly. As she grew into adulthood, she said that she would often confuse anger for strength, and that drove people away from her. At least that's what Tupac would tell her. She said,
“...All that hating hurts. As a girl child, I just hurt. Everything around me seemed hurtful. And, like I said, we had no protection. I never felt safe. Now, I see that I got a lot from my mother. I have learned to appreciate her strengths, her quiet dignity. For most of my life I have been angry. I thought my mama was weak and my daddy was a dog. That anger fed me for many years.”
2. REACTING OFF OF EMOTION DOES NOT HELP THE FIGHT FOR EQUALITY
It’s hard not to react emotionally when you hear about cases like Michael Brown’s, Trayvon Martin’s, or Eric Garner’s. Afeni even struggled with this, as she was once seen comforting Trayvon Martin's mom at a retreat back in 2014.
The one thing she learned as an activist for the Black Panther Party was that the party had lost the fight for equality, because there were too many emotional reactions. In her opinion, emotional reaction is what caused young BPP activists to attract the wrong attention to their cause, which led to the party's demise.
Afeni said that God would not allow your community a chance to have peace and harmony if your cause didn't reflect the same values. She said:
“You have to have a moral imperative to win...You can’t do that in this world and expect that God is going to allow peace, harmony, and serenity to stay around you. We didn’t understand that. We drew violence to ourselves. We drew bitterness to ourselves. ”
3. FIND A PARTNER WHO IS ON YOUR LEVEL
Afeni joined the BPP to make a difference, but from what she saw, not every woman joined the party for the same reasons. The truth is that some women joined the BPP to meet men.
As a result of her determination and focus, she was shunned by other women in the group, as well as some guys, who spread rumors about her being lesbian or "freaky." But Afeni did not care about the rumors. She wanted to stop the despair she saw in her community, and as a woman, the best way for her to do that was to stick close to a black man of power who could execute those changes.
That's when she met her first husband, Lumumba Abdul Shakur - a section leader for New York City's BPP. According to Afeni, she and Lumumba became partners in their relationship, where they both shared equal power.
To get a better idea of what she was talking about, her biographer, actress Jasmine Guy, asked Afeni if she viewed Lumumba the way Hillary Clinton viewed her husband - as a partner who could advance her career. Afeni replied:
“The key word being partner. I was his partner. We made agreements. We had discussions. Lumumba loved my fire and my candor. He loved debating with me.”
4. YOUR LIFE EXPERIENCES AREN'T ALWAYS FOR YOUR BENEFIT
Back in 1969, Afeni, Lumumba, and 19 other BPP members were arrested in connection with an alleged plot to bomb several departments stores and a subway police station in Manhattan. The people on trial were known across the media as the Panther 21.
In her biography, Afeni said that if she was convicted, she would have been sent to jail for more than 300 years. That scared her to death, especially when she discovered that she was pregnant with Tupac during the trial.
Instead of succumbing to her fears, she pulled out all stops to make sure that she didn't find herself having her child behind bars. Afeni said that the experience of defending herself in court ultimately pushed her to make such a great lasting impression, that she was acquitted of all charges in 1971. She described:
“I was young. I was arrogant. And I was brilliant in court. I wouldn’t have been able to be brilliant in court. I wouldn’t have been able to be brilliant if I thought I was going to get out of jail. It was because I thought this was the last time I could speak. The last time before they locked me up forever. I had to make a record there for later, because I would never be able to speak again. And I didn’t know anything about being locked up either. I thought that when I went away to prison I would just have no contact with nobody. So, this was my last chance, and I had to make the best of it. I just thought I was writing my own obituary….”
What she also learned during that experience is that sometimes a rough life situation is God's way of prepping you to help someone else. Coincidentally, Afeni said that it was easy for her to sense that Tupac felt that he would only be on Earth for a little while. She felt the exact same way when she thought she was going to jail during her Panther 21 trial.
5. NEVER JUDGE SOMETHING FOR ITS OUTWARD APPEARANCE
Most people teach their kids the meaning of value by teaching them to "never judge a book by it's cover." But Afeni is not an ordinary woman, and how she taught her kids this lesson was pretty savage.
Sekyiwa, Tupac’s little sister, was a very sweet girl who seemed sort of meek as a child. She was the complete opposite of Afeni.
Sekyiwa once recalled a story where Tupac was getting picked on by other kids because he didn't have flashy clothing. He told his mom what he was going through, and she told him that his strength lied in the fact that he understood the meaning of value. Afeni told Tupac that while his little sister would pick up three shiny pennies from the ground because they were shiny, Tupac would be the kid who would pick up a crumpled hundred dollar bill next to the shiny pennies.
The good news was that Tupac understood what his mom was saying, and probably felt less awful about being bullied. The bad news was the Sekyiwa was in the other room listening to her mother insult her. Ouch!
Thankfully, no love was lost as a result of the lesson, and Sekyiwa walked away learning something new, too.
6. IF YOU THINK YOU'RE ONLY HURTING YOURSELF WHEN YOU'RE IN PAIN, THINK AGAIN
When Afeni went to rehab for drugs, she had to face what she had done to her children emotionally as a result of her drug use, and her prideful behavior. Her day of reckoning came when she realized that she was hurting the people who loved more than what she was hurting herself.
She described a letter that Tupac wrote her while in rehab, where he said that he could not allow himself to get too excited about her recovery, because he didn't know if what she was going through was real. She told Jasmine about the letter,
“...I remember how it affected me. I went to my sponsor with the letter because I was so messed up over it. That’s when she taught me humility. I was so devastated, and she helped me. She helped me because she told me that the only reason that I was devastated was because my pride was hurt. This is what she would do. She made me see when it was my pride getting in the way of doing the right thing. It was very hard, but she did that for me.”
What came from Tupac's hurt was one of the most prolific songs ever dedicated to a woman (Dear Mama), as well as some of his most powerful pieces of poetry about Afeni that was published in his book, The Rose That Grew From Concrete.
While everyone around seemed to fall in love with Tupac's Dear Mama rap, Afeni had to relive the hurt that she caused her son every time the song came on the radio, and because the song peaked in the top 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hip Hop charts, she heard the song a lot.
Putting drugs before her children hurt Afeni in so many ways, and she had to learn how live with the pain she caused her family for many years. But she learned, and helped other people grow into better people as she discovered herself, and the journey ahead of her.
Rest In Power, Queen Afeni.