I didn’t begin Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary with any expectations. I had my eyes on this title for a while because of knowing her as the mother of Tupac. I didn’t know anything concrete or substantial about her other than the fact that she was a member of the Black Panther party and birthed one of hip-hop’s most intellectual rappers. It, honestly, wasn’t until after her death that the book became one that was necessary for me to tackle. I, like many others, witnessed the outpouring of love that came when her departure from earth was announced. In learning of the news, I felt empathy and provided her family with good energy.
What I learned about Afeni Shakur took me by surprise. I understood Tupac as a rapper and admired his passion, his fire, his refusal to shut up and his consistent conviction to speak to the people. I viewed him, like many others did, as someone who left way too soon; as someone the community still needed. In reading Evolution of a Revolutionary, I can now understand how “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
In the opening scenes, Afeni is sitting with Jasmine Guy and is reciting wisdom about the relevance of owning land and cultivating crops. “You can’t be spending your money on trinkets if you have to keep up your land. We plant a tree for Tupac on his birthday every year,” she said. The person we are initially introduced to is not the person who transpires as the story moves. It navigates slowly, in a dark way, revealing bits and pieces at a time. The pace is necessary because her story is heavy.
Afeni was a woman who had a very parallel life to her oldest child — having lived, loved and lost many times over; her smart mouth getting her into plenty of trouble. The pain she experienced in her life (before, during and after her children) was a reflection of why she became a Black Panther soldier. She was fearless in her efforts when attempting to change the world around her. Just like her son.
She was born in 1947 North Carolina, during a time in which being black was much more difficult than it is today. Her family was poor and her father was an abusive husband. In her youth, there was plenty she didn’t understand and much of it was channeled through anger and frustration. She fought her way through life — literally — getting kicked out of almost every school she attended. In her eyes, she was utilizing her anger on the wrong people and the Black Panther party provided her with a higher purpose. They put use to her wit, her strength and gave her real reasons to go to war.
“We were sick of laying down and getting stomped…the Panthers answered the needs of the people in my community.”
When she was sent to prison for conspiracy, the Black Panther party was falling a part. Members were being sought out and thrown into jail for crimes they didn’t commit and many were fleeing to Africa as refuge. She started to feel alone. She was facing over 300 years in prison when she was pregnant with Tupac.
Evolution of a Revolutionary journeys through her childhood troubles and allows us to grow with her. We are allowed to witness as she falls in and out of love and her struggles with addiction. By no means was she a perfect woman or mother. Her testimony fills the pages, regrets she lived with that can’t be taken back and her memories are painful to observe.
It is through her story, though, that there can be a much better understanding to why Tupac was the passionate artist he was. His need to fight until the very end was a part of the very fabric that made him; his bloodline, his history.
As her story evolved into a close, it was comforting to watch her rise. During the last five years of Tupac’s life, he was able to experience his mother sober and well. A victory Afeni was deeply proud of. In her redemption, it was her who took control of his possessions and opened the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts in Georgia to honor his passion. It is Jasmine Guy who ultimately glorifies Afeni’s name; providing her legacy with tangible proof that it is possible to live, lose and grow.