Many worldwide were saddened by the heartbreaking news that Sister Afeni Shakur, 69, became an ancestor May 2. Reports state that she passed at a hospital in Sausalito, Calif., after suffering cardiac arrest at home earlier that day. Her body was later cremated and a local memorial service conducted shortly thereafter.
A private memorial was also held in her Lumberton, N.C., hometown last weekend, with local politicians declaring May 28 “Afeni Shakur Day.”
Here, some of her close comrades also reflected on her Harlem history and the thriving activism she participated in while residing in Black Mecca.
Before she was referred to as mother of 1990s hip-hop icon Tupac Shakur, or as the executor of the deceased artist’s estate, she was simply known as Sister Afeni Shakur from the Harlem chapter of the revolutionary Black Panther Party.
“Brother Lumumba, Afeni, myself, Zayd and Assata—we were all comrades,” revealed Professor James Small, who recalled initially meeting Shakur, her husband Lumumba and brother-in-law Zayd Shakur in 1967, when they joined Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity.
“The BPP got to be known in New York under the leadership of Zayd and Sister Afeni,” Small contended. “She was a revolutionary soldier from the inception of the movement. Lumumba was the captain of the BPP’s Harlem chapter and Zayd was captain of their Bronx division, so that put her right in the middle of that struggle.”
Several years before Tupac’s birth, Shakur was a respected activist in New York City’s heartless streets as she and her comrades selflessly provided the urban communities with free-of-charge clothing, meals, medical supplies and educational programs.
“This is a woman, even if she hadn’t given birth to Tupac, that we should still be celebrating,” noted her colleague Jamal Joseph in a media report. He was also one of Shakur’s codefendants during the infamous Panther 21 case that began in April 1969.
Although she had a squad of attorneys backing her, Shakur refused their services and instead represented herself throughout the trial while pregnant with Tupac. All 21 members were eventually acquitted May 12, 1971, of 156 counts for allegedly conspiring to blow up New York City police precincts, the Bronx Botanical Gardens and several other high-profile places.
“When I was pregnant in jail, I thought I was going to have a baby and the baby would never be with me, but I was acquitted a month and three days before Tupac was born. I was real happy, because I had a son,” Shakur explained on the introduction to Tupac’s 1995 classic ode, “Dear Mama.”
After giving birth in East Harlem June 16, 1971, throughout the rest of the decade-plus, Shakur nurtured Tupac and his younger sister Sekyiwa with the moral support of her Panther family, namely Mutulu Shakur and Gerinomo Ji Jaga Pratt.
“When I was young, me and my mama had beef/17-years-old kicked out on the streets/Though back at the time I never thought I’d see her face/Ain’t a woman alive that could take my mama’s place” Tupac detailed on “Dear Mama.”
The young family resided at Seventh Avenue and 112th Street for several years as the torrential crack epidemic eventually claimed Shakur, as it had so many during that era. She resurrected herself and relocated her family to Baltimore in 1985.
“Queen mother Afeni, phoenix-like, rose from the ashes of negroism, rose from having been made into a destroyed negro person by white supremacist,” shared Brother Tarik-Black Panther, who initially met her in 1974. “She rose to the rank of heroine helping the people as a member of the BPP. I am saddened and sorry you have been taken from us.”
Sister Dequi Kioni-Sadiki recalled meeting Shakur during the mid-’90s and how she supported 14 BPP comrades who remained prisoners-of-war. “She’s a radical, revolutionary Black woman who used her skills and frustrations at oppression to organize in her community and serve the people as a member of the BPP. She was a great orator who motivated and inspired people with her analysis and words. That was transformed into her son, who was then able to do that for his generation.”
Joseph tweeted, “My heart is broken in a million places but I know Afeni is with Tupac and that she is blessed by the millions she helped and inspired. She taught me unselfish love above all else. Thank you.”
Small added, “The Shakur family were frontline revolutionaries, and not just in the BPP or the OAAU, but also in the formation of the group that became the BLA. She was no bystander.”
Sadiki “Bro. Shep” Ojore Olugbala, NYS Chapter of The BPP, suggested, “Afeni’s life as a Panther in NYC can best be summed up in her own words by reading both ‘Look for Me in the Whirlwind: The Collective Autobiography of the NY Panther 21’ and of course her own biography co-written by Jasmine Guy entitled ‘Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a Revolutionary.’”
Afeni is survived by her sister, Gloria, and daughter, Sekyiwa.
Local memorial service for Shakur will be Saturday, June 18 at House of the Lord Church from 4 to 7 p.m. (415 Atlantic Ave. in Brooklyn).