Afeni Shakur, mother of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, passed away on Tuesday.
Her death, at only the age of 69, has prompted an outpouring of grief and remembrance. Headlines about her death mostly reference her son: “Afeni Shakur, Tupac’s Mother, Dies At 69.” And across social media, people are sharing photos of Shakur with her son, or tributes using the song he wrote for her —“Dear Mama” — a song that has become synonymous with her, her battles with addiction and her son’s admiration.
It’s undeniable that Tupac Shakur was the man that he was because of his mother. His artistry, his ideology, his activism and his genius were intrinsically linked to a woman who encouraged him from an early age to question everything, and to rail against white supremacy.
But here’s the thing: As we remember Afeni Shakur, we must remember that her legacy and impact went beyond her son.
Afeni Shakur was an activist, a revolutionary, a philanthropist and a scholar. An active member of the Black Panther party in the 1960s and 1970s, she faced the scrutiny and surveillance of the CIA and FBI, was jailed under trumped up conspiracy and terrorist charges, and later successfully secured her freedom by representing herself in court.
Shakur was also a community organizer, setting up the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation after her son’s death to fund performing arts programs for disenfranchised children. Proceeds from unreleased material by her son also went towards the foundation. And in the the years following Tupac’s death, Shakur continued to speak across the United States as an advocate for Civil Rights and reform in black communities.
Afeni Shakur has stood as a kind of symbol of the stoic grace of black motherhood — a mother who has had to remain strong and keep it together in the wake of her son’s brutal murder. She exemplified that grace, the sort of grace that’s mirrored in the mother’s of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and so many other black mothers of sons who died violently.
Afeni Shakur at the tenth anniversary memorial of her son’s death.
But the beauty of black motherhood, too, is that it can transcend that narrative of pain and sacrifice. What made Afeni Shakur amazing and memorable wasn’t just her son, or his death, or her activism and philanthropy following his death. What made her memorable, powerful, and inspiring was her consistent, lifelong dedication to her community and her people.
Tupac was just one of many amazing contributions that Afeni Shakur made to the world. She was more than just the “mama” in “Dear Mama.” She was a shining example of the power of black womanhood as a whole.