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Afeni Shakur, Survivor [Story from XXL’s October 2003 Issue]

XXL: Tupac’s celebrity seems to grow with each passing year. What do you think of that?
It is quite extraordinary. But Tupac really was extraordinary. I think it’s hard for us to live with the reality of having had someone in our mists who really was extraordinary and then having him leave. In this sense, I’m not trying to make the comparison that people have, but it’s like with Malcolm [X] and Martin [Luther King Jr.] When they were living—and please understand that I’m not trying to make a comparison of the human beings, just of the circumstances. Here’s what I mean: I think that when they were alive, the people around them didn’t look at them and say, “God, you’re great. Oh my God, you’re so smart. I cannot believe that you’re so brave. You are so courageous.” It did not happen. When people leave who have strong gifts that they give, that’s when we feel a hole and a vacuum. We start then to look at ourselves and those of us that are left, and say, “Maybe we can’t repeat that.” And I think that every time someone new gets acquainted with Tupac, what happens is they say, “My God! He was quite a smart fellow.”

Tupac has come through our family, and even we say, “My God! Look at what has become of our family member.” We always thought that he was special, but that’s not the same thing. I always knew he was special because from the moment he was conceived, God started blessing him. When I carried Tupac, when I was five months pregnant they put me back in jail, my bail was revoked. When my bail was revoked, I was not allowed to have my own food. I could only have what was there. So I went and I got a court order so I could have a boiled egg a day—first it was to be fried, then they said to have it boiled—and a glass of milk a day. Tupac, in order to come, he was in my stomach in the worst possible living conditions. Jesus! Why would he want to be here under these circumstances? And remember that while I’m carrying him, I am not only locked up, but I am responsible for my own defense. I’m facing three hundred and forty something years in jail and I am my own lawyer. That’s what I chose to do.

What does that mean? Nights sitting there studying the law?
I am working night after night. But where am I? I’m in jail. Lights go out at 10 so no, no, no, no working late into the night. Whatever you can do in the period of time given, you do it, like a banshee.

Was Tupac your first child?
He’s my first, my only hope. We were acquitted May 13th 1971, Tupac was born June 16th 1971. And while I was pregnant in jail, I lost weight. But Tupac gained weight. Tupac was always coming. He always was meant to be here, he always was deliberate about his coming. God meant for him to be here. It wasn’t a mistake. And even as a child he was a special child, because he was a sweet, precious person.

That might not be the first thing people think of ‘Pac, “Sweet and precious…”
This was a precious human being from day one. And I’m not the only one who could see it. Anyone could see that he was precious, that he was special, that he was gifted. But no one could see that he was what he became. Because we can only see with our own eyes. We only have the examples of what’s here. It was always clear how special Tupac was. Because understand who we are—the place where Tupac came from. Where he came from, really, we ain’t got nothing, we don’t know nothing, we ain’t trying to finish nothing. We ain’t did nothing, and here comes this one right here. In the middle of me using drugs what is he doing? Huh? As I am falling way down what is he doing? He is building himself up anyway. He put a wall between he and I. Because this is him: “If you wanna fall off, you go ahead, that’s on you. I’m not doing that. I’m going forward.”

Did you feel abandoned by him?
Abandoned nothing! I was using drugs. I had no right to feel nothing. I ain’t got no justifications for horse manure, you understand? What a wonderful person he was. How smart of him! And as I say to young people today whose parents are using: Trust me, that ain’t got nothing to do with you. Put up your wall. Do what you need to do. If your parents can figure their way out that paper bag, they will. Thank the blessed lord, I got out that paper bag. But it ain’t the child’s responsibility to lift you.

And I wasn’t the worst dope fiend in the world, but you don’t gotta be the worst dope fiend in the world, you don’t have to be the worst nothing. If you using drugs, and that comes before your kids, that’s enough right there. Even during that period, what was important for me was that Tupac continued to create. Creativity, we’ve always seen as a way for us to survive. We don’t like to admit this but, as African-Americans in this country—especially those of us who come from this country whose parents and grandparents and great great great grandparents were slaves in this country and now we’re still here, with five cents—Tupac taught us so much. Tupac would say to me and my sister, “Y’all stop thinking about that welfare. When you gonna get off of welfare?” In the mind, it’s all in the mind.

You were still controlled in the mind.
Still controlled in the mind. You got it, you understand. And about money—Like, he bought me a house. After that, instead of asking him for some money—“Oh no, I’m too independent!”—what I thought I needed to do was get a mortgage. So he finds out I am trying to get a mortgage, and the boy said, “Mama, why you trying to pawn the house?” You see what I mean? And that’s when I got it. I thought that the thing to do, with my welfare mind, was to get a mortgage. The house was fully paid for, but I’m like, “Oh. Why don’t I go into debt?”

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