7/10/12 - a failed drug dealer

In today's excerpt - in 1988, Tupac Shakur, the legendary rapper murdered in 1996, was seventeen. His mother was a penniless, drug-addicted ex-Black Panther named Afeni. Though his life had been hunger and homelessness in New York and Maryland, he had managed to attend a tuition-free high school for the performing arts, learned poetry and theater, and in that school had briefly found a spiritual home. Until his mother suddenly sent him to California:

"Tupac and [his sister] Sekyiwa arrived in Marin City, across the bay from Oakland, in 1988. He was seventeen years old and she was thirteen.

"They went to the home of Assante, a woman Afeni had been close to during her Black Panther days. Assante lived in a poor housing complex that was rife with crime. In fact Marin City's crime rate had soared to such levels that people referred to the community as 'the Jungle.'

"The boy who arrived in 'the Jungle' was a deep-thinking bohemian who understood the works of Shakespeare and had donned a leotard for his dance classes and acted in several school plays. He was not a street tough. Sekyiwa was a smart, sweet girl who longed for stability. The kids were in way over their heads.

"Assante had agreed to house them, so Afeni sent the kids ahead of her until she could come up with some money for a ticket of her own. One day she got a call from Assante saying that the kids needed a new home.

"When Afeni got to Marin City, Assante was nowhere to be found. Tu­pac and Sekyiwa were with a neighbor. Afeni had no idea what her kids had been enduring. Assante was a raging alcoholic who often passed out on the floor and lay there sleeping for hours. She didn't cook regular meals and never lost an opportunity to let them know that their pres­ence was a burden.

"Assante, the onetime revolutionary, had shriveled into a mean drunk who habitually cursed them out. She saved most of her venom for Tu­pac, who represented every black male who'd ever hurt her or let her down.

"Afeni had to find a new home for them fast but she had no money. While waiting for a government-subsidized apartment, the kids were farmed out to locals. Tupac was the neighborhood underdog. 'Niggas that wasn't shit and I knew it used to dis me... I got love but the kind of love you would give a dog or a neighborhood crack fiend.'

"Matters worsened when Afeni started using drugs again. Rapper Manny Man remembered that Tupac 'stayed with us for a little while because his sister was dating my brother.' And that wasn't all that Tu­pac was doing. 'I was broke, nowhere to stay. I smoked weed. I hung out with the drug dealers, pimps, and the criminals. They were the only people that cared about me at that point. My mom, she was lost at that particular moment. She wasn't caring about herself. She was addicted to crack. It was hard, because she was my hero. I didn't have enough credits to graduate. I dropped out. I said I gotta get paid, I gotta find a way to make a living. I started selling drugs for like two weeks and the drug dealer said give me my drugs back, cuz I didn't know how to do it.'

"The dealer who'd been Tupac's boss was no pillar of the community, but he at least knew his business well enough to tell his former employee to leave the drug game alone. Tupac had shown a talent for rapping and that was where he needed to put his energies."


Tayannah Lee McQuillar and Fred L. Johnson III, PhD


Tupac Shakur: The Life and Times of an American Icon


Da Capo Press


Copyright 2010 by Tayannah Lee McQuillar and Fred Johnson


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