Dear Mama: Remembering Afeni and 2pac

Afeni2pacThis piece is dedicated to the Shakur tribe, on this occasion, which would have been Tupac Shakur’s birthday, we commemorate his soul and that of his recently departed mother, Afeni Shakur as well.

The news of Afeni Shakur’s passing was abrupt and sudden, just days before Mother’s Day, Dear Mama had left us and as a product of the Bay, an extension of the Panther legacy and a cultivator of Hip-Hop, I felt personally affected, even though I had never been blessed to have met Afeni in life.  I immediately contacted Sheikh Hashim Alauddeen, who had known 2pac, and had seen Afeni before, to share the heartbreaking news; and when he, who is usually loquacious, had no words save remorse, it furthered my heartbreak.  We were both dumbstruck and I didn’t know what else to do but to pray for her soul, and the soul of Tupac, as I also prayed for Sekyiwa and her children, Mopreme, Mutulu, Zayd, Assata and Jasmine Guy, who had purposefully helped me connect with Afeni through her writing.  To all those to whom Afeni was linked and to everyone she touched via her impact on social justice and through her children, I say and said inna lillahi inna ilayhi rajioon, “we are created and unto the creator do we return.”  Peace and Blessings.

Tamils_Love_2pac

Motherhood Besieged

Mother’s Day in America has many narratives, though all are of struggle; this is due to the fact that all mothers in America are born under the yolk of patriarchy, and the fact that there is no physical or metaphysical equivalent comparison for carrying a human being to term for up to nine months.  However, there is one matriarchal narrative that is so steeped in oppression that it stands apart from the others; this is of the mother whose child is stripped away from them as chattel and sold.  This narrative is of the captive mother, and it echoes from the skeleton closet of our nation’s history and it continues to reverberate in recent times.  The two most infamous examples of this oppression is manifest in the wombs of two women, held in captivity, who navigated their motherhood while they fought for their freedom; both women took on the surname Shakur.

Shakur in Arabic means to be thankful, which seems a word at odds with the adopted surname of a mother who was imprisoned for a crime for which she was eventually acquitted while she was pregnant—and the name seems especially ironic in that the Shakur tribe bore this oppression because America feared what was in their wombs, far more than any other force.  Sadly, this is not hyperbole, but the sad truth regarding the maneuverings of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI, which fought actively to prevent any Black Messiah figure from emerging and that included being born; COINTELPRO was directly utilized under Hoover’s guidance to snuff out any leadership of this type.  The irrational fear of a black messiah directly led to circumstances that found the government involved with or having knowledge of the assassinations of Fred Hampton, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.  So it is unsurprising that this gripping phobia also led to the scrutiny of the wombs of black activists since the goal of phobic was to prevent a Black Superman from uplifting “the people” a.k.a black folk and pulling a modern day Moses routine on the machinations of a modern day Pharaoh.

Assata Shakur explicates this fear in her Autobiography, which shows in her descriptive prose capturing the reactions of the prison guards and government officials when they come to learn that she became pregnant while they held her captive in gross violation of numerous rights she should have been afforded.  She perfectly breaks down the state of oppression that consumed her being, as one that was so complete that those imprisoned didn’t realize that their perceptions of freedom were but a façade; Assata stated that “in AmeriKKKa she [had] always been in prison” and the only difference then, when she had been placed in a cell was that now she could see and feel the bars.  This is a type of consciousness that was born in the teachings of Malcolm X and both members of the Shakur tribe, Afeni and Assata would argue that their motherhood pales in comparison to that of Betty Shabazz, who carried her twins to term, while held captive to the assassination of their father, Malcolm X.  It was Malcolm’s inspiration that birthed the Black Panther Party and it was this organization that helped awaken consciousness in both Afeni and Assata, though they both would transcend its socialist construction and find spirituality in Islam and in New Afrikan identity.

FRONTPAGE_malcomx

The Tribe of Shabazz and the Tribe of Shakur

Sheikh Hashim likes to tell the story of when he was with Tupac and ‘Pac was using a label maker to punch labels out on sticky tape and place them underneath pictures he had pinned to his bedroom wall.  One of the photos was of Malcolm X, and under it Tupac had labeled “Original Gangsta.”  It makes me chuckle inside when people label Tupac a Gangsta Rapper, since they are unaware to which “Gang”, Tupac truly belonged.  Tupac was a member of the Shakur tribe, and learned lessons that shaped his consciousness under the tutelage of Mutulu Shakur, and took inspiration from Assata and his mother Afeni.  Young Tupac Shakur, renamed after the Incan emperor and revolutionary, spent his gestation in limbo, as his mother Afeni stood trial as part of the Panther 21.  She was acquitted and Tupac would be born a free child—however Assata, another member of the Shakur tribe did not fare as well and gestated her daughter in prison.  So his cousin Kikuya (Assata’s daughter) came into this world with the unenviable circumstance of being born in captivity—a circumstance that hearkens back to the matriarchal narrative of so called slaves.

Afeni passed away on May 2nd, one week before the third anniversary of the passing young Malcolm Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, who was our close friend and whose death and funeral consumed much of our spirit and community energy.  I was one of the few brothers called on to wash his body, as per Islamic ritual, and the memory of the lukewarm water running over the cold skin of his empty shell, the smell of camphor and the circumstances of the murder that put the lifeless form of my brother in front of me will haunt me till the day of my own death.  Afeni’s passing, was another blow to the tribe of Shakur, just as Malcolm’s was to the tribe of Shabazz.  These two families while distinct, remain connected in my mind via the conduits of affinity they had with Islam, celebratory blackness and an unapologetic adherence to social justice; and because of these things, there was a fourth connection, which was of trial—where members of both tribes experienced the inner workings of criminal “justice” system and domestic intelligence organizations for challenging the status quo on issues of faith, race and social justice and for having the tribal capacity to birth and train and black messianic figure.

2pac

2pac in Tamil pays homage to Afeni directly with the lines “reincarnated in Afeni’s womb”, and references to the Panther 21 case.  The song pays homage to Afeni as the conscious matriarch of Hip-Hop, which is to take nothing away from the contributions of other powerful women in Hip-Hop, but to give credit Afeni because she imbued one of the greatest, if not greatest M.C. in Hip-Hop history with the legacy of the Panthers, which in and of itself was a legacy of Malcolm, thereby inextricably linking Hip-Hop with the two tribes, Shabazz and Shakur.

2pac would have been 45 today, but we will be forever deprived of the wisdom he would impart as his experience grew.  In his later years, some have critiqued that 2pac was a slave to the music industry, and that the more popular he became the stronger the shackles did as well.  Yet these shackles, which came with a related shift in this self-professed feminist and socialist’s lyrics to misogynistic themes and capitalist lyrical content, seem to show a dramatic shift in an artist, who was perhaps Hip-Hop’s first male feminist lyricist up until he was shackled this way.  Songs like Brenda, Keep Ya Head Up and Dear Mama dedicated to Afeni Shakur, stand in sharp contrast to Wonder Why Bitch, but 2pac remained astute enough, Panther enough and truly hip enough to insert coded lyrics, like the captives of old did when they sang codes into negro spirituals, so that even songs with seemingly sexist lyrics carry secret messages to those in the know, see Me and My Girlfriend as an example—a song which deep sexual imagery that is constructed as an ode to libertarian values and the ownership of a gun.

2pac was a panther cub, and for those who don’t know Afeni or the Panther 21, understand that, it was as if Assata or Angela Davis had a child and that child retained the consciousness of the mother in his voice to/for the people.  Tupac was a conscious artist, and even when his music was not conscious, and constructed for popular construction it was still coded with consciousness for the people.  “The people” are the global black community and it is why 2pac is an icon for the continent of Africa, along with Bob Marley and Lucky Dube; it is why 2pac t-shirts sell in the bazaars of the Middle East and why in Latin America and South East Asia his visage is an icon reminiscent of Che or Ho Chi Minh.  2pac Shakur brought the voice of the tribe of Shakur to join with that of Shabazz, by the enduring connection elucidated earlier to speak to global issue of injustice.  He was taken from us, long before many knew what he represented and with the recent death of Afeni, it would seem that the strength of the tribe is waning—but like Malcolm’s words, Tupac’s songs live on and like Malcolm continue to inspire each generation that stands up to oppression everywhere on this planet!

2pac_Is_A_Global_IconShout out to the City of Oakland (#BayPride) for making today Tupac Shakur Day.

 

 

Advertisements

I Have Insomnia, So I Cannot Dream

Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an event

I Have Insomnia, So I Cannot Dream

A modern interpretation of Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have a Dream Speech” by artist and educator, Professor A.L.I.

I have seen and heard “I Have a Dream” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. countless times and yet it still gives me the same spine tingly chills that I had when I first heard his soulful voice as a snotty-nosed, wide-eyed youngster in the third grade. For the longest time I thought those involuntary goose bumps came each time his bass filled voice echoed in my skull because I knew that I was listening to a martyr speaking passionately not too long before his inevitable assassination. I even postulated that when the fine hairs on my skin bristled that it was surely due to his eloquent oratory and the way in which he delivered his words, from his pulsating heart into the chambers of mine. Perhaps, the historian in me wondered at times if my reaction was not due to the context of his era; one I knew from the grainy black and white images on fast-clicking filmstrips that captured the brutality of bombed churches, fire hosed marchers and the viciousness of Billy clubs and rabid police dogs. While all those things continue to make MLK’s speech one that enthralls every fiber of my being, I have found that I still shiver when I hear his words, because I know that MLK is dreaming, and that his dream is an aspiration for the future, but in the words of Langston Hughes, Dr. King’s dream today, remains a dream deferred.

A Dream Deferred

There are those who will read that last line and automatically respond in their minds with pseudo-intellectual arguments, which are textbook examples of deflection like “but Obama is president” or “look how much Lebron James makes” or “how about Beats by Dre or the financial success of Jay-Z?” or simply, “Oprah!” As much as I would like to believe that we have advanced towards MLK’s dream, these perceptions are far from the truth of our times. The numbers don’t lie; holistically the Black community is worse off than it was at the time the speech was given, as exemplified by facts like blacks are at a greater risk than whites to suffer due to poverty from homelessness, illness, malnutrition and disease and as recent as 2012, Black men and women still earned less than their White counterparts with the same education, and they are more likely to lose their jobs during economic downturns. Even when you consider improvements, like the prior emblematic examples of Obama, Lebron, Jay-Z and Oprah, you realize these are exceptions to the rule and that the disparity between Blacks and Whites has only grown in the United States since MLK’s dream, and that furthermore the statistics that enumerate the divide are nightmarish—the exact opposite of the dream. The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander outlines this nicely, outlining how amongst other policies the so-called “War on Drugs” was a direct war on the Black community—and systematically undermined the dream. When MLK spoke his words students in America were segregated by race, however soon thereafter, it seemed that with the passage of the Civil Rights Act students would soon be integrated. This certainly seemed like a step towards the dream, but even here re-districting, the aforementioned wealth disparity and school board politics nullified what should have been great gains, and is shown in the fact that in 1968, 76.6 percent of Black children attended segregated schools and in 2012, it was still 74 percent!

Insomnia

I find it hard to sleep in these times, and my sister and fellow educator Dr. Heidi Mirza knows why, as she lamented last year in a piece on how MLK’s dream of a world free from “discrimination, intolerance, prejudice and extremism” has been replaced with one that is seriously considering candidates like Donald Trump, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen in the so-called-West while remaining silent on genocides perpetrated by extremism and carried out in Burma, Bahrain and Yemen, to name a few places in the ‘Orientalist’ East. How can I sleep, let alone dream in this reality as a global Black man or a Muslim, or even a conscious human being? Shall I give into the fear that fuels ignorance or try to fight an ever-inclining uphill battle? I’ve diagnosed myself of having some form of spiritual insomnia—I am incredulous as I watch the news media unquestioningly giving airtime rhetoric that seems to echo Mein Kampf verbatim, save for Tavis Smiley who was lampooned by Trumpites on Twitter for his recent attempt to challenge their apathetic ranting, which seems to increasingly pass as normal reporting amongst the sheeple. I look to my brothers Deray Mckesson and Ameer aka Left of the University Of Left, who have become more authentic voices for the happenings of our time and try to make sense of it, as our cognizance of MLK’s dream continues to unravel. The dream seems dead. The dreamers lay bleeding on the concrete, their last act in life is usually raising their hands in the air, and when those that notice and care, like Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza and state that these innocent lives had value, and try to create a movement to highlight this fact, the naysayers come forth and mis-hear a phrase like Black Lives Matter as “Only Black Lives Matter” and thereby impugn attempts for solidarity and ultimately change. If only these dream-killers would’ve championed “All Lives Matter” when they heard of the countless extra-judicial murders in this country carried out by police officers—then perhaps little White and Black children could be found playing together as in the hopeful imaginings of Dr. King, but instead we are living in a nightmare in which teenagers are murdered in cold-blood and people seem to be able to stomach the justification given for their murders. It is a world where even the dream is slaughtered—where bullets can snuff out the life of a sleeping seven-year old girl (Aiyana Jones) by officers during a police search and there is no (official) national outcry.

Nas postulated on NY State of Mind off of his Illmatic album that “sleep is the cousin of death.” Yet we find the converse to be true, for in order to dream in the literal sense, one must sleep—however I find myself unable to sleep these days, with a deluge of death on ones newsfeed, hence my play on Dr. King’s words, “I Have Insomnia, So I Cannot Dream.”

martin-luther-king-jr

I Have Insomnia, So I Cannot Dream

I’m a light sleeper to begin with, so even a mere gasp–

A last breath, by one being choked upon the asphalt,

For selling cigarettes illegally, keeps me awake; let alone,

News of twelve year olds, shot dead, playing with toy guns.

The firearms echo inside the memory folds of my brain.

They awaken screams of Louima, and even Diallo’s pain!

Gone are sounds of chains, replaced by the din of skittles,

As they bounce off the concrete. Black life is now riddled,

With bullets from pistols (legal for white privilege to wield).

The NRA sponsored the Mulford Act, just ask Bobby Seale.

Dr. King, its hard to dream when one cannot fall asleep.

For even sleeping fauns like Aiyana Jones are targeted when they dream.

Hard to scream with broken neck, the sky seems Freddie Gray;

Will I dream in a Walmart coffin like John Crawford one day?

If I fake like I’m asleep, they’d Grant me an Oscar in fact,

Which I’d refuse, and instead ask for justice for Oscar Grant!

#BlackLivesMatter is a phrase for the nightmare to which we wake;

Does the dream of children holding hands involve a police state?

When one’s hands are up in the air, how can they join other hands?

Its hard to sleep, to dream when the days are Sandra Bland.

How can freedom ring, when injustice is protected by false justice?

And Dr. King, how can it be just when its set prey upon just us”

How can the imprisoned sing “free at last!?”—I cannot fall asleep.

This is why I have insomnia and have lost the opportunity to dream.

The dreamers are dead, and the dream is a nightmare, so I how can I sleep—even as I find myself tossing and turning, wondering as a law-abiding educator, who will try to break in and steal me away? It is a provocative thought, and yet, it’s so rooted in the reality of our time that it doesn’t seem like something unlikely for one of my faith or complexion. Guantanamo is just one notable example and while it is an ugly one, the ugliest is our domestic prison industrial complex. MLK spent time behind bars—many freedom fighters have, but fifty years later even his dream is imprisoned. When Dr. King dreamed back then, I don’t believe he could’ve fathomed that the incarceration rate amongst Black folk would be three times higher when I would write these words.

<Click for free download>

The Pen or the Pen(itentiary)

I wrote and recorded “The Pen” to introduce my audience and students of Hip-Hop in general to the concept of the double entendre and coded language in our (Hip-Hop) culture, while at the same time provide them with a critique of ignorance, which I believe to be the antithesis of Hip-Hop, which is defined by our community as “intelligent movement”, because one must be “Hip” or “in the know” to understand it and “hop” or move in order to live it, and ignorance is unintelligent and unmoving, and as a Hip-Hop artist and cultivator of this culture, I see ignorance as a tangible prison that diminishes our humanity and snuffs out our light as potential learned beings of this universe.

“The Pen” is a piece that asks the listener to stand in-between a sense of hope and a cloud of cynicism, hinging on how one perceives the word “pen”; it can either be a writing instrument representing knowledge or a slang-abbreviation for penitentiary, which is a prison. So the pen respectively represents the freedom of speech on one hand, and on the other it is confinement to a cage, which hinders both movement and speech.

I wrote this piece lamenting the existence of this very fork in the road for youth in America, and as an educator and artist I have seen too many young people from amongst my own peers in public schools situated in gang infested ‘hoods to my own students attempting to navigate this fork, two decades later, only to choose the path of the pen that is clouded by cynicism, which ends with them in prison as opposed to the path of the pen, which leads to wisdom and knowledge; at the same time the piece represents a larger historical conversation and a clash that our world is experiencing right now—an actual battle of survival between the people of knowledge and the people of ignorance.

Those who know me know that I abhor violence and increasingly as of late senseless violence born of ignorance have besieged my newsfeeds and timelines, filling them with egregious, gory examples of sick depravity. This plague has a common thread and it is that violence is constantly being aimed at sources of knowledge or legitimacy, whether it be those who hold the narrative truths or those that pose questions, and that these acts are carried out by the ignorant, willfully or otherwise.

Ironically, those that escape the actual prison, make it out of confinement through knowledge and those that avoid it altogether are those that embrace/ed the pen as a tool for wisdom. Old cliché’s inform us that this pen is mightier than the sword, but it is the sword that is being used as a blunt instrument throughout the world to write a modern narrative using innocent blood, seemingly pitting East against West, but in reality its inviting all the “crazies” or extremists to sully forth and use it to write their own narrative, and as the hemoglobin of innocence flows, so does our own faith in each other, polarizing our world into an endless clash of the “uncivilized”.

The Pen performed Live with Jazz Horizons in Oakland, California

In the end to paraphrase the words of Assata Shakur, the only difference between those in prison and those on the outside is that those inside can see the bars, while we operate under the illusion that we are free, as evidence by our inability to dream. We are not free to dream—but like Dr. King I do long for a day where I can say, at the top of my lungs, with my children that we are indeed free at last—and until then, I’ll remain awake.

With Peace & Love.

professoralimlk