Remembering Afeni Shakur: Our Own Black Shining Princess, Part Two of Two
June 24, 2016 by Herbert Daughtry
The Afeni Shakur Memorial Ceremony commenced at 4:15pm on Saturday, June 18, 2016 with an African drum procession by the Songhai Djeli. Rev. Dr. Karen S. Daughtry, the Senior Pastor at The House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, NY, welcomed the guests. She remembered when Afeni brought her sister, Gloria, and her two children, Tupac and Sekyiwa, to the church for membership. I appointed Dr. Daughtry as the Big Sister to Gloria; and, Minister Peggy Washington as Afeni’s Big Sister. By now, the sanctuary downstairs (which accommodates 350 people) was filled. People were going upstairs to the balcony.
Afterwards, Jamal Joseph, accompanied by Charles Barron, Cecilio Fergusen El, and myself performed the Libation ritual, conjuring up memories of ancestors as the audience called their names. Then, Jamal gave the purpose for our gathering. He said, “We are here to celebrate the life and times of Afeni Shakur, a mother, grandmother, aunt, sister, and cousin; and, a freedom fighter who loved us all.” After which, he preceded to preside over most of the ceremony.
There were a number of speakers and performing artists, and a special presentation by the youth from Jamal’s IMPACT Repertory Theater. Speakers included Cecilio Fergusen El, Kathleen Cleaver, Paul Coates, Sonia Sanchez, Dhoruba al-Mujahid bin Wahad, Panther 21, Hassan El-Gendi, Charles Barron, Jamal Joseph, and myself. All of the speakers related stories of how Afeni impacted their lives. From the courtroom to the streets, from the farms, rallies, demonstrations, and retreats, she influenced our lives by her words and her actions.
William Lesane, Afeni’s nephew, remembered Afeni taking him to school. He brought a moment of comic relief as he told a story: When he was 8 years old, he got into a fight. He ran into the house and told Afeni. She told him, “You better go outside and beat his behind, or else I will beat your behind when you come in.” The humor came at a perfect time during the ceremony.
Sis. Malika, a close friend of Afeni, led six sisters to the pulpit. Afeni and the women had decided they needed a retreat. Some suggested New York, Chicago, or some large city. Afeni said, “We can’t have a retreat in those places. Let’s have our retreat where there is quiet, water, and sunshine.” Each one of the women had a special memory about Afeni. They spoke of her compassion, sensitivity, brilliance, love, and vision for the future. In addition, there was a video, depicting the women at the Retreat.
Charles Barron quoted from an article he had written in the Amsterdam News on May 5, 2016. He sang Afeni’s favorite song, “God Can,” which he had written in the article.
Ebony Jo-Ann, the well-known performing artist, accompanied by Richard Cummings, received a standing ovation as she beautifully sang two songs. The famous poet Sonia Sanchez took a moment from her engagement elsewhere to pay homage to the memory of Afeni. She said, “Afeni was a dedicated and loving sister. We were all proud of her.”
Hassan El-Gendi, a member of the IMPACT Repertory Theater, had spent a year with Afeni, organizing her youth project. He performed a rap song in her memory. In addition, the youth from the IMPACT Repertory Theater did a special presentation of song, dance, and rap.
The audience became enthralled in a deep, reverent quietness as Ms. Emilia Otto read Afeni’s closing statement to the jury of the Panther 21 trial. As we know, Afeni was acquitted.
Ms. Imani Wallace read the poem from Ms. Charlotte O’Neal, one of the original Panthers. Renowned Author Paul Coates remembered Afeni as a wonderful person who loved her people, and worked tirelessly for them.
Min. Peggy Washington did a rendition of the song, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” It was one of the emotional highlights of the ceremony. I am sure that we all had Afeni on our minds as Min. Washington sang a verse from the song: “Did you ever know you’re my hero, and everything I’d like to be? I can fly higher than an eagle cause you’re the wind beneath my wings.”
I was the last speaker. I opened my presentation by informing the audience how we came to this ceremony. Charles Barron had called me and suggested that we do a memorial for Afeni. I conveyed to him that I was thinking the same thing. I called Sekyiwa, Afeni’s daughter, and told her what we were planning. She said, “That would be wonderful, but I may not be there. But, please contact Jamal Joseph and include him in whatever you’re planning.”
The three of us – Charles, Jamal, and I – were in constant communication planning the ceremony. I recounted my experience with Afeni, how she had joined the church with her sister and children, and how we remained close friends ever since, especially after Tupac’s death when we really established a deep pastoral-parishioner friendship.
As she pointed out in her introduction to my book, “Dear 2Pac: Letters to a Son,” I became a rock. She wrote, “More than thirty years ago accompanied by my sister, Gloria, with Tupac and Sekyiwa in tow, we joined The House of the Lord Church, pastored by the Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry. He entered my life and has become a “rock in a weary land” for me and for my family. Pastor and I have a wonderful relationship, but the bond that developed between he and Tupac can only be called remarkable.
“Drawing upon a spiritual bond of mutual love and respect, Pastor Daughtry pays homage to Tupac in a candid dialogue remembering past conversations they had together. Each letter evolves into a broader picture of a kind, sensitive, and loving young man. That young man is the son I knew and would like to share with you.”
Those were difficult days for her, but she exhibited that amazing strength, drawn from her faith in God. She was able to fight through her pain while at the same time fight to protect and manage Tupac’s estate and through it all she remained caring, generous, and committed to our struggle for freedom.
I repeated the gifts she had given to us – Tupac’s dining room set, the 14-CD Frame (total 35 million copies of CDs sold), and financial contributions for other organizations and individuals.
In her presentation, Kathleen Cleaver had mentioned Afeni’s frustration of the slowness of the Movement. She was the last speaker before me. I used her statement as a starting point in resurrecting the stories that she had conveyed to me in an all-night talking session. She wanted significant change, and she wanted more sincere, effective leadership. I remembered the tears coming down her face as she recalled some of her disappointments and frustrations.
I concluded by expressing our faith – that death does not make a final end. These magnificent beings which God created were not made to end in dust, but the essence of our being will live on. Death is but another change in our ever evolving process. We are changing every day – in fact, every second. Yet, we are not the same persons we were when we came into this church.
Yes, we are the same. We are not the same physically, but we are the same spiritually or in the essence of our being. It is that part of who we are that will continue through the ages of eternity. It is our hope and faith that we will see Afeni again. In the meanwhile, I remember the words of Marcus Garvey, “look for me in the whirlwind.” So, we will look for Afeni in the whirlwind of social change. When they say to us that “she is dead,” we will respond, “No, she lives on. We felt her spirit in every movement for righteousness, freedom, justice, and equality, and every sincere seeker of the Almighty God.
GOOD NIGHT, SWEET PRINCESS, MAY FLIGHTS OF ANGELS SING THEE TO THY REST.*
*Quote taken from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Instead of the word, “prince,” I used “princess.”