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Tupac grew up around nothing but self-delusion. His mother, Alice Faye Williams, thought she was a "revolutionary." She called herself "Afeni Shakur" and associated with members of the ill-fated Black Panther Party, a movement that wanted to feed school kids breakfast and earn civil rights for African Americans. During her youth she dropped out of high school, partied with North Carolina gang members, then moved to Brooklyn: After an affair with one of Malcolm X's bodyguards, she became political. When the mostly white United Federation of Teachers went on strike in 1968, she crossed the picket line and taught the children herself. After this she joined a New York chapter of the Black Panther Party and fell in with an organizer named Lumumba. She took to ranting about killing "the pigs" and overthrowing the government, which eventually led to her arrest and that of twenty comrades for conspiring to set off a race war. Pregnant, she made bail and told her husband, Lummuba, it wasn't his child. Behind his back she had been carrying on with Legs (a small-time associate of Harlem drug baron Nicky Barnes) and Billy Garland (a member of the Party). Lumumba immediately divorced her.
Things went downhill for Afeni: Bail revoked, she was imprisoned in the Women's House of Detention in Greenwich Village. In her cell she patted her belly and said, "This is my prince. He is going to save the black nation."
By the time Tupac Amaru Shakur was born on June 16, 1971, Afeni had already defended herself in court and been acquitted on 156 counts. Living in the Bronx, she found steady work as a paralegal and tried to raise her son to respect the value of an education.
From childhood, everyone called him the "Black Prince." For misbehaving, he had to read an entire edition of The New York Times. But she had no answer when he asked about his daddy. "She just told me, 'I don't know who your daddy is.' It wasn't like she was a slut or nothing'. It was just some rough times. "When he was two, his sister, Sekyiwa, was born. This child's father, Mutulu, was a Black Panther who, a few months before her birth, had been sentenced to sixty years for a fatal armoured car robbery.
With Mutulu away, the family experienced hard times. No matter where they moved-the Bronx, Harlem, homeless shelters Tupac was distressed. "I remember crying all the time. My major thing growing up was I couldn't fit in. Because I was from everywhere. I didn't have no buddies that I grew up with."
As time passed, the issue of his father tormented him. He felt "unmanly," he said. Then his cousins started saying he had an effeminate face. "I don't know. I just didn't feel hard. I could do all the things my mother could give me, but she couldn't give me nothing else."
The loneliness began to wear on him. He retreated into writing love songs and poetry. "I remember I had a book like a diary. And in that book I said I was going to be famous." He wanted to be an actor. Acting was an escape from his dismal life. He was good at it, eager to leave his crummy family behind. "The reason why I could get into acting was because it takes nothing' to get out of who I am and go into somebody else."
His mother enrolled him in the 127th Street Ensemble, a theatre group in the impoverished Harlem section of Manhattan, where he landed his first role at age twelve, that of Travis in A Raisin in the Sun. "I lay on a couch and played sleep for the first scene. Then I woke up and I was the only person onstage. I can remember thinking, "This is the best shit in the world!" That got me real high. I was getting' a secret: This is what my cousins can't do."
In Baltimore, at age fifteen, he fell into rap; he started writing lyrics, walking with a swagger, and milking his background in New York for all it was worth. People in small towns feared the Big Apple's reputation; he called himself MC New York and made people think he was a tough guy.
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