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Afeni Shakur, the activist and protector of slain son Tupac Shakur’s legacy, died Monday in Nothern California. She was 69.
The Marin County Sheriff’s Department confirmed her passing via Twitter, adding that deputies responded to a possible cardiac arrest situation at 9:34 p.m. PT Monday at her Sausalito home and transported her to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead almost one hour later.
Born Alice Faye Williams in 1947 in North Carolina, she became politically active in her 20s, joining the Black Panthers. She served 11 months in prison, during which time she was pregnant with Tupac, named for the last Incan emperor, who led a rebellion against Spanish conquistadors. She served as her own defense attorney and was acquitted of multiple counts, earning release from prison in 1971, shortly before giving birth to Tupac.
Although she battled drug addiction while raising her three children alone in New York, Baltimore and California, she saw one thing clearly: “Arts can save children, no matter what’s going on in their homes,” she told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview.
Afeni enrolled Tupac in arts programs wherever they lived, allowing him to build the foundation for his future as an iconic rapper and promising actor. “I wasn’t available to do the right things for my son. If not for the arts, my child would’ve been lost,” she acknowledged.
He praised her for this farsightedness in his 1995 song Dear Mama: “Ain’t a woman alive that could take my mama’s place.”
In 1996, Tupac was shot to death in a still-unsolved case, when he was just 25. From that point on, Afeni safeguarded his musical legacy, overseeing his unreleased material and creating a foundation in his name that champions youth arts programs. She was not interested in fomenting conspiracy theories about his murder.
“We decided to deal with the living. This is justice for me,” she said in 2005. “I need to do what God has put in front of me to do, and it ain’t trying to figure out who killed Tupac.”