She was born Alice Faye Williams in Lumberton, North Carolina to Rosa Belle and Walter Williams Jnr, one of two children. Having an abusive father made her grow up resenting men, looking upon her mother as weak because she could not stand up to her abusive husband. She left North Carolina with her mother and sister Gloria Jean in 1958 where she enrolled in the Bronx high school of science. She was a brilliantly remarkable and fiercely independent woman who stood up fiercely against racism even as at that time calling herself a street fighter and a member of the Disciples Debs Harlem.
She joined the Black Panthers Party in 1968 at the age of 21 and took the name “AFENI” (a Yoruba word meaning “lover of people) and SHAKUR (the Arabic word for Thankful). She lived in Harlem, wrote the Black Panther Party newsletter known as the Panther Post, and led a successful campaign that led the FBI to believe the party was fading. She rose to become a chapter leader of the Harlem chapter of the Panthers Party worked with Billy Garland (who became the father of Tupac Shakur) mentored many new members of the party including Jamal Joseph, Cloe Silvers Dhoruba bn Wahad and Geronimo Pratt (who sponsored Tupac’s baptism).
Afeni Shakur fought institutional racism without remorse, fought for the right of blacks in every branch of the society, and kicked against Death row record’s exploitation and dedicated her life to the struggle for the social and economic development of African Americans.
She was arrested several times with allegations that ended up in court and jail terms. The most prominent was the Panther 21 case, where she was arrested in April 1968 with her then-husband Lumumba Shakur on allegations of conspiring to carry out bombings in New York. The charges against her and other arrested members of the Black Panther Party were attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and conspiracy to bomb buildings.
The trial began in February 1970 with a pre-trail and the actual trial on September 8 of the same year. The case became famous because Afeni Shakur chose to represent herself in court while pregnant and facing a 300-year prison sentence with no law degree. She skilfully interviewed witnesses, gathered evidence, argued in court, and defended herself in every court session throughout the trail. She delivered a humiliating blow to the Manhattan Prosecution Department and New York politics in May 1971 by winning the acquittal of herself and others after an eight-month trial.
Her son, Lesane Parish Crooks, was born on June 16, 1971, during her time in jail, and the following year, in 1972, renamed Tupac Amaru Shakur, which means “shining serpent” in Inca. The young Tupac was named after Túpac Amaru II, indigenous insurgent leader of the Rebellion of Túpac Amaru II, a rebellion of the Inca against the Spanish in Peru which lasted from 1780-1783.
Afeni Shakur did not return to the Black Panther Party after her acquittal. She married Mutulu Shakur in 1975, had their daughter Sekyiwa, and got divorced in 1982. She moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1984 with her two children where she raised her children through welfare because she could not keep a job.
She relocated to Marin County in California to manage her drug use but only overcame her addiction after she moved back to New York in 1991, and subsequently started Narcotics Anonymous meetings. She got married again in 2004, to Gust Davis Jnr and released her biography, Afeni Shakur: Evolution of a revolutionary’ the same year, which reflected on her childhood experiences, upbringing as well as her involvement in the Black Panther Party telling how she learned how to channel her anger from the party, which she claimed gave her the hope she never experienced. She also told about meeting men who did not abuse black women in the party, and meeting Lumumba Shakur and agreeing to be his second wife by converting to Islam. She described her experiences in jail and how together with other inmates, they organized a bail fund to get some of the women out.
Afeni was a philanthropist, sought-after lecturer who upheld the black community with love and kindness. Her revolutionary ideas were reflected in Tupac’s music who arranged for her to receive a $16,000 monthly allowance and purchased a home for her in Stone Mountain, Georgia before he died. She became the co-executor of Tupac’s estate, founded Georgia based Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation which provides Art programs for young people and the holding company for all of Tupac’s unreleased material Amaru Entertainment exactly a year after his death.
She also launched a fashion clothing line, Makaveli Branded, and was heavily involved in the production of All Eyez on Me, a film based on Tupac’s life. The foundation was sold shortly before her death at the age of 69 as a result of a heart attack.
She was a comfort to many grieving mothers after Tupac’s death and traveled across America giving speeches at events.