Attica Rebellion (09.09-13.1971); Tupac Shakur (09.06.1996);
World Trade Centers (09.11.2001)
September is a month with painful memorable events.
After moving out west, they said he hit bottom. He was constantly looking for a place to stay and something to eat. It seemed nobody liked him in those days, except his mother, who as we all know was struggling with her own problems. Finally, he made it! He became a star! He was a success!
I would see him from time to time when he would come back to New York. His mother would call me and ask me to talk to him. But those were fleeting, superficial visits. When he was shot in 1994, he sent for me. I visited him at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan. He had just been operated on. His head was bandaged and he seemed to be semi-conscious. I said to him, “Son, I’m going to pray for you and you’re going to be alright.” I put my hand on his forehead and prayed for him a brief prayer and I departed. When I returned to my church in Brooklyn about half an hour later, I was told by Deacon Leroy Applin Sr., “Tupac had gotten up and gone from the hospital.” We had many belly-laughs about that later.
During the time when he was incarcerated on the sexual assault charge, I visited with him often at Rikers Island, at least once, sometimes two or three times a week. I went to court with him on the day he was sentenced and would have spoken on his behalf if I were asked to do so. During those visits, while I was in the private steeled enclosed room, we talked about many things and made many plans. At first, he would complain that he was being mistreated. I carried his complaints to the higher authority. Things became better. We talked about religion. I would remind him of his membership and his revolutionary aspirations. And would challenge him to live up to the ideals of those ideologies. I would speak to him of others who have used jail time to produce great good. There were times when he seemed depressed and angry with the system. He maintained his innocence but accepted the fact that he was guilty of other things. So maybe he was paying for those things. Tupac said he would be better and do better. He admitted that his head had not been clear for many years. He was thinking more clearly now.
We talked of plans to help our people, especially our youth. I tried to get a commitment from him to help our prison program. He talked of his plans to have a retreat center in Atlanta where youth would be brought from inner cities and while there they could learn and train to enhance their schoolwork and be exposed to celebrities who would come and share experiences with them.
We talked of his proposed marriage to Jada. He wanted me to do the ceremony. The wedding would be in Atlanta, Georgia. He had it all planned. We talked about his plays, movies, and songs he was writing. Tupac told me of one play, a young man was running away from a hitman and ran into this house where he hid out, and on and on it went. When he was through I said to him “Why not have the young man go into the church and have a minister help him?” He paused, he thought- he looked at me and said “That’s a good idea, you see, I have to write what I know about, what I have lived. I don’t know too much about the church and religion.”
To return to religion for a moment, he was confused and troubled by religion. He told me that the Muslims were trying to convert him, but he was not moved by their efforts. Tupac said he couldn’t accept Christianity or the Bible for they were too closely associated with the white man. I remember one visit, in particular, he was extremely agitated, he had then been humiliated by certain acts by the prison guards. As was my custom, whatever else we discussed, I would bring the conversation back to the challenges and ideals and challenges of God, religion, and the Bible.
On one occasion he said to me, “Reverend, I don’t want to hurt your feelings and I don’t mean any disrespect but it’s hard for me to believe in the same book as the white man. This system beats you, me, and my people, which does all kinds of evil things all over the world and claims the Bible as its book. How can I believe in the same book?” My response was, “Listen, I know how you feel. I went through the same thing. I have felt the same way. Maybe that's why I stayed away from the church for many years. In fact, all of my youth, although I came from four generations of Black preachers. But when I found the Lord or when God found me - after I had hit the bottom, that’s when my life changed. I began to study the history of our people and the history of religion. I discovered that the Bible teaches that blackness is the origin of civilization - that the so-called major western religions including Judaism, Islam, and Christianity have black roots, and that Christianity was shaped and influenced by African people.” I continued with my history lessons on African people and religion. I said one of the reasons that I believed God saved me was to send me on this mission to teach our people that the Bible and Christianity have African roots, and to encourage the struggle for human rights and self-determination, especially for oppressed people. When I finished, he stared at the floor for a long time. He looked at me and said, “I didn’t know that Reverend.” I said, “I know this truth has been kept from us by both white folks and blacks who benefited from my ignorance.”
On one occasion, he told me something that was startling which revealed his toughness, tenacity, his fierce determination, and his intuitiveness. He said when he wanted to achieve something, he would find a picture of the thing desired or draw a picture. Then he would put the picture on the wall over his bed, and he said he would stare at the picture long and often. He would not sleep in the bed until he had achieved his goal. Now we know why he rose, like a phoenix bird of Greek mythology, from the ashes to soar to dazzling heights.
He was all smiling one day. He couldn’t wait to tell me of the good deed he had done. He had secured tickets to Stevie Wonder for an officer who was going through a time of terrible loss. He explained all that he had to do to make it happen and he wanted it to be a surprise.
To be continued…