Who will weep for Tupac?

Tupac Amaru Shakur was 25 years old when he died on September 13, 1996, after being shot September 7 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Known for his "gangsta" rap music, he has sold more than 10 million recordings, the most recent of which is the posthumous release Makaveli, The Don Killuminati, The 7 Day Theory (Death Row, 1996). He also appeared in four films—two that came out while he was alive (Juice and Poetic Justice) and two that have just been released (Gridlock’d and Bullet).

Rev. Herbert Daughtry is pastor of The House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, where Tupac Shakur was a member. He preached this sermon there on September 15, 1996. Tupac Shakur’s life and death raise challenging questions about the church’s role in the experiences of such controversial figures. —The Editors

It is now 3:15 a.m., and I am driven to put to paper some thoughts about Tupac Shakur, gone from this life forever, at least in the flesh. What shall I say of this young man who lived such a flamboyant, violent, tumultuous life, and who died at 25 years old?

His mother, Afeni, brought him along with his sister Asantewaa to this holy place, and the three of them stood at the altar and united with this congregation. He was a lad of about 10 years. When I asked him what he wanted to be, he replied, "A revolutionary." Needless to say I was surprised. I ought not to have been. His mother was a member of the Black Panther Party, a group of young black men and women who, some years ago, created enormous fear among some whites and a certain kind of black.

Tupac wanted change. Maybe that explains his life. I know there are those who will say, "He went about it the wrong way." It is not for me to judge. I will leave that to God and others. I confess I’m not good at that sort of thing. But let us remember, we shall be judged by the judgment we render, says the scripture, and again, "You that are without sin, let them cast the first stone."

To say that Tupac wanted to be a revolutionary—he wanted to change things—but he didn’t know how, is not harsh. We disagreed with how he went about it, and I think that those of us who loved him, in spite of everything, told him so. If we would be criticized for that, then criticize God too, for that is where we learned it.

Those of us who loved him can accept the criticism of his method. We wanted better from his behavior and words, and we told him that.

Tupac had such prodigious talent. He was so likable when he wanted to be. He had such fierce determination. He went from the gutter of extreme poverty and devastating rejection to reach the mountaintop of success.

AFTER HE JOINED the church, Tupac acted like any normal child. He laughed and cried. He played with other children. And then Afeni took him to Baltimore. In the Performing Arts School, Tupac was an exceptional student.

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 Tupac made it. He became a star.

I saw him from time to time when he came back to New York. His mother called and asked me to talk to him, but those were fleeting, superficial visits. When he was shot back in 1994, he sent for me. I visited him in Bellevue Hospital, just after he had been operated on. His head was bandaged, and he seemed to be semi-conscious. I put my hand upon him and prayed for him, a brief prayer, and then I departed. When I returned to my church a half hour later, I was told that Tupac had gotten up and was gone from the hospital. We were to have many belly laughs about that later.

During the time when he was incarcerated on the sexual assault charge, I visited him at Riker’s 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 had been asked to.

During those visits, while we were in the private, steel-enclosed room, we talked of many things and made many plans. At first he complained that he was being mistreated. I carried his complaints to the higher authority, and things got better. We talked about religion. I reminded him of his membership and his revolutionary aspiration and challenged him to live up to the ideals of those ideologies. I spoke to him of others who used the jail time to produce great good.

There were times when he seemed depressed—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 and do better. He admitted that his head had not been clear for many years. He was thinking more clearly now, he said.

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, learn a trade, enhance their school work, and be exposed to celebrities who would share their experiences with them.

WHATEVER ELSE WE discussed, I always brought the conversation back to 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 which 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 and has been, "Listen. I know how you feel. I went through the same things. 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 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 lesson on African people and religion. I said one of the reasons that I believe 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 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 our ignorance."

He was all smiles one day, and couldn’t wait to tell me of the good deed he had done. He had gotten tickets to a Stevie Wonder concert for an officer who was going through a time of terrible loss. And I felt particularly elated on one visit when he asked my opinion about which one of his records to release.

WHEN WE LAUGHED about his departure from the hospital, I would say, "Do you realize that 30 minutes after I prayed for you, you came back from the jaws of death? God has given you special talents, watched over you, raised you up. God has a special work for you to do. When you are out, you better do the right thing!"

He mentioned a cousin who was a preacher who always told him the same thing. If there is any criticism due, maybe it’s that what appeared to some of us to be his confused, troubled, complex behavior all stemmed from his fleeing from God. Maybe his fighting, his struggling, was not so much against society, though surely that too, but at bottom against God. Like Jonah in the Bible, maybe he was running away from God.

Jonah created trouble and problems on the ship upon which he tried to escape, so the people on the ship decided to throw him into the sea. A big fish swallowed him up, and once he confessed and agreed to do God’s will, the fish spit him up on the shore.

Tupac ran away, he was thrown overboard, but there was no big fish to swallow him up and spit him on shore. Or maybe another way of saying it is that he was swallowed up by the jail system and spit back out on the streets, unlike Jonah.

NOW TUPAC IS gone forever. But in some ways he will never be finally gone. His music will always be with us, and the factors and forces that shaped and drove him will be around for a long time.

He’s gone, and some will say good riddance. Some will laugh and some will cry. Some will ask who will weep for Tupac Shakur, and I will say, "I will weep for Tupac Shakur."

I will weep for the young man I knew. I will weep for Tupac and for all the rap artists, for the good and the bad; for all of them and for us who are being persuaded and programmed by forces that some of us only dimly understand, and some of us understand not at all.

I will weep for Tupac, for he is but a reflection of the larger society. He is the victim of racist forces that, on the one side, wreaked havoc upon his ancestors and continue to wreak havoc upon people of African ancestry, and, on the other side, glorify the sex and violence for which they condemned him. Tupac understood this; he fought and organized, twisted and squirmed, tossed and turned as he realized that he reflected the very society he hated.

I will weep for Tupac. I will weep for all young black males who are both the victim and the victimizers of this violent, hypocritical, materialistic, racist society.

And I will weep for the parents, especially the mothers. I will weep for the mothers of these slain youths and the mothers of the youths that slew others. I will weep for Afeni, who has known bitter disappointment; now another dream, her son, is dashed upon the rocks.

I will weep for Tupac, and for all the rebels—some we like, some we don’t like. And if we can’t weep for Tupac, let us weep for our society, for ourselves, that we have not prepared a better society for all our children.

Let us weep until our tears turn into indignation, our indignation into determination, our determination into action, and our action into a better society where our children and generations to come can enjoy life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the Tupac Shakurs need rebel no more and can turn their genius to things that are beautiful, lovely, and good—to the love and celebration of life: black and white, male and female, young and old.

’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished. Oh, Lord, speed the day that it might ever be so.

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