Afeni Shakur Davis, activist and mother of Tupac Shakur, died Monday night, the Associated Press reports. The Marin County Sheriff’s Department in California broke the news of Shakur Davis’ death, which might have been the result of cardiac arrest. She was 69 years old.
Shakur Davis was born Alice Faye Williams in January 1947, but changed her name to Afeni Shakur after joining the Black Panther Party in the ’60s. Shakur Davis found the group sympathetic to the difficulties of her life as a poor, black woman in New York City: “They took my rage and channeled it. They educated my mind and gave me direction.” She and other Black Panthers were later tried on conspiracy charges, but Shakur Davis successfully argued in court for their release in 1971.
In 1971, Shakur Davis gave birth to a son, Lesane Parish Crooks, whom she quickly renamed Tupac Amaru Shakur. She left the Black Panther Party soon after, though her activism would later influence her son’s music. Shakur Davis married a fellow activist, but struggled with drug addiction while raising her family in Baltimore and later, Marin County. Her substance abuse drove son Tupac away for a few years, during which time he went from Digital Underground hypeman to rap icon, beginning with the release of his first solo album 2Pacalypse Now in 1991. But Shakur Davis got clean that same year and stayed that way; Shakur memorialized his mother’s struggles and his abiding love on the 1995 tribute track “Dear Mama.”
Tupac Shakur was murdered in September 1996, and Shakur Davis became the steward of his musical legacy—she founded Amaru Entertainment to oversee his music catalog, among other things. And because she’d nurtured Shakur’s creative side as a child, enrolling him in dance and music programs, Shakur Davis also launched the now-defunct Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, an arts center that helped at-risk youth. In a 2005 interview with the AP, she stressed the importance of such programs: “Arts can save children, no matter what’s going on in their homes. I wasn’t available to do the right things for my son. If not for the arts, my child would’ve been lost.”
Shakur Davis had recently served as executive producer for All Eyez On Me, the upcoming Tupac Shakur biopic that borrows its title from his chart-topping double album. Benny Boom is directing the film, which stars Demetrius Shipp, Jr. as Tupac and Danai Gurira as his mother. She is survived by her daughter Sekyiwa Shakur.