On Community, Redemption and Leadership

Yusef Bunchy Shakur is a father, motivational speaker, entrepreneur, self-published author of three books (The Window 2 My Soul, Redemptive Soul and My Soul Looks Back), documentary filmmaker (Detroit’s Native Son) and community leader. Every year, he organizes a Restoring the Neighbor Back to the Hood event which feeds hundreds of families, provides clothing and hands out backpacks to over 500 kids. He was also wrongfully convicted in 1992 for assault in an unarmed robbery case and sentenced to a five-to-fifteen year term. He was 19 at the time and would serve 9 years, released ultimately in January of 2001. Since then, he has been at the forefront of resistance and restoration in Detroit.

Shakur spoke to Truthout about how he came to be in that position:

The things that I have been able to achieve, despite the struggles and setbacks, actually began inside of prison. The changes that I had to make, those took place inside of me. The work that I’m doing out here really is a reflection of the work I did in there.

I came home to build up my community, build up a family, and I had to figure out how to do those things – but it really was my base of knowledge that I acquired in prison that basically allowed me to endure.

I ended up getting a job as a Head Start teacher – and that really was conducive to who I was. It allowed me to bring the things inside of me to stand out.

And I always knew I wanted to write a book, so I just did it. When anybody ever told me no, I found a way to say yes. I never allowed nobody to hold me back.

I’ve never taken a business class, but when I wanted to know something,g I ordered a book. The patience came out of necessity. The patience came through the struggles, but the patience also came from knowing there’s consequences to every action that you do. And I knew going back to prison was not an option, unless in protecting my family, protecting myself. So everything positive I was doing was putting me away from risks and into greater rewards on who I was meant to be.

I had to deal with the dynamics of love, of heart, of compassion—all those things had to be brought in because it’s still hard even though January 3rd I’ll be celebrating 14 years of being out of prison as if I had just walked out. I’m still reinventing myself. I’m still convincing myself why I should believe in me.

When you look at Ferguson, it’s definitely a mirror of many Black communities in the North and in the South: you see the result of a lack of investment within our communities, the continued political exploitation, outside police forces that don’t look like us, and all this tied into the historical racial situation here in this country for Black men, particularly Black men who are not provided with resources exceeding the stereotypes of the Mike Brown, so a police officer called in sees every Black man to fit that description. And that’s the same for every Black community, and the execution of Mike Brown [is part of that norm]. So when we look at drugs, low self-esteem and self-hatred: all these things are the justification of police murdering us. And so, we cannot separate Ferguson from Detroit or Chicago or Mississippi.

We need a social justice movement or vehicle of the oppressed and disenfranchised communities. We need real boots on the grounds who are part of the community in rebuilding the interpersonal relationships.

Poverty in America has never been an excuse for Black people to behave poorly. It has given every reason to love each other and support each other. And that’s the motto: that’s what we have to get back to. We’ve allowed the drug of materialism, this illusion of success, to stop us from being significant. We live in a neighborhood, but we’re no longer neighbors.

There’s only so much you can do to a human being without them responding a certain way. There’s only so much poverty someone will take. And that’s what I really appreciate about the young people in Ferguson: it’s the most authentic, unbought voice that we’ve had in a long time, which gives the potential of a new movement for the continuation of what we want done.