Faces of Hope: Yusef Shakur, From Gang Banger to Entrepreneur and Community Activist

Comments: 5  | Leave A Comment
  • advertisement
  • When Yusef Shakur talks about his life, he doesn’t mince words.

    “I got kicked out of all public schools. My mother made me a ward of the state at the age of 15. She thought I would kill somebody or go to prison. She made the best decision she thought she could at that time.”

    Shakur co-founded a gang at age 12. He fought constantly and admits he totally disrespected teachers, especially women.

    “I was angry and fighting was a way to release it,” he said.

    Today, Shakur, 40, is owner of a bookstore and cafe that also serves as a community center in his old Detroit neighborhood. It took a stint in prison, a reunion with his father and some deep introspection for him to turn from bad boy to community activist and entrepreneur.

    His mom was 15 when he was born. His parents broke up when he was six months old.

    “Growing up was hard,” said Shakur, who has two sisters. “It was a challenge not having someone I could relate to– a father or big brother.

    His mother was an alcoholic. “Her drinking played a role when she would discipline me. I started harboring anger against her and it would come out in school. “

    He found some solace in a gang. Then as a ward of the state, he was shipped off to a training school for over a year. He returned determined to change his life.

    “I went to a different high school, got better grades,” said Shakur. “But I had not dealt with the real issues and did not have the skills to.”

    A teacher suggested he apply for college and the idea frightened him. He felt as if his new life was way over his head. Stressed, he tried to commit suicide, swallowing an overdose of pills.

    His mother found him and called the ambulance. Once well, he returned to gang banging.

    “I wasn’t strong enough to withstand peer pressure,” said Shakur. “Eternally, I had not looked at myself to deal with those things.”

    He gang banged for a year and then at age 19, he was sentenced to five to 15 years for assault with attempt to rob, unarmed. Ironically, said Shakur, he did not commit this crime.

    In prison, he was lonely, homesick and tired. He began to question the path of his life.

    “I decided to write my father,” he said. “I knew he was in prison, too. When he wrote me back it was like the weight of the world was lifted. He said, ‘Man, you made a mistake; what you going to do?’”

    As it turns out, Shakur’s father was right across the street in a maximum security prison. (He was serving a sentence for an armed robbery and attempted murder, but Shakur said his father later received another 30 years for a murder inside the prison, after an inmate lied on him.) The two corresponded regularly by mail and, a year later, they ended up in the same prison.

    Shakur remembers the anxiety he felt during his transfer to the new prison. “On the bus, I’m not talking to anyone. I’m thinking: I’m about to see my dad.”

    They were locked down for 23 hours a day, but Shakur and his father managed to set up a time to meet in the law library.

    A few memories stand out about the first meeting, said Shakur. “He said the greatest gift a father can give to his child is his time and that he neglected me, but he would do everything he could to give me his time from now on. He also gave me “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”

    1 2Next page »

    Tags: »

    • More Related Content

    Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

    Join 2,289 other followers