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Always Remembered 2023- Doctor Mutulu Shakur and the Code of Thug Life

Some 206 Zulu readers will be familiar with our Always Remembered series, a tradition we carry each year where we take time to hold space for people within Hip Hop and its peripheral communities who passed on over the course of the preceding year. In the past, this remembrance has taken the form of an annual video episode of our Meeting of the Minds podcast. For 2024, we’ll be sharing these memories in a different way.

Over the course of this year, we’ll be sharing a written commemoration of some of these influential members of our greater community, one at a time. We know that the act of remembrance is a tremendous power we have to keep our predecessors and ancestors alive through our collective voice. In that grain, keep posted for our ongoing series of brief stories looking into the lives of some of the fascinating people that transcended their physical frames in the course of 2023. And if any of these individuals have impacted you in any way, remember, your retelling of these stories will keep them alive in perpetuity. This is Always Remembered…

Doctor Mutulu Shakur

Doctor Mutulu Shakur was known for many things. As an activist, he was one of the earliest members of the Black Liberation Army and the Republic of New Africa. In his younger years, Dr. Shakur became known for his work in holistic healthcare for Black communities in the Bronx. During his time in New York, he joined the Young Lords in the infamous Lincoln Hospital takeover, bringing light to inequities in the healthcare system in the Bronx. He would spend much of his life prior to being incarcerated in 1988, working to create better healthcare institutions in his community. He studied acupuncture informally and helped to run the Lincoln Detox Center, using his acupuncture skills as an alternative to methadone as a treatment for drug addictions. He would go on to establish the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America as well as the Harlem Institute of Acupuncture.

Dr. Shakur was also the step-father and an important influence to Tupac Shakur as well as the brother of the Black Panther and revolutionary, Assata Shakur.

He was arrested in 1986 and charged through the RICO act. On May 11, 1988, he was convicted of leading a group of revolutionaries in a string of armed robberies in New York and Connecticut, and of helping Assata Shakur escape from a New Jersey prison. He received a 60-year sentence.

For many, Dr. Shakur was considered a political prisoner and his incarceration viewed as part of a larger agenda to quell black liberation movements in the United States. Despite him spending over three decades in prison, his activism continued. Some effects of that work are well known in Hip Hop history.

The story goes that Tupac’s reframing of the concept of a thug came from the work that he and his stepfather were doing. Somewhere along the way, the term ‘thug life’ became an acronym for ‘The Hate U Give Little Infants F*’s (expletive) Everybody.’ Thug LIfe as a premise for flipping the organization of gang structure back into a focused movement for unity and peace led to ‘Pac and Dr. Shakur creating the Code of Thug Life, a system of 26 rules for a more ethical and peaceful process of community building. ‘Pac took the code to the streets and worked to convene gang leaders and other prominent figures to ratify the document and secure peace treaties. 

Throughout the course of his sentence, advocates, organizers and supporters fought for Mutulu Shakur’s freedom. Towards the end of his life, that action intensified, urging the U.S. Parole Commission to free Shakur so he could spend his final days with his family.

While in prison, Dr. Shakur was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that can affect the bones and kidneys. After decades of fighting, he was released from prison to spend his final days with his family. Six months after his release, after 35 years in prison, he succumbed to the cancer, ending a long and complex struggle for freedom from so many social, political, and personal constructs of the world he was born into. He was 72 years old. 

We remember Dr. Mutulu Shakur.

Open Hands
Open Hands
Open Hands is a humanoid father, husband, revolutionary, emcee, journalist, videographer, animator, storyteller, educator, and friend currently residing in parts unknown somewhere within the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.