Sekyiwa Shakur: Tupac Shakur’s Sister Is Shedding Light on the Effects of Mental Illness With the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation

Published on July 1, 2020

One of the greatest rappers to ever walk the earth, Tupac Shakur left a legacy of Hip Hop and culture that can never be duplicated. Through his creative genius, multi-platinum selling albums and records, and unique story telling, his presence here on earth is felt by the masses. But someone who you may not be familiar with is Shakur’s dearly beloved sister Sekyiwa Shakur, who has been carrying the family legacy following the passing of their mother Afeni Shakur in 2016. Her work in spreading mental illness awareness and the effects it has on the black community is beyond honorable. The Tupac Amuru Shakur Foundation in which she runs, is a beacon of light for anyone lost, troubled, battered or seeking serenity in a broken place, as Shakur has been there too many times herself.

I had the illustrious pleasure of interviewing Sekyiwa for a unforgettable conversation centered around her work in the African American community, keep her mom and brother’s legacy alive and why mental illness awareness is so important. Check it out below.

 Sekyiwa Shakur Interview

GD: Why is mental health so important during this pandemic the world is facing?

Set: Mental health is important to our community period. Before the Coronavirus, our community has been going through new trauma that our generation is not used to. Since 2016 there has been a shift in the American pschy. It is clear that we need the help during this time and I am very aware. We are very aware because of who we are and our community. We have people in our community and in our families that are harmful to us knowing that they have an addiction, PTSD, or other illnesses like that. They know that they are not healthy for their families and usually they stay away from their families and create a life outside of that.    

I am just very aware that the monsters and the darkness that usually happens in the world is happening now in our homes. I usually go on a hike when I am not feeling good, get my nails done when I’m not feeling good but when I am not doing those things I am generally wreaking havoc on my family and in my household. And that is me with my little issues. Across our community there is darkness happening and there are babies, children and women trapped in the house with the darkness. We need to learn how to answer our pain and answer our loved ones, crazy uncles, and crazy cousins included. But answer their pain with humanity and SOLID help. My family’s experience when we are in pain is that, hurt people hurt people so you only see our pain when we are acting out or when it looks like we are acting out. We need to address what is happening directly before the acting out occurs. Here is a perfect example; “Uncle Jimmy gets out of jail and comes home. How do you process that Uncle Jimmy just got home and how do we process it as a family? How do we process that auntie just died? See it’s a lot going on and we don’t feel protected. I don’t feel protected. 

When my mom passed in 2016, and i was in a very vulnerable state. She passed right before the baton was handed down to Trump and so it is like the country went through a phase of not feeling protected. My mother and my brother left this platform for us to protect our people. We have to do more than just sing and dance to shine light on what is happening to us. We have to put knowledge, experience and heart to the answer.     

GD: Why is mental illness such a taboo topic in the African American community?

Set: Because we are Baptist. Christianity and religion has served as our safe haven for so long. During the slave trade we lost our language, and culture, so what our people knew to pass down to our children is to look in the sky to heaven. This American culture of Christianity or religion became what we clung to for safety when nothing else made sense. We are stronger than that, bigger than that and we are no one victim anymore. We don’t have to just live with the tools that were given to us, we can answer the calls of our bodies. I know for me personally when my community is crying my body fills that. It is a spiritual thing not a religious thing that comes from our people and our land. That is just who we are. Where other people may not understand why we as a people feel the need to help each other, it hurts us when we can’t. I am very aware that we have to have an answer for that and our people.

GD: Can you talk about the Giving Tuesday partnership with The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation?

Set: I have always felt so alone fighting the battle against mental illness in the black community. I really feel like for the past 20 years I have been by myself on this journey and also in explaining our needs and speaking for our people. But one day I simply saw a commercial with a sister that I met before and knew that we knew the same people from coming in this game the same way. In the commercial she was saying that she wanted to do something similar to what I was already doing. I usually try to stay away from celebrities and the Hollywood energy but I felt like this is one connection that made sense. I do know that she cares for my people the way that I do and the way that my family does. I do know that our people look to her as a leader in the black community period. Two African American women saying the same thing at the same time, need to be connecting. There is no reason why we shouldn’t be doing this together.   

Our mental health plays out in so many ways so I always try to express how it is playing out or shed light on it. The tv show EMPIRE does an excellent job of showing the effects of mental illness on the black man. A good example of mental health in music would be the pain I hear from my brothers in their music. It is not to be taken lightly. These are young black men dealing with trauma and no one is hearing that. That in itself, is definitely a conversation.       

GD: Why did the Tupac Shakur Foundation find it necessary to launch The healing tank project?

Set: Actually the Healing Tank is our ongoing program. The idea of the Healing Tank came about after my mom passed. I knew the help that I needed in order to be of service. I know that when my mom passed in 2016, from 16 to 18 it seems like this country just went on its head. Everything she fought for with the non employed and everything my brother fought for died as soon as she died. I was too weak and too frail from grief  and my trauma to be able to be of assistance to anyone. I knew that there was a fanbase from my mother, father and brother who was looking towards the Shakur family for answers, but I was in too much pain to answer. If I answered in my pain our people would react to my pain. 

So, I spent 20 years in therapy. I spent most of my life trying to tackle my responsibility as far as my role in my family goes, and mental health happens to be my passion. I have been trying to express and explain to my people what we are going through. I truly believe that mental health awareness can answer teenage sex, babies having babies, poverty and spousal abuse and addiction. If we address and understand what we are going through in our bodies, it would be clear that we naturally have abandonment issues, and naturally have anxiety. These are things that are in us but we can work with them. I knew I needed that help so when my mother passed, I searched all around the country for more than what was offered to me. But sadly I found no help. Nothing and nowhere was available that could speak on the pains of this African American woman who lost her mother and now has to carry on a legacy with all of the traumas of babies having babies in the 80’s, being beat up by the police, and all having to deal with the traumas that African Americans face just being black. Those memories are stuck in my brain and now I don’t have a mommy, or daddy or a brother to help me with it. 

I couldn’t find anyone who could understand exactly what this problem was without me having to pretend to smile like I read the secret and think positive all day. I don’t think positive all day. I want to be positive all day but because of my pain, positive is just like a no for me at times. It is natural for me to be angry, natural for me to be upset and when I have to explain that, that is when Sandra Bland happens. Sandra Bland’s death was a trigger for me because THAT IS ME! I will get killed real quick if someone is just operating off of my energy and what I am thinking and it is too harsh for them. That is not fair! See African Americans and African American women have had to be strong, had to be who we are and how we stand today and are perceived is because we had to be this way. Now we have to fight and defend our sanity as if we are not human beings and don’t have the right to be here. But everybody else who goes through trauma gets help. 

They get to say right now what is happening in the world is amazing. There are all of these pinterests and things for mental health but we have been dealing with this everyday just as an oppressed people. So with this foundation, we particularly want to help everybody but definitely want to make sure that we create a safe space for our people and their trauma. 

GD: Is the Tupac Shakur Foundation solely for residence of the Los Angeles area or is it available to anyone that may need help?

Set: So it is available to everyone. It is only based in California because that is where I am based. Tupac and the Shakur family are people of the people. So there is no way to put a limit around who we are supposed to help, who we are supposed to love and the people that love us back. We are people of the people and that’s facts. We have to find many ways for others to communicate and find access to our help. Anybody who is touched by this family, we are of service to and do our best to meet their needs. The people who need us, are the people we are supposed to answer and want to give access to those that need it so they can experience the gift that Tupac and the family left. Before them we just carried this need that felt like pain and now I don’t have to live in the pain of carrying the need. I can actually now help to fulfill the need and it is a great thing that they left us. We have to utilize it as a community.     

GD: Can you talk about the ways that people can get involved with this initiative? 

Set: We are looking for more counselors, all types of therapists, and healers who are willing to lend a hand. We call all of them healers. We have experienced healers. For the first phase we are concentrating the training and the healing on people who actually do healing. Anyone who has touched more than 10 people whether you are a granny, foster parent, or civil member of the community, we want to begin to give them tools of empowerment to be the base for their community. We really want to get community leaders the skills and tools that they need for their community. When we say community leaders we mean all types including activists and artivists. If you are a hair stylist and you counsel your clients, we want to train you and be able to give you the tools and information you need to apply while counseling the ladies. We also want to give you the tools to protect and heal yourself while you are dealing with your population. 

So we need people that are aware of human trafficking because the counseling behind it is intense. It is very specific so we need trainers for that. When someone calls on us we want to make sure that we are giving them proper and positive information, presenting it to people who have been abused. We have to make sure that we are not abusing their vulnerability or weakness. Anyone who can help the community, give us a call and anyone who needs help give us a call. I know that it sounds pretty broad but we need but we need the help of counselors, teachers, tutors, readers, church people, grannies, aunties, financial advisors, and even art directors.

Our pain spills through our entire life. So we need people to teach us how to deal with finances. Finances frighten me. It paralyzes me because over the course of my life I have seen many of my family members’ get taken over a dollar. Whether it was a ransom, warrant or hit, there is a number that is taking my family. So money frightens me to the point where I need counseling  around that. In one of my counseling sessions, my therapist told me that African American’s bodies were currency so of course you feel some type away being around currency. Once I realized that in fact we were currency, it took away the shame I use to have around money.         

To get involved with the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation please visit the official foundation website here and TEXT SHAKUR TO 44321 to donate.

Brittany Burton is a News Columnist at Grit Daily. While attending Howard University majoring in Broadcast journalism, she became a writer at Buzzfeed and Huffington Post, which jumpstarted her career.

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