As Rick Ross’ lyrics say, “Tupac Back,” and in fact, he might be, at least through his foundation and center.
The Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation (TASF) was started in 1997 by Afeni Shakur, the mother of the award-winning artist. Since its inception the reach that the center has had across urban communities has grown exponentially.
This evening Mike Epps and Afeni Shakur are joining forces for the third time to raise money for the foundation. Tonight, a day after Dexter Isaac confessed to shooting Shakur in 1994, and on the 40th birthday of the famed rapper, lyricist and actor, performances by Erykah Badu, Roy Ayers, Eric Roberson, Too Short, Bun B and more will take place at the Atlanta Symphony Hall in hopes to raise money to keep the artist's dreams alive through his foundation.
“When I first came on board our programs [at the foundation] consisted of one summer camp. Every summer we would rent out a community-college or high school and host the summer camps. We would also give scholarships, but that was pretty much the extent,” says Vernon Cambridge, director of the center.
Today, however, Cambridge explains, “as Ms. Shakur would say, ‘it’s become a living organism.'”
Through daily after-school programs and an annual performing arts camp, the center trains 12 to 18-year-olds in the disciplines of creative writing, vocal technique, acting, stage set design, dance, spoken word and the business of entertainment.
To date they’ve served over 1,000 kids nationwide, but more than just a center to perfect your craft, Cambridge explains that there is a lot of character building too.
“Students come into the center all the time who have parents who are going through a divorce or a parent who isn’t around, or they are being bullied or picked on at school; they have self-esteem issues; a lot of different issues are brought into our center and through the arts we are able to help them cope and build self-esteem," he says.
When Tupac was just 12 years old he trained at the 127th Street Ensemble in New York. Echoing the story that Cambridge has heard Afeni Shakur tell many times, he says that the 127th Street center served as a safe-haven for Tupac and his mother.
“There were many days where he would stay there from sun up to sun down while his mother would try to get work. The center took them in when they were homeless and he spent his 13th birthday there too,” says Cambridge.
Tupac even received his first acting role while at that company, and today, his legacy continues to live on.
“The center has made a very big impact on my life,” says Shakur foundation participant Kyre Batiste-Loftin, whose birthday is also today. Batiste-Loftin, now 19 years old, has been an active part of the foundation for the past three years. As an actor and dancer he says that the foundation has helped him perfect his craft, taught him how to audition and to build leadership skills.
“I have a role on Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. I’ve done that for about six seasons and I actually got that role from being in the foundation because the casting director of Tyler Perry was here at the center for an event,” he says.
Though he wasn’t even five years old when Tupac died, Batiste-Loftin says that as a California native his mother was a big fan and he heard a lot of Tupac’s music growing up.
“A lot of his music was real elaborate and articulate and in the camp I learned more about him and his mother,” he says. “Tupac was a warrior to his people.”
Forty years after his birthday and 15 years after his death, the creative juices of a man who once sang “all eyes on me” now has all eyes on those living out their dreams in his memory.