Joseph (Tupac Shakur Legacy, 2006) offers an inspiring, unapologetic account of his transformation from armed revolutionary to revolutionary artist.
In the late 1960s, the young, gifted author was inevitably drawn to the Black Panthers. Amid the dangerous life in the Bronx ghetto, he writes, “nobody was badder than the Panthers.” Their usual apparel—black berets, black leather jackets and guns—portrayed a romantic image of a group serious about revolution during a time under “a revolutionary magic spell where anything seemed possible and victory over the oppressor was assured.” Soon the Panthers became Joseph’s whole life. Beyond the image, he learned, they were a group of men and women thoughtful in their ideology and dedicated to serving the community through schools and breakfast programs. Internecine power struggles, fueled by government infiltration and violence, broke the Panthers apart, however, and Joseph found himself going underground and finally to prison. He remained there for the next 20 years or so, a man-child coming of age behind bars. In prison, he discovered art and began to write poetry and plays, and he formed a theater group of prisoners who performed his plays about the life around them. Quickly becoming an established artist and drawn to academia, Joseph used these credentials to help found Harlem’s IMPACT Repertory Theatre, where thousands of young people experience music, drama, dance and film. Improbably, this led Joseph—and, he insists, IMPACT—to an Academy Award nomination for Best Song. Though the author’s commitment to revolutionary ends remained intact, the means to that end had changed.
Not all will find Joseph’s politics compelling, but readers will draw inspiration from his story of struggle and transformation.