I first met Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur in the Fall of 2008. It was a pivotal year in both our lives as creatives. Yusef released his first book ‘Window 2 My Soul,’ and I released my first album ‘Preaching to the Choir.’ Yusef’s book was marketed as a political memoir, and complimented my album ’Preaching to the Choir.’ I created ‘Preaching to the Choir’ as a modern take on Public Enemy.
I met Yusef at a tapping of then Detroit City Councilmember JoAnn Watson’s weekly television program ‘Wake Up Detroit’ (on Watkins Broadcasting WHPR TV33). Yusef was a featured guest along with his comrade (comrade is the term Yusef uses for supporters of calls to action in uplifting African American people) Al Martin. Martin and Shakur were waiting to be interviewed regarding an upcoming speaking engagement. I was waiting to be interviewed regarding a Kwanzaa celebration I was hosting and co-producing. As we waited together Yusef showed me his book, and insisted upon me taking it. I didn’t have any money, and offered to trade him a copy of my ‘Preaching to the Choir’ album in exchange. We agreed to the terms of the barter.
The very next day Yusef called me, and shared how much he appreciated the album. I didn’t expect him to listen, and after ending the call I felt the responsibility to read his book.
I had no expectations, limited interest, and had not read a book in years. Judging the book by it’s cover, I saw a sketched image of what looked like O-Dog (Larenz Tate’s role in the Hughes Brother’s film Menace ii Society) on the left side, and a Blackman with locks wearing a Black Panther shirt to the right. I thought the book was a revolutionary journal, assuming ‘Window 2 my Soul’ would be a current version of George Jackson’s ‘Blood in my Eye.’ George Jackson’s ‘Blood in my Eye’ is a mix of opinion, autobiography, and action plans. George Jackson’s book, like many of the Panther books I’ve read, I find an exhaustive read (he actually has a chapter regarding this track of thought in ‘Blood in my Eye’). I appreciate the message and tone of the Black Panther writings, but have found many of the books, writing, and journalism to be written from a mid to late 1960’s time perspective.
So as I sat down and began reading ‘Window 2 my Soul’ I braced myself for what I thought was revolutionary writing. I was humbled immediately. I completed the book within days. Yusef’s autobiographical narrative touched on many social, psychological, and communal difficulties faced by young Black (I prefer to use the term Black, over African American for many reasons … namely James Brown!) males throughout, but not limited to, Detroit. What impacted me so much about Yusef’s book was the conversational tone he used. I found his writing style layered a context for the many destructive, depressing, and desperate actions he writes about in the book.
I connect with ‘Window 2 my Soul’ the way I connect with Alex Haley’s ‘Autobiography of Malcolm X.’ Finding a balance of purpose vs. opportunity as a young Black male I’ve found to be strenuous in America. Making a place in an American society that has historically discriminated against, and limited Black men liberally, legally, and socially is a difficult journey. Using my life, and my interpretation of family, friends, and associates for examples has further solidify this belief. Reading Yusef’s ‘Window 2 my Soul’ captured many discussions I’ve had with a mix of people regarding the purpose and opportunity for young Black males in America.
It was refreshing to read an autobiographical book without polarizing characters. The way ‘Window 2 my Soul’ is written challenged me to read beyond the classic protagonist and antagonist profiles associated with story-telling. Notably the book provides an intrinsic and extrinsic view into the lives of his parents. In the book Yusef examines his parents’ relationship, past, understanding of parenting, and memorable events that changed the course of Yusef’s life. The way Yusef shares the pain he felt when his Mother turned him over to State control, because of the pain she felt for her loss of direction and influence in his life, was a moving narrative. Also during incarceration Yusef reconnected with his Father, also an inmate at the same prison. The rollercoaster of emotions and thoughts between both men are captured epically in ‘Window 2 my Soul.’
After completing the book I eagerly called Yusef, and invited him to be a speaker at my ‘Kwanzaa at the Woodward’ celebration. I asked Yusef to speak on behalf of the Kwanzaa principle Nia, which means purpose. That snowy December day in 2008 has led to a continued friendship of support and collaboration.
Through the years Yusef and I have partnered on a number of events, we’ve welcomed much success along the way in our collaboration. Notably, we produced a ‘Kwanzaa at the Renaissance’ celebration in 2009. It was one of the last events held at Detroit’s historic Renaissance Club (the Renaissance Club was a premier business dining and meeting location founded by Mayor Coleman A Young along with Ford, Chrysler, and GM Executives). ‘Kwanzaa at the Renaissance’ featured a collection of speakers, performers, and guests. Event coordinator Donna Darden, Yusef’s comrade Kwasi Kwamu, and my mentor the Honorable Judge Claudia House Morcom (RIP 2014) helped make everything possible. Over 250 guests filled the Renaissance Club welcoming a Kwanzaa celebration in one of Detroit’s most exclusive locations. Participants included: African Percussionist Maulana Tolbert, Vocalist Ashley Nicole Garner, Rapper Lola Damone, Detroit City Councilmember JoAnn Watson, Virgil Carr Art Center Currator Bill Foster, Detroit City Councilmember Ken Cockrel Jr and Family, Coalition Against Police Brutality Chair Ron Scott, Pastor Bill Wylie-Kellerman, Pastor David A Bullock, Poet, Marsha Carter, Poet Claretha Peace Bell, Rapper Mio ‘Kaunn’ Thomas, Blue Babies Leader Saba Grebrai, Nsormoa Institute Founder Malik Yakini, Allied Media Conference Chair Jenny Lee, Better Detroit Youth Movement Leader Harlan Bivens, Detroit Nation of Islam Leader Dawud Muhhammad, and Better Man Movement Leader Lewis Colson (RIP 2014), and many, many more guests.
I am glad to share a friendship with Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur. He’s an encouraging figure of possibility, opportunity, and purpose. The month of February 2015 Detroit is Different features Yusef as ‘the Writer,’ I welcome you to continue to read more about Yusef and find out how he has helped make Detroit different!
February 2015 Detroit is Different
The Writer: Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur
Tuesday February 3, 2015 INTRODUCTION: Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur, a Native Son of Detroit
Tuesday February 10, 2015 MY DETROIT STORY: Story behind the writing and publishing of Yusef Shakur’s ‘Window 2 My Soul’
Tuesday February 17 AROUND DETROIT: Around Detroit with Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur at Goodwell’s Foods
Tuesday February 24 DETROIT IS DIFFERENT PODCAST: Audio Interview of Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur by Khary WAE Frazier