My Detroit Story is a feature in which an in-depth look into a particular event, or series of events that have impacted the life of a Detroiter or Detroit locations existence. February 2015 features ‘the Writer: Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur. Yusef is an accomplished author, speaker, and community leader. He has catapulted to heights of success from the opportunities afforded to him since the release of his 2008 book ‘Window 2 my Soul.’ This is the story behind how Yusef wrote and published ‘Window 2 my Soul.’
“I never saw myself as a writer,” is what Shakur repeated to me during the phone call in early January of 2015 for this interview. Shakur’s plans to come back to Detroit changed as he was called to action. In January 2015 Yusef traveled from Rochester NY, to Baltimore MD, to New York NY, and various parts of North Carolina. Yusef was action planning with Black Panthers, and a series of community leaders. Yusef’s travels, actions, plans, and impact has blossomed within a decade. More remarkable is the fact that within two decades he was incarcerated spending the majority of his adult life to that point in prison.
Yusef Shakur spent nine years of his life in prison. While incarcerated he met his father, and transformed his life. Yusef’s Father encouraged and challenged Yusef to change mentally, physically, and spiritually. The name ‘Little Jo-Jo’ in which he embraced as a founding member of the ‘Zone 8’ gang changed to become, Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur, the freedom fighter (Bunchy is in honor of the legendary LA Black Panther Bunchy Carter). Entering prison Yusef’s skills in writing and reading were limited at best. He left prison with an unsettled passion for reading and writing that carries on today.
In prison Yusef was respected and recognized as a knowledge base for information on African traditions, Black revolution, organization, and leadership. This reputation spread throughout prisons in Michigan. The network of resourceful information travels distances as inmates write one another, transfer facilities, and share associations. Yusef’s resourcefulness as a young Black man sharing the stories of Black leadership in a place filled with the despair of so many Black men, was motivational.
As word spread about Yusef he was introduced through letter to an inmate at another prison, Kwasi Kwamu (A mutual friend of both knew the enlightenment of Yusef and Kwasi was a balance that was meant to be together. Kwasi and Yusef have strengthened a friendship that carries on today). In support of Yusef initially Kwasi suggested books, music, and information to sharpen Yusef’s skills. Yusef soaked up all that Kwasi offered, and more. Kwasi witnessed the maturation and growth of Yusef as a writer and voluntarily published Yusef in the ‘Freedom Network.’ The ‘Freedom Network’ was a newsletter produced by Kwasi and Greer Bey (Jesse Long-Bey RIP 2013) as a periodical that provided inmates with revolutionary ideas and concepts. “The Freedom Network was to all of us (inmates) what college professors think of the New York Times,” Yusef Shakur. Kwasi took an exert from a letter written by Yusef and published it in the ‘Freedom Network.’
“My confidence grew when I saw that I was published in the ‘Freedom Network,” Yusef Shakur (There after Yusef submitted more content to the ‘Freedom Network’ with limited content being selected). “It was tough to be published in the ‘Freedom Network.’ Kwasi and Greer were very talented and skilled writers who reviewed hundreds of writing from a collection of inmates monthly,” Yusef Shakur.
Leaving prison in 2003 Yusef set a goal to carry on writing and reading. In 2006 he had a chance meeting with urban novelist Michelle Moore. Yusef introduced himself to Moore, and told her he’s an aspiring author. Within months, Moore and Shakur met again. Moore asked Yusef “did you write your book?” Shakur had no answer for Moore. He had not begun writing his book. “After she asked me all those questions, and I didn’t have an answer as to why not … I felt horrible,” Shakur.
Moore’s questioning of Yusef triggered an immediate action in him to begin writing his book. Yusef began writing in November of 2007 and finished in April of 2008. “It felt great completing the writing of my book. That’s when all the learning began,” Shakur. Yusef received mixed reviews of support from family and friends when he began acting upon moving forward with his book. Many people who committed support were hard to find when monies, editing, artwork, copyright, and other necessities were needed. A mutual friend introduced Yusef to an editor who charged him more for the editing than the printing cost. “I told her … it was the first time I was robbed without a gun. I failed to do any research, and planning and learned some very costly lessons,” Shakur.
“In the summer of 2008 I ordered 1,000 books for $2,000.00. I was laid off soon after, and seized the opportunity to sale my book. I visited Car Washes, Barbershops, Beauty Salons, and all places where I knew our people were. The first true break I had encouraged this. Soon after my lay-off I visited the Motown Museum on W Grand BLVD, not far from my Mom’s house. John Mason of ‘Mason in the Morning’ was hosting a live radio broadcast. I approached Mason, and shared my story, he was very receptive and invited me on his show the very next week. On the show I shared my story and Mason has been a supporter ever since,” Shakur.
“The toughest thing about writing, and publishing ‘Window 2 my Soul’ has been the business. I wrote the book from an anti-capitalist mind state so I’ve always given my book to people at no monetary cost. This has come at costs to me. So I’m still learning the type of entrepreneur I will be in support of my people,” Shakur.
Yusef’s brazen attitude about to build his own has been humbling and encouraging for me. Yusef opened a bookstore in his neighborhood, because other bookstores didn’t choose to carry his book. Yusef gave speeches in his neighborhood at his Mother’s house, because no one allowed him to speak at their events. As an artist, and entrepreneur I think that’s brilliant. “I remember I was trying to get my book into ‘Source Bookstore’ in Northland and I was told to come back in 1 month … I came back, then was told come back in 2 months … I came back, then was told to come back in 6 months … I opened my own bookstore,” Shakur. I find that kind of spirit and confidence to be inspirational.
“I always knew I would publish my own. It was hip-hop music that showed me you can sell product out of the trunk of your own car,” Shakur.
In closing the title of the book was inspired by a song from hip-hop group Dead Prez. The sub title was provided by the ‘Freedom Network’ editors Kwasi Kwamu and Tim Greer-Bey.
That’s the story behind the writing and publishing of Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur’s “The Window 2 my Soul: My Transformation from a Zone 8 Thug to a Father & Freedom Fighter.”
February 2015 Detroit is Different
The Writer: Yusef ‘Bunchy’ Shakur
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