Afeni Shakur was in a cocaine haze in 1990 when she heard that her son's rap career was taking off.
"I was in the heyday of using," she says. "Someone told me that Tupac was on 'The Arsenio Hall Show,' and I thought they were lying."
That's when Afeni realized cocaine was ruining her life. She had lost track of her son — a tough feat considering that all eyes were about to be on Tupac.
Afeni kicked her habit, and by the time Tupac was killed in 1996 at the height of his fame, they had rekindled their relationship. Now Afeni's life is consumed with keeping Tupac's legacy alive — and her latest effort is the June 11 grand opening of the Tupac Amaru Shakur Center for the Arts.
The $4 million project is focused on helping at-risk youth. It revolves around a six-acre campus in the Atlanta suburb of Stone Mountain that includes an art gallery, rehearsal area, offices, gift shop and a "peace garden." There are plans to add a museum, community meeting space and classrooms. A bronze statue of Tupac will be unveiled in one of the peace garden's fountains in September.
According to Afeni's attorney, Dina LaPolt, who co-produced the Oscar-nominated documentary "Tupac: Resurrection," about 80 percent of the center's cost came from the foundation Afeni set up to receive proceeds from her various Tupac albums, movies, DVDs and other projects.
Good coming out of sad chapter
The idea for the center came from a sad chapter of Afeni's history. As she bounced from New York City to Baltimore to California, falling deeper into drugs and the Black Panther movement, she enrolled young Tupac in several arts schools and programs, where he honed the natural musical and acting gifts that would make him a hip-hop icon.
"Arts can save children, no matter what's going on in their homes," Afeni, 58, told The Associated Press in a recent interview. "I wasn't available to do the right things for my son. If not for the arts, my child would've been lost."
The foundation has already hosted youth arts camps, focusing mostly on poetry and theater, in the Atlanta area, where some of Afeni's family lives. This is the first year the campers will have a permanent site.
Celina Nixon, who coordinates the camps, used to attend them as a teenager. The 22-year-old said she had a lot of things going against her in high school — namely that she had a daughter at 15.
A new perspective
Because attending the camp taught her to overcome setbacks, she learned to be mature and view the world through a new perspective — that of a teenage mother — rather than seeing her plight as a millstone.
"We had to write a letter to ourselves about where we wanted to be," Nixon said of her camp days. "I wanted to be able to make a difference in young girls' lives and with the youth, period."
The camp is for 12- to 18-year-olds, so when Nixon graduated from high school she was no longer allowed to attend, but Afeni offered her an internship with the foundation.
Nixon basically taught herself management techniques, and her background in drama and chorus lent itself to helping run the foundation. Afeni said she hopes the camps will continue to churn out these kind of success stories.
"I learned that I can't save the world, but I can help a child at a time," Afeni said, adding that it was all made possible by her son. "God created a miracle with his spirit. I'm all right with that."
Conspiracies abound about Tupac's unsolved shooting, but they're all a waste of time to Afeni.
"We decided to deal with the living. This is justice for me," she said. "I need to do what God has put in front of me to do, and it ain't trying to figure out who killed Tupac."