All of the students read the play aloud and he took
that part. It was absolutely, hands down, one of the
most stellar performances of Shakespeare, let alone
Othello, that I have ever heard.
amassed a larger mythos in death — trying to
separate fact from fiction can be a tall order as
Shakur’s legend continues to grow — the truth
of his story is plenty incredible on its own.
Prior to moving to Marin in 1988, Afeni
Shakur had already uprooted her children
from New York City to Baltimore. A devout
member of the Black Panther Party, Afeni
arranged for a fellow Panther to watch over
Tupac and his sister, Sekyiwa, in Marin City
while she stayed in Baltimore and saved for
another ticket to California. Eventually, Afeni
would join her children, but by all accounts,
Tupac’s time in Marin was one of struggle and
In contrast, former Tamalpais High School
teacher Barbara Owens has fond memories
from Shakur’s brief period of time in her
classroom. She says that it wasn’t until much
later that she understood how much her student was truly dealing with.
“I knew he was challenged,” Owen says, “but
I didn’t know how, in particular, other than by
being an African American student from Marin
City at a predominantly white school.”
In his acclaimed 2001 book on Shakur,
Holler If You Hear Me, author Michael Eric
Dyson describes how Afeni’s crack addiction
was exacerbated by her move to Marin City,
noting that it put her “in dangerous proximity
to the drug’s infamous center of distribution
in Northern California’s black ghettos.” At
some point, the situation with his mother
got so bad that Tupac moved out to live with
friends in an abandoned apartment. He also
started selling crack as a way to afford food.
Despite these substantial hardships, Shakur’s
grades apparently never slipped.
For Owens, the memory is of a bright,
exceptionally talented actor.
In announcing her departure from the
Tamalpais Union High School District board
of trustees earlier this summer, Owens noted
that though her 35-year career has been
packed with cherished memories, one of her
favorites will always be of the time she tasked Shakur with reading
some Shakespeare aloud.
“I asked him to take the part of Othello,” she says. “All of the stu-
dents read the play aloud and he took that part. It was absolutely,
hands down, one of the most stellar performances of Shakespeare, let
alone Othello, that I have ever heard.”
Hearing Owens describe the scene, one can almost imagine
Shakur’s robust baritone — the same voice that would later anchor
beloved hits like “California Love” and “Dear Mama” — reverberating
off the classroom walls.
“When he got to the scene where Othello is having a critical
argument with himself about whether or not he’s going to snuff out
Desdemona,” Owens recalls, “he read it brilliantly. I stopped the class
and said, ‘I want you all to remember this moment. You will never ever,
in your lifetime, hear Othello as well as you just heard it now.’ ”
Eventually, Shakur would drop out of Tamalpais High School.
“He could no longer pretend school fit his view of the world,” writes
Though the late rapper’s lyrics touch on many subjects, his work
Dyson of Shakur’s mindset at the time. “Neither could he reconcile the
poverty that he saw ... he simply stopped going.”
Before long, Shakur’s life would take new perch in the city of
Oakland. That’s where, in 1989, he attended a poetry class taught by
Leila Steinberg, who would go on to act as a mentor to Shakur. Shortly
thereafter, Steinberg introduced him to Atron Gregory. The two would
go on to work together extensively, with Gregory serving as a manager
and executive producer.
never explicitly addressed the time he spent in Marin City. Regardless,
Gregory believes there is still something within Shakur’s music that’s
drawn from the time he spent here.
“When he wrote,” Gregory says, “this is where he was writing. This
is what he was seeing. This is what he was around and what he was
doing and what he was experiencing, so in that regard, the Bay Area was
extremely influential.” m