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Maya Angelou tells Dave Chappelle about that time she met Tupac.

Bonus: an interview with Ray Luv, a friend of Tupac, on the rapper's poetic side

Maya Angelou tells Dave Chappelle about that time she met Tupac.

When the "Caged Bird" met the "Rose": Maya Angelou, Tupac Shakur, and the power of empathy

Five shots couldn't drop me,
I took it and smiled,
Now I'm back to set the record straight,
With my A-K,
I'm still the thug that you love to hate.
— 2pac, “Hit Em Up"




To the public, politicians, and the media that covered him, Tupac Shakur was the textbook definition of a "thug" — an uncontrollable monster that was poisoning the minds of our youth and corroding our moral fabric. If you looked at him funny, he'd get in your face. If you punched him, he and his posse would jump you. If you shot at him, well…

That's why his chance encounter with Dr. Maya Angelou stood out to most folks.


In 1992, Dr. Angelou was invited by director John Singleton to make a cameo performance in the film "Poetic Justice" starring Janet Jackson and Tupac.

Watch Dr. Angelou explain her unlikely encounter with Tupac to Dave Chappelle:

The story goes like this: As she was coming out of her trailer, she saw an angry young man in a confrontation, and she gently approached the man to ask to speak with him. He continued cursing, but Dr. Angelou — always with gentle but firm persistence — asked him this piercing question:

"When's the last time anyone told you how important you are?"

She reminded him about what his ancestors went through — traveling on slave ships, lying next to one another in their own menstruation and excrement, standing on auction blocks. She explained how they survived all of that for him to be where he is today. It brought the young man to tears.

As she returned to her trailer, Janet Jackson came running to her to explain how she had just confronted Tupac Shakur. Dr. Angelou then exclaimed, "I didn't know Tupac Shakur. I didn't know 'six-pack'! I had never heard the name!"

Many people were interested in the story simply for the fact that two icons of the black community — who seemingly couldn't be any more different — crossed paths this way, and that Dr. Angelou was able to bring a seemingly hardened gangster rapper like Tupac to tears.

But there's more to it. This is a story about the power of empathy, about meeting ferocity with love, about bravado, about seeing past a facade that society forced a young black man to construct. To really understand the power of this moment, you have to go deeper.

An interview with Ray Luv, a friend of Tupac

I had the opportunity to sit down for an exclusive interview with Ray Luv, a longtime friend of Tupac's. On a perfect early spring day in Los Angeles, we met up at The Roosevelt Hotel, just around the corner from where the Oscars had been held a few days before.

Ray's got a deep voice, and when he speaks, you can almost hear the bass of his voice echo inside his chest. He speaks with a passion for social justice and shares a lot of the same revolutionary fire that made Tupac so different from the rest of the hip-hop world.

Talking to a 42-year-old Ray and seeing him there with his sons, you can hear the passion of his youth, but it's moderated by the wisdom that comes from the ups and downs of life. I couldn't help but wonder what Tupac would have been like had he lived to 42.

Growing up politically aware

My mother never let me forget my history,
Hoping I was set free chains never put on me,
Wanted to be more than just free,
Had to know the true facts about my history.
— 2pac, "Panther Power"



Ray first met Pac when they were both in high school. Ray had been living on his own since 15. Like Tupac, he had come from a home shadowed by addiction, and also like Tupac, he had gone from a black junior high and enrolled in a predominantly white high school. What really brought them together, though, was a shared passion and drive to make it in the rap game.

They soon met Leila Steinberg, who held writing workshops and a poetry circle in the community. Seeing their circumstances at home, Leila decided to take them in, and under her care, they developed an appreciation of poetry and a hunger for knowledge.

"Leila was kinda like our third piece," says Ray, "because she opened us up more to the poetry side of things. Not that we weren't doing it. It's just that there was nobody there to cultivate it, to expose us to a lot of the new material that ultimately helped us to create the deeper songs. The songs like 'So Many Tears.'"

But even prior to meeting Leila, Tupac was already well-versed in the history of the African-American community. The revolutionary streak ran thick in his bloodline. His mother, Afeni Shakur, was a Black Panther. His stepfather, Mutulu Shakur, was a former member of the Black Liberation Army and is still serving time. His aunt, Assata Shakur, is currently living in Cuba under political asylum (yes, that Assata from the song by Common, which, side note, is why many were upset when Common was invited to the White House). This upbringing gave Tupac a solid grounding in activism and a passion to stand up for the injustices done to the black community.

So, while Maya Angelou didn't know Tupac from a six-pack, Pac was intimately familiar with her work.

"He had no chill, no off button."

Bought a fo'-five cause I heard that the slug's bigger,
Figure the first motherfucker to jump'll find hisself,
Gettin' swept off his feet by the pump.
— 2pac, "Definition of a Thug Nigga"


As thoughtful as Tupac was, there's no doubt he had a temper. It was there from day one.

"He had no chill ... no chill button," says Ray. "No off switch, none of that. I just spent an afternoon with his mother just chilling and talking, and she still has no chill switch, and she's like late-60s."

Ray explained how most people would pick their battles, but Tupac couldn't walk away from a fight. In fact, at a panel during the opening of the Tupac exhibit at the GRAMMY Museum in LA, friends like Ray and Money B from Digital Underground explained how you couldn't really consider yourself a friend of Tupac's if you had never gotten in an argument with him. Money B joked that "calm down" was his trigger phrase. If you asked him to calm down mid-fight, he'd take it from a 10 to a 12.

"That's something that is always said every time a black person does a little too much," says Ray. "It's like, 'calm down,' because, you know, the white people are watching. When, in actuality, there's some things that you should be pissed off about. You shouldn't burn down your neighborhood, but maybe you should stand up and say 'This is some bullshit. We can do better. We should do better.' Tupac was that guy — the guy who felt like he had to fight every fight and felt like he was the one that had to fight because if he didn't, who would?"

In the following clip, Tupac talks about his frustration with the shadow cast by the alter ego he created to defend himself. If you had an intruder in your house, he says, you wouldn't speak with a quiet voice. You'd puff out your chest and act threatening. The same went for Tupac. He felt like he had to create this bravado image to protect himself, but he was increasingly frustrated that it came to define him.


Yes, this alter ego — originally created as a defense mechanism — became the only thing people knew about him. But Ray says, "That's why Pac was so appealing to my generation. It was a generation full of angry kids."

It was precisely that anger and aggression put into poetic words that expressed the frustrations of a generation who had seen their family units torn apart, forced to fight poverty, drugs, crime, and police brutality, fighting for survival on all fronts. Yet, the same characteristic that drew so many people to Tupac trapped him in a crude caricature of a single facet of his complicated personality.

The 'Bird' meets the 'Rose'

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
— Maya Angelou, “ Caged Bird"






In 1992, fresh off the critical acclaim of "Boyz n the Hood," John Singleton began filming "Poetic Justice" in Simi Valley, a sleepy suburb of LA. Tupac, then only 21 years old, had only one album to his name, "2Pacalypse Now."

During the filming of the movie, the LA riots broke out. It was this volatile mix — a young man coming into fame, racial tensions reaching a boiling point, a militant upbringing, a short temper, being trapped in an alter ego of his own creation — that Maya Angelou first encountered.

What was it about Dr. Angelou that pierced through all of his defense mechanisms? I asked Ray to talk about it.

"Well, you know, that was the thing, too, about our generation is that we lost our parents," says Ray. "We were the first kids to really lose our parents. Like, my parents had parents [around], you know what I mean? They can remember a clear village raising the child — you know grandparents, the whole thing. My generation kinda had the streets ... and I think that [Dr. Angelou] looked at him in a way that [was] really the way we always wanted to be looked at by the older black generation, that we were their kids, not that we were some kind of fuckin', you know, mutant thing that happened, that they don't understand, that they're afraid of."

Not only was this new generation of voices from the black community shouted down, told to be quiet, told to work within the system, but they also faced people like C. Delores Tucker from within their own community publicly shaming them, attacking them, but never once sitting down with any of them to have dialogue.

So, at the surface, we saw Tupac as angry, militant, and foul-mouthed. But underneath was this complicated mix of upbringing, personality, circumstance, and culture that influenced all his interactions with people.

Dr. Angelou didn't need to know his history to know that he was a young kid who needed to be reminded of his worth. She spoke to him about the history of his people because she knew it was a shared pain. Tupac knew it not only from reading about it, but from living it himself.

In the next clip, Tupac paraphrases from his famous poem, "The Rose That Grew From Concrete." He talks about how if you see a rose growing from the concrete, you marvel at its tenacity for making it that far, rather than tear it down for its imperfections. So, he asks, why don't we celebrate the fact that he made it out from the unlikeliest of circumstances, rather than tear him down for his outward appearance?

This was the deep empathy of Maya Angelou touching the heart of a fierce, compassionate, intelligent, complicated, and misunderstood young Tupac Shakur. It's a lesson we should remember today.

It is amazing what barriers can be broken down when we see beyond the surface and when someone feels truly heard.

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less

Everyone can all use a little lift at the end of the week, and we've collected some of this week's best stories to provide just such a pick-me-up. Here are 10 things we want to share, just because they made us so darn happy.

1. Introducing Lila, the U.S. Capitol Police's first emotional support dog.

After the traumatic experiences of January 6th, Capitol Police officers could definitely use some extra support. Lila, a two-year-old black lab, will now serve as the department's first full-time emotional support dog. Look at that sweet face!

2. Speaking of the Capitol, take a look at this week's gorgeous solar eclipse behind the dome.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson shared the stunning "ring of fire" image on Twitter. Always a treat when nature gives us a great show.


3. Colorado sees its first wild wolf pups in six decades.

In the 1940s, the gray wolf was eradicated in Colorado by trappers and hunters, with the support of the federal government. Whoops. This week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has announced the first evidence of wild wolf breeding in the state, a sign of hope for the endangered species. Read more about the discovery here.

Photo by M L on Unsplash


4. 30-year-old singer with terminal cancer amazed and inspired with her performance on America's Got Talent.

Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."