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

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:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/embed/1l43cYi3iJI?start=335&end=457 expand=1]

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.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/embed/sKCREvtyh_Y?start=447&end=609 expand=1]

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?

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/embed/sKCREvtyh_Y?start=670&end=725 expand=1]

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.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Upworthy is sharing this letter from Myra Sack on the anniversary of the passing of her daughter Havi Lev Goldstein. Loss affects everyone differently and nothing can prepare us for the loss of a young child. But as this letter beautifully demonstrates, grief is not something to be ignored or denied. We hope the honest words and feelings shared below can help you or someone you know who is processing grief of their own. The original letter begins below:


Dear Beauty,

Time is crawling to January 20th, the one-year anniversary of the day you took your final breath on my chest in our bed. We had a dance party the night before. Your posse came over. Aunts, uncles, grandparents, closest friends, and your loving nanny Tia. We sat in the warm kitchen with music on and passed you from one set of arms to another. Everyone wanted one last dance with you. We didn’t mess around with only slow songs. You danced to Havana and Danza Kuduro, too. Somehow, you mustered the energy to sway and rock with each of us, despite not having had anything to eat or drink for six days. That night, January 19th, we laughed and cried and sang and danced. And we held each other. We let our snot and our tears rest on each other’s shoulders; we didn’t wipe any of them away. We ate ice cream after dinner, as we do every night. And on this night, we rubbed a little bit of fresh mint chocolate chip against your lips. Maybe you’d taste the sweetness.

Reggaeton and country music. Blueberry pancakes and ice cream. Deep, long sobs and outbursts of real, raw laughter. Conversations about what our relationships mean to each other and why we are on this earth.


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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Cellist Cremaine Booker's performance of Faure's "Pavane" is as impressive as it is beautiful.

Music might be the closest thing the world has to real magic. Music has the ability to transform any atmosphere in seconds, simply with the sounds of a few notes. It can be simple—one instrument playing single notes like raindrops—or a complex symphony of melodies and harmonies, swirling and crashing like waves from dozens of instruments. Certain rhythms can make us spontaneously dance and certain chord progressions can make us cry.

Music is an art, a science, a language and a decidedly human endeavor. People have made music throughout history, in every culture on every continent. Over time, people have perfected the crafting of instruments and passed along the knowledge of how to play them, so every time we see someone playing music, we're seeing the history of humanity culminated in their craft. It's truly an amazing thing.

The pandemic threw a wrench into seeing live musicians for a good chunk of time, and even now, live performances are limited. Thankfully, we have technology that makes it easier for musicians to collaborate and perform with one another virtually—and also makes it easier for people to create "group" performances all by themselves.

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The airplane graveyard that 3 families call home is the subject of a stunning photo series.

From the skies to the ground, these airplanes continue to serve a purpose.

This article originally appeared on 09.18.15


What happens to airplanes after they're no longer fit to roam the skies?


An abandoned 747 rests in a Bangkok lot. Photo by Taylor Weidman/Getty Images.

Decommissioned planes are often stripped and sold for parts, with the remains finding a new home in what is sometimes referred to as an "airplane boneyard" or "graveyard." Around the world, these graveyards exist; they're made up of large, empty lots and tons of scrap metal.

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