Tupac and My Non-Thug Life

As a teen, this biracial writer came to terms with her black identity with a little help from 'Pac.

The author (left) with her friend Thea

I learned about Tupac's death when I got home from cheerleading practice that Friday afternoon in September 1996. I was a sophomore in high school in Mill Valley, Calif.

I remember trotting up my apartment building's stairs, physically tired but buzzing with the frenetic energy and possibilities for change that accompany fall and a new school year.

I'd been cautiously allowing myself to think during the walk home about a topic that felt frighteningly taboo (at least in my world, where discussion of race was avoided as delicately as obesity or mental illness): what it meant to be biracial and on the school's mostly white cheerleading team instead of the mostly black dance team.

I remember acknowledging, to the sound of an 8-count that still pounded in my head as I walked through the door, that I didn't really have a choice: I could memorize a series of stiff and precise motions but couldn't actually dance.

My private musings on identity and belonging -- not original in the least, but novel to me -- were interrupted when my mom heard me slam the front door and drop my bags:

"Your friend died!" she called out from another room.

Confused silence.

"You know, that rapper you and Thea love so much!"

Mourning a Death in Vegas

The news was turned on, with coverage of the deadly Vegas shooting. Phone calls were made. Ultimately my best friend, Thea, and I were left to our own 15-year-old devices to mourn that weekend. Her mother and stepfather were out of town. Their expansive, million-dollar home was perched on a hillside less than an hour from Tupac's former stomping grounds in Oakland and Marin City. Of course, her home was also worlds away from both places.

The Root 100 People's Choice Awards  
Sept. 19 2014 8:34 AM