By By Malcolm Carter
Inspired by managing Tupac, 20 years after his violent death, Leila Steinberg (pictured below with Tupac) is finally trying to make their dreams come true by diverting young black men from the prison pipeline.
Steinberg was part of the Hampton University Film Festival (HUFF), appearing Nov. 12 and 13 on panels about emotional literacy and prison reform.
Using panel discussions, master classes and film screenings, the film festival delved deeply into black identity in America today. Themes included race, social justice, prison reform and the need for more black leadership.
Steinberg, a filmmaker and former manager of Tupac Shakur, highlighted a long list of some of Hollywood's best.
Steinberg is also an educator and founder of AIM4TheHeART, a nonprofit that is committed to aiding at-risk youth in finding their voices by teaching the importance of emotional literacy and proper writing techniques.
Steinberg held a master class Nov. 13, telling the story of how she started in the music industry and eventually become Tupac's manager.
"I met him at one of my poetry classes, and I was immediately struck at how talented and professional he was to only be 17 years old," Steinberg said. "He was able to put his feelings and thoughts on paper in a way that everyone could understand. Black, white, young or old, it didn't matter."
Tupac lived with Steinberg and her family for a short time, and she credits this relationship with becoming a better mother to her own children, who identified more with their's father's African-American heritage than with her Jewish one.
"He taught me about the important job I had in raising black children even though I wasn't black myself," Steinberg said. "He wanted them to embrace their heritage in a world that will judge them solely based on the color of their skin."
Steinberg and Shakur would seem to have nothing in common, but according to Steinberg, they shared the same passion for music, education and racial equality.
With her connections in the film industry coupled with Tupac's unique music style, the two would begin to gain traction across the West Coast.
She managed and mentored Shakur until he outgrew her, she said.
He went on to become one of the most influential rap artists in history and has held onto this title even after his death in 1996. Shakur was gunned down at a red light in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Sept. 13. His death was a shock to the music industry because he was only 25 years old and on his way to becoming one of the greatest artists of his time.
In addition to the great music they created, Steinberg and Shakur started The Microphone Sessions, a writing workshop that focuses on creating a free space for spoken word, poetry, singing and drama.
"The best way to positively impact the minds of youth is to first touch the heart," Steinberg said.
As the program facilitator, Steinberg sees confronting pain as the best way to move past it. She believes self-awareness is key to making better choices.
Weekly gatherings are held worldwide, led by educators trained by Steinberg. Aside from the microphone sessions, arguably some of Steinberg's most important work over the past 25 years has been her teaching inmates at San Quentin prison, through the No More Tears program.
The program was founded by inmates at San Quentin in 2002 to combat the rise of violent crime in Oakland and to reduce the recidivism rates of black men.
Like the AIM program, No More Tears provides a safe space for inmates to talk about their feelings.
The prison system nationwide has failed to provide avenues for inmates to express themselves and to work on becoming better citizens once they return to society, Steinberg said.
Steinberg is also working on a short documentary on the program.
"The goal of this documentary is to promote what people of color in America are going through," Steinberg said. "It's about reaching those people who don't go through these struggles to help bridge the gap."
Since 2004, more than 1,000 men have completed the program.
Steinberg would like to see the entire prison industrial complex abolished, she said.
"Prison is supposed to be a place where you learn from your mistakes and get help to become a functioning citizen in society, but instead, prisoners are left in cages for years to rot," Steinberg said. "This cycle needs to be broken."