I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”

–Tupac Amaru Shakur

Fourteen years ago Tupac Shakur died in a Las Vegas hospital. Fourteen years ago hip-hop lost a star. Fourteen years ago hoods across America lost a guiding light. Fourteen years ago the world got a little darker. Fourteen years ago my heart broke. For the first time, a piece of me died mourning someone who I didn’t know personally.

I remember exactly where I was when I found out Tupac had died. Just like I remember where I was when the planes hit the World Trade Center on September 11th. Just like I remember where I was when the massiveness of the Hurricane Katrina disaster hit me. It may seem overdramatic to you, but Tupac’s death was just that epic to me.

I was a freshman in high school. Sitting in a wool band uniform in hellish heat at one of my first football games in the marching band. A couple of my friends from middle school came to speak to me. After exchanging greetings, she spoke those words. “You know Tupac died.” My heart dropped. She couldn’t be right. I mean this is TUPAC we’re talking about. He was invincible. He was a living legend, and legends just didn’t end their stories like this. This is the same man who had prospered after serving prison time. This is the same man who was shot 5 times the day before being found guilty of molestation. This is the same man who was shot down in Vegas, yet still lived…for six days.

I wanted to cry, but being the cool and calm teenager I was, I could never shed a tear…in public…over a man I really didn’t know. But why did I even want to cry over Tupac. Maybe it was because he, my mother, and her twin sister all shared a birth day. He had felt like part of our family for years. Maybe it was because he was SOOOOOOO FREAKING SEXY!!!!! I fell in love with him in Poetic Justice. His posters were ALL over my wall. Maybe it was because I was simply a die heart fan. Albums, movies, videos…if Tupac was in it, I was on it!

What I didn’t know then, but I completely understand today, is that Tupac had impacted my life in a way that no other artist in my lifetime will probably ever do. He had captured the essence of the social issues occurring around me and beautifully and poetically put them to music. He had boldly spoken his truths, and the truth of many others, in the face of undying criticism. He had become the bold and brazen leader of a whole generation. And he had done so genuinely, without hiding his flaws or his imperfections.

Many debates have arisen, and I’m sure they will continue, about who is the greatest rapper of all times. My opinion stands firm and solidified, as it has for 14 or so years. That title belongs to Tupac and Tupac alone. Yes, you can debate his skills, talent, and numbers; however you can’t debate the influence he’s had on society.

Tupac has undoubtingly had a bigger influence on our culture than any other rapper. Tupac studied literary greats like Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Niccolo Machiavelli, and Khalil Gibran, and shared their teachings with a larger audience through his song lyrics. He inspired a culture of people to resist political injustices and advocate social change. And he boldly spoke his mind without fear of repercussion. Tupac remains the greatest rap artist of all times not necessarily because of what he did while he was alive, but because of the legacy he has left behind. It speaks volumes when I can play a random Tupac episode of A Different World in my classroom and he command the respect (and silence) of a classroom of students who think that Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame are the greatest to grace the mic.

Tupac’s lyrics, life, and words touched and changed my life…a little black girl, minding her business, living your typical upper-middle class lifestyle. And while his songs, movies, and poems inspire me regularly, there’s one quote that lives with me daily. In an interview Tupac said, “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world.”

As a sheltered rich girl, Tupac’s lyrics brought to life a world I had been spared from…a world that affected those around me…a world that was near me, yet didn’t personally touch me. I didn’t like this world or the effects it had on the people or community around me. I wanted to change that world. I HAD to change that world.

So every day that I go and teach the next generation. Every time I write a blog that will encourage and inspire others to be great. Every time I work toward political change in this country. Every time I pull a child aside to have a life changing conversation, help them complete a college application, or offer practical, real world advice, I think back to this quote from Tupac. He may not have changed the world by himself, but he has definitely inspired ME and sparked my brain as work day by day to inspire and change the world and those around me.

R.I.P. Tupac Amaru Shakur (June 16, 1971 – September 13, 1996). May your life and legacy continue to live on and spark the brains that will change the world.