Black History: Special Delivery!!

Dr. Mutulu Shakur (1950 – )

Established on 1970, The People’s Drug Program was launched at Lincoln Hospital in New York by the Young Lords, the Black Panther Party, and other community activists. The Young Lords is a Puerto Rican liberation organization founded in 1968. The Black Panther Party was Black power political organization founded in 1966. Instrumental in this cause was Mutulu Shakur, a member of the black liberation group, the Republic of New Afrika.  Shakur was interested in the use of acupuncture to treat addiction.  Shakur became aware of acupuncture when his son received it after a car accident.    Shakur received training and began to practice acupuncture as part of the People’s Drug Program in 1971 along with Walter Bosque and other community volunteers. 

The program would eventually be known as the Lincoln Detox Center.  The center was located within Lincoln Hospital.  At the time, the hospital was the primary source of health care for Black and Latinx residents living in the South Bronx.  Many viewed the care provided there as substandard and referred to it as the “butcher shop”.  In November 1970, The Young Lords, Black Panther Party, and other activists took over a portion of the hospital.  One of their primary demands was that the hospital establish a drug treatment program for the community and run by the community. Initially, it was entirely volunteer-run.  Lincoln Detox Center brought the community together in many ways beyond just addiction treatment, providing health care, acupuncture, political education, and other community services. Initially, the program used methadone treatment to support patients through the initial stages of withdrawal, eventually weaning them off.  Acupuncture was then used to support patients in later stages of recovery.  These programs provided an empowering space for the local community.  Many patients also became acupuncture practitioners. 

Many Black, Indigenous, and Latinx community members were strongly against methadone treatment, feeling it was exchanging one drug for another. These sentiments, combined with a distrust of the health care system in general, made acupuncture a popular alternative. Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese Medicine practice of inserting thin needles at strategic points to balance the body’s flow of energy.  Community members embraced acupuncture because it did not require medication and positioned the community to be healers of one another.  Mutulu Shakur was instrumental in making low-cost health care available to the community as a whole.  Acupuncture was considered to be a cost effective health care treatment.

On November 30, 1978, the Lincoln Detox Center was closed down by police; due to alleged “mismanagement.” Staff at Lincoln expressed concern that the center was singled out due to problems within the larger hospital.  Shakur personally believed that acupuncture treatment was seen as a threat by the government.  Many patients spoke out against the closure. Lincoln Detox Center relocated to a different building that was in poor condition. The center eliminated methadone treatment and focused solely on detox through acupuncture after the move.  A five-point auricular treatment help reduce withdrawal symptoms, including cravings and emotional distress. Shakur and the center became well known for their use of acupuncture.  Shakur became a sought after speaker both nationally and internationally.  In later years, acupuncture would enjoy another wave of popularity.  However, the newfound notoriety was void of the connection to addressing oppression and community empowerment.  Instead, the practice was now targeted as a resource for the middle class and more affluent individuals.

Mutulu Shakur led the work of the Lincoln Detox Center from 1971 – 1978.  In 1978, he also became the co-founder and co-director of the Black Acupuncture Advisory Association of North America (BAAANA) and the Harlem Institute Of Acupuncture, training hundreds of acupuncturists.  Shakur was Born Jeral Wayne Williams on August 8, 1950.  He is the brother of Assata Shakur and the stepfather of rapper Tupac Shakur.  Both Mutulu and Assata were members of the Black Liberation Army, a black nationalist organization operating in the United States from 1970-1981.  The group was comprised primarily of former members of the Black Panther Party.    Assata Shakur has been living in Cuba for the last 30+ years after escaping from prison, where she was incarcerated on a murder charge.  It is alleged that her brother Mutulu Shakur assisted in her escape. 

Mutulu Shakur is currently incarcerated in federal prison, serving a 60-year prison sentence for his alleged involvement in a 1981 robbery of an armored truck, which resulted in two people’s death.  It is reported that Shakur orchestrated the theft to fund a black nationalist revolution.  Mutulu Shakur evaded capture for 6 years before being tried and convicted.  He was also convicted for aiding and abetting his sister’s escape from prison.   Mutulu Shakur has maintained that he is innocent of murder .  His supporters maintain that he has accepted responsibility for his actions and wants to continue to be a force for good.  His legal team continues to advocate for his release.  To date, all attempts to request his parole have been denied.  Currently, Mutulu Shakur is suffering from bone marrow cancer.  His family and supporters are now seeking his release due to his declining health. 

While incarcerated, Mutulu Shakur launched the “Dare 2 Struggle organization in New York.  The organization released a ten-year tribute album for Tupac Shakur in 2006.