Essays, poetry from late Columbia alum Prince Akbar published in new book

By Abra Richardson, Staff Reporter

Lajuana Lampkins, mother of Prince Akbar, gets tearful talking about her son’s writing and how his life was cut short. Abra Richardson

Prince Akbar was a student at Columbia who graduated in 2006 with an undeclared major, but he focused on creative writing and poetry and also performed slam poetry under the stage name “Jus Rhymz” at popular bars like the Green Mill in Chicago.

When Akbar was 4, his mother, Lajuana Lampkins, was convicted of murder. Lampkins said she was sentenced for a crime she did not commit and that she was protecting her children from an abuser, while also trying to find a comfortable living situation.

With a year left in Lampkins’ prison sentence, Akbar was killed by Calumet City police at age 32 after a physical struggle attributed to mental illness.

Now, a decade since his death, the book “The Collected Works of Prince Akbar aka ‘Jus Rhymz’” shows excerpts, letters and poetry Akbar wrote from his childhood to just before his passing. The book touches on a range of topics including gun violence, racial injustices, college life and letters to his mother.

“He started writing me letters in 7th grade,” Lampkins said. “At that time he started writing essays and poetries, and it said, ‘I wish you was here to see me when I’m writing,’ and so I was not there physically, but he would write me his deepest thoughts and his most personal feelings.”

Akbar visited her in prison monthly for nearly 30 years.

After his passing, Lampkins went to her storage unit and started reading his work that she hadn’t seen before.

“[There was] definitely a spiritual connection,” Lampkins said. “Basically when I’m going through his work I like to be alone. When I was sitting at the storage, I had a bag of papers in front of me. I was going through them. … At the end of my time there, [then I noticed] I had a piece of paper in my hand, and I opened it up to find a picture of him.”

Happiness poured through Lampkins when talking about that portrait of him, because it was a little pick-me-up that she needed at the time.

Daniel X and Shawn-Laree O’Neil found Lampkins through her art and worked with her on the book, which was originally called “They Killed a Minister.”

Lampkins often creates art and travels around Chicago to share and sell her pieces on the street. When working on the book, she decided to design the front and back covers with a portrait of Akbar and other notable Black figures who were victims of racial injustice.

“I said ‘this is your book’ [to Lampkins],” O’Neil said. “So I gave her the draft of ‘They Killed a Minister,’ and in that draft there was one or two pieces by Prince.”

O’Neil and Lampkins wanted to elevate the book and decided to make the book a collection of work by Akbar.

Lampkins celebrated the book launch on May 20 by hosting a small event and visiting the Calumet City Police Department with black balloons in one hand and a copy of the book in another.

She told the front desk worker to give the copy to the officer who first arrived on the scene in 2010 and ultimately shot her son.

O’Neil said the goal was for Lampkins to publish the book she wanted to publish.

Lampkins said publishing Akbar’s work gave him the spotlight he deserved and helped bring awareness to mental health, since Akbar struggled with bipolar disorder. Lampkins said she hopes that people with power will read the book and help open Akbar’s case again.

She wants Calumet City police to “know he’s not forgotten.”

“The Collected Works of Prince Akbar aka ‘Jus Rhymz’” can be purchased through Amazon or through Lampkins’ Venmo.