“Spirits never die.” – Greg Corbin aka Just Greg, Executive Director of Philly Youth Poetry Movement
I remember Just Greg saying those words last summer at Jus Words, a weekly poetry venue in Philly that runs every Thursday night at Dowling’s Palace. Unfortunately, Greg, me, and some of my friends on the Philly poetry scene were there that night to pay our respect to our fellow spoken-word brotha William Medlock aka Keeper of the Peace (K.O.P.) aka Sugar Bear who passed away earlier that week. It was a complete and unexpected surprise to some of us. K.O.P. was not only a talented poet, but he was also a good person who enjoyed life and loved to have a great time. I shared my thoughts about my friend along with others who knew him, including his family. I recalled K.O.P. once commented that he never heard anybody from the Philly poetry scene say anything bad about me. I truly appreciated his remarks, but I could also say the same about him. And if I knew somebody that did, I would stay away from that person. It was honor to share my thoughts with the Jus Words audience that night and to tell the people I personally knew in the building how much I loved and appreciated their friendship. Afterwards, I got emotional for the first time since I heard about K.O.P.’s passing. Greg came over to me, hugged me, and said, “Spirits never die,” and he was right.
I do have some favorite memories over the years with K.O.P. performing at open mic venues in Philly from Vibes & Verses, the Appregio Po Jazz Series, and Panoramic Poetry, which he briefly hosted in 2001. My personal favorite didn’t occur at a poetry venue, but in the classroom at Temple University where I teach my creative-writing class, Write Here! Write Now!, through the non-profit organization PASCEP. Every semester, I have one class where I invite poets and singers to share their work with my students to encourage them to find their creativity through poetry and song. It was the fall of 2010 and I had an awesome line-up that semester featuring some of the most amazing and talented poets I knew who were magnificent friends: Second Sam formerly known as Sam I Am, Shyster, and Aziza Kinteh from the Philly area; Bernard Collins, originally from Philly but now residing in New Jersey; Angel Rollins from Delaware; and Tantra-Zawadi from Brooklyn. My students were in for a treat that evening but they also receive an extra one that night. Two hours before I was about to leave for Temple, I received a phone call from K.O.P. This was an absolute and welcome surprise since we hadn’t spoken in years. It was great to hear from him, telling me he was on his way to my class and wanted to know where the class was being held. I asked, “How did you know about my class?” K.O.P. said that Sam mentioned it and I gave him the time and location. That night, my students witnessed some FIYAH!!! The poetry was off the hook along with the post-performance, roundtable discussions and Q&A sessions with my students. For me, it felt like a family reunion, sharing a special moment with my loved ones and I couldn’t thank the participants – Sam, Shyster, Aziza, Nard, Angel, Tantra, and K.O.P – enough for their time and generosity. My biggest regret that night was not videotaping that event but I took pictures throughout the night. It was truly a special moment, and unfortunately, the second to last time I would see K.O.P. alive.
Although God needed another soul to bless the spoken-word venues up in heaven, K.O.P.’s spirit lives on through each and every Philly spoken-word poet, singer, and artist who knew him well. I was blessed to know and have him touch my life in his unique, humorous way. He probably has the angels laughing their wings off on the clouds above and pulling practical jokes. There’s no probably about that last statement because I know he is. Someday I look forward to us reuniting again and that will be a wonderful occasion. Today I remember and honor you, my friend, and my thoughts and prayers go out to your family, friends, and loved ones. Happy Birthday, K.O.P.!
Take care and be blessed,