Kenneth Cobbs challenged me and instructed me like few other persons in my life in such a brief time. I can count on one hand the people who have had this kind of impact in this short a time, and they all seem to totally, irretrievably disappear. At least Kenny left me with a couple books of his poetry, including one poem about me. It is not particularly complimentary toward me. I was alarmed when I read it. Kenny and I discussed it. He stuck to his guns and defended it. This was how he felt. It cut me to the quick. I was grateful for the critique and thanked him for his honesty. I asked his forgiveness, for that was not how I wanted to come off or how I intended our ministry to be perceived. At the time, I published it in The King’s Jubilee newsletter as a confessional, with an appeal to help please, let’s all do better.
Kenny had given me two booklets of his poetry that he had typed up. He managed to photocopy several copies and staple and fold them. He would sell them for $5 each to raise a little cash. I made some copies for him. I told him I would retype and reset the booklets in nicer fonts, with full color covers. I did this. He never showed up to retrieve them or the money for the copies that I sold for him. I never saw him again. I contacted the nuns who he said he was visiting that week. they had not heard from him. I left my phone number. I have searched for him every couple of years, since, to no avail. That was in 1998. I keep hoping that he chose to disappear and become a Buddhist monk somewhere. He was an intense person, wise beyond his years, yet I fear the world was too rough for him. He had been part of the MOVE family and had not recovered from the terrorism inflicted by the city, and the lies and machinations to frame Mumia Abu Jamal for killing a cop; after Mumia dared to report sympathetically about MOVE.
Kenny took me down a peg. I was glad for it. He did it with honesty, in the spirit of true brotherhood and love. I have gone back again and again to our conversations and his critiques to see how I measure up “according to the Kenny scale.” If he knew, he would laugh so loud!
I painted this from emotional memory. Kenny’s skin was darker. I have a hard time with painting dark skin tones and still getting feature definition. Sorry. My counselor and I talked about this painting today. This is the first time I have obscured a part of a face. I think this is because both of us were blocked in some major ways. He was dealing with PTSD from Mayor Goode’s bombing of West Phila. I was a recovering fundamentalist; had been abused by clergy, yet still playing the clergy game. Kenny’s right eyebrow is raised. This was done subconsciously on my part, but it makes perfect sense. Whenever I think of Kenny, I think of our conversations and his piercing, unflinching criticism. It is rare that I can find someone who can give as good as get. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” (Prov. 27:6) I measure my progress on stepping down from my “god complex” and getting over being a “white knight” on the “Kenny Scale”. This is the raised eyebrow and slightly more open right eye. (his right) The background color of orange and shirt as bright red were chosen because of the MOVE fire on Mother’s Day, 1985. My missing front tooth is from that night, as well. But that’s another story.
I think I’m doing pretty OK on the “white knight” problem. I’ve been invited to events by black friends. When I have shown up, I was the only white guy there. I overhear their friends ask, “You didn’t say he was white.” My friend says, “Oh, I forgot.” At one party, they replied, “You forgot?!” My friend said, “Yeah. Chill. Just get him a beer. Talk to him for a while. You’ll see he forgot, too.” I think Kenny would be just OK with me now.