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Community members gathered at Solid Foundations Academy on Wednesday night to honor and remember Turner Cooper. Cooper, who passed away December 14th, left an indelible mark on the city of Tulsa and so many who call it home.
An educator and recent Harvard graduate, Cooper’s love of learning was eclipsed only by his love of people.
At a vigil Wednesday night, friends spoke about Turner’s inimitable spirit.
“He altered my bad days with a text,” musician Steph Simon said of Cooper. “I’d wake up with a bad day and I’d look at my phone and it’s a Turner text.”
“You hear stories about people that just touch everybody and he really was just one of those type of people,” Simon said.
Turner Cooper remembered for the light he brought to everyone around him.
Jenee Stacier, Turner’s close friend, spoke about the significance of the date of Cooper’s vigil.
“Today is Winter Solstice,” Stacier told the crowd gathered.
“It literally translates to standstill of the sun. Today is the darkest day of the year,” she continued. “This time is the greatest darkness and encourages humanity to gather among loved ones and celebrate the rebirth of and return to the light.”
“Honor your stillness, seek solace in the dark and hope in the light of brighter days to come,” Stacier said. “If that ain’t Turner Cooper full circle, I don’t know what is.”
Turner Cooper was known for his deep conversations, his intentional love and his almost spiritual practice of yoga and meditation. Several times throughout the night, his friends would reference pausing and breathing, just like Turner would encourage them to do.
At the start of the program, artist Natalie Lauren channeled Cooper’s energy as she guided those in attendance through a meditative practice.
“We don’t know what tomorrow looks like or how we’re gonna get through tonight,” Lauren said. “But tonight, we have breath. So look around – you are not alone in the grief, you are not alone in the love. We can get through this together, one breath at a time.”
Turner Cooper’s best friend speaks of his life and legacy.
Turner Cooper’s best friend in Tulsa, Stevie Johnson (Dr. View), spoke of his love for Cooper.
He recalled the stress he felt after fighting for the Fire In Little Africa project amid headwinds from some in the city.
“Turner James Cooper, he/him/his, truly saved my life this year,” View recalled. “That’s not a metaphor – he truly saved my life.”
“My blood pressure was high. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and Turner just said one word. He said ‘breathe.’”
“Have you ever put your feet in the grass?” Cooper asked View. “Have you ever just looked up at the sky and seen the stars? Seen the moon? Seen the sun?”
View said Turner Cooper did more than just offer words of support, he offered actions. He leaned in and offered to truly walk alongside View and his family as a friend and as a brother. And he did it all out of a love for his community.
“He was a lover of Blackness and Black queerness,” View said. “He’s the one who introduced me to Audre Lorde.”
View said Lorde talks a lot in her writings about “silences vs. differences”
“We all come from different customs, different traditions and different walks of life,” View said. “We understand and we recognize our differences, but what we don’t talk about is our silences.”
View encouraged the community gathered to “get out of our silos and out of our silences” in order to come together for one another. “Everything is us,” he said.
“Deep breath in… exhale out”
Another local artist, Written Quincey, spoke about the process of working to write his poem for Turner Cooper, whom he first met at a yoga and meditative practice Cooper was leading at Guthrie Green. Written relived the meditative breathing practice Turner Cooper would take people through during his classes, saying “deep breath in… exhale out.”
“Deep breath in… exhale out.”As he was writing the poem, Written said his daughter came in to the room and asked who he was writing a poem for. He said he struggled finding the words to tell his daughter.
“I wasn’t sure if she’d understand,” he said. “But I did, I told her: ‘my friend who passed away’.”
“She looked at me, uncertain, and again asked me, ‘where did he go?’,” Written continued. The spoken word artist fumbled around with his words before his daughter interrupted: “maybe he went to Mississippi” where her sister was. Written said his daughter then turned away and ran out of the room wearing her Superwoman costume.
“And I thought about it,” he said, “if I had to answer that question – maybe superheroes go to Mississippi when they get their wings.”
“Brother, if you get time, whatever time means, I ain’t had a dream in a minute,” Written continued, looking up to the sky. “If you could, just visit me and help me breathe a little bit.”
“Deep breath in… exhale out.”
You can watch the full community vigil celebrating and honoring Turner Cooper’s life here.