The memorial service for Philadanco! dancer O’Shae Sibley was held Aug. 8 at The Met in North Philadelphia.
Hundreds of people attended the service for the rising star, who was stabbed to death on July 29 while voguing with friends to Beyoncé’s music at a Brooklyn gas station. The hate crime killing has garnered national attention and tributes from fellow dancers, former dance instructors, Sibley’s current Alvin Ailey Dance Troupe group and Beyoncé herself.
A program given to those in attendance titled the service “The Grand Finale of O’Shae Leon ‘Sage’ Sibley.” The service included music and dance. Bishop Bernard Brown, who delivered the eulogy at the service, emphasized that while hate killed Sibley, his life was about love.
“God is not a God of hatred,” Brown said. “He’s a God of love.”
The City of Philadelphia issued a proclamation in honor of the slain dancer, who was a native Philadelphian and whose 10 siblings and other family members still live in Philadelphia. Sibley’s family sat at the front of the hall, dressed in blue and white for Sibley. Some family members wore t-shirts emblazoned with Sibley’s name and photo.
Some of those family members spoke at the service. Sibley’s sister Dezirah Kelly told Action News, “Without him, it’s like the night without the moon. I feel kind of lost, hurt.”
Sibley’s father, Jake Kelly, told Action News, “It’s just a tragedy. I want to thank everyone who came out to show love and support.”
Otis Peña was with Sibley during the altercation that led to his death and tried to staunch the bleeding while they waited for EMTs to arrive on the scene. Peña spoke at the service, saying, “O’Shae was a beacon of light for a lot of us in our community.”
“I want everybody to remember that in those dark times, there is always light, and that one light that everyone here feels is O’Shae,” Peña told mourners.
Members of Philadanco! performed a dance in honor of Sibley.
“I think something good will come out of it, because so many more young men will know, it’s OK to dance,” said Philadanco! Founder Joan Meyers Brown.
Philadanco! is also planning to set up a scholarship in Sibley’s name.
Prior to the Aug. 8 service in Philadelphia, vigils were held in New York City for Sibley. On Aug. 3, more than 80 people held a vigil outside the iconic Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. The bar was the site of the Stonewall riots in 1969 that led to the modern gay rights movement. The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center in Greenwich Village also held a memorial on Aug. 5.
On Aug. 4, a memorial event was held at the Midwood Mobil station where Sibley was killed. During the event, members of the ballroom community — of which Sibley was a part — at the House of Old Navy and the House of D’Mure-Versailles, were plentiful. Those in attendance were urged to “vogue as an act of resistance.” At that event, which was reported on in the New York Times in depth with photos and interviews with participants, Peña said, “pioneers and icons of ballroom have come out to pay their respects to O’Shae tonight, and that’s beautiful.”
Peña said, “Vogueing is the dance of our people. It’s a dance of rebellion created by us and for us.”
Dmitry Popov, a 17-year-old teen, has been charged with Sibley’s murder and other hate crime charges. He surrendered to police with his attorney on Aug. 5.
In a video posted to Facebook, Sibley’s friend Peña said he, Sibley and friends were voguing and dancing at the gas station while pumping gas when they were confronted by another group of men.
Investigators say a group started yelling homophobic slurs to the group telling them to stop dancing.
Peña said both he and Sibley told the men, “Stop saying that. There is nothing wrong with being gay.”
“They murdered him because he was gay, because he stood up for his friends,” Peña said in the video.
Peña added, “He was just saying we may be gay, and we’re listening to our music, but there’s no hate, it’s all love — when you stabbed him. You stabbed my brother.”
According to an ABC News report referencing a criminal complaint, a “confidential witness … did hear that defendant and the defendant’s associates use homophobic slurs towards a group of approximately five men and state, in sum and substance, ‘stop dancing here, we are Muslim, get that get s— out of here.'”
Popov’s lawyer, Mark Henry Pollard, later confirmed the defendant’s religion.
“He’s Christian,” Pollard said in a phone interview with the New York Times. “Somehow they got it confused, he’s not a Muslim. I could understand if there were other friends that were, but he was the only person arrested.”
Joseph Kenny, an assistant chief at the New York Police Department’s detective bureau, gave an Aug. 5 news conference with Mayor Eric Adams announcing the arrest. He said, “We can see on the video the heated verbal dispute quickly turns physical.”
Kenny said the men yelled homophobic slurs and anti-Black statements at Sibley and his friends. They demanded that Sibley, Peña and the other men stop dancing. Kenny said bystanders “acted as peacemakers,” and the men shouting at Sibley’s group started to leave, but the defendant did not.
Video of the altercation shows the teen stabbing Sibley once in the chest. The entire incident lasted about four minutes, Kenny said. The stabbing damaged Sibley’s heart. A witness said the teenager then jumped into a Toyota Highlander that sped off. Mr. Sibley was taken to Maimonides Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.
The suspect has been charged with second-degree murder, which has been charged as a hate crime, and with criminal possession of a weapon.
At the news conference, Mayor Adams said that Sibley’s family had been affected by something that “clearly” was a hate crime.
“This is a city where you are free to express yourself,” Adams said. “And that expression should never end with any form of violence.”
Sibley had attended Philadanco! dance classes on scholarship. Brown said, “(He was) coming from North Philly, where the guys teased you for being a dancer, he persevered.”
In a Facebook post, along with many photos of Sibley performing, Brown wrote, “O’Shae was a student of the Philadelphia school of dance arts at Philadanco since the age of 14 and was also in our apprentice company D/2. This news is absolutely heartbreaking and we believe no one deserves to be targeted for simply being themselves and living in their truth. We are keeping high hopes that Justice will be served. He will be missed dearly. We ask that you also keep his Family and loved ones in your Prayers.”
A “Dancers Memorial Fund at Philadanco! for O’Shae” has been set up at GoFundMe by Brown who wrote, “This fund will support his family in the future where needed. His life with Philadanco was important to all of us. We want to ensure that he is never forgotten.”