Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This is a bit of a departure from what I typically blog about here on Grown People Talking. But it's in honor of a great, young man who lost his life too soon.

Around this time a year ago tonight, December 14, 2009, I received a call from my mom saying that she'd just heard that my cousin Kemper Holiday* had been shot and killed. She didn't want to believe it, and neither did I. He was one of the last people you'd expect to hear this had happened to. But sadly, it was true. In this age of mobile phones and text messages, we were all getting the news seemingly minutes after the shooting had taken place.

Kemper was just 23 years old. While that age made him an adult, I still thought and think of him as a kid because I grew up with his older brother Felepe. Felepe, my twin brother Marvis, and I were inseparable as kids. And Kemper was his little brother who looked up to him a lot and often followed us around when we'd be at their house or in their neighborhood. So most of my memories of Kemper are from his youth, but over the years I watched him grow into a talented, young man.

Kemper Holiday.

He developed an amazing talent for music. At a young age, he began singing in his mom's gospel choir. And as a teenager, he became minister of music at a local church, a position that showcased his talent to many. He became the go-to guy to sing and play keyboard at weddings, funerals, and special events. Kemper was also an aspiring rapper who had a knack for harmonies and songwriting that helped him make a name for himself.

The last time I saw him, I believe, was in March of last year. He lived in our hometown, Rembert, SC, where we all grew up. Marvis called him up one day because we were planning a memorial service for two of our childhood friends and classmates who died in a car accident in March 1999. We knew that the 10-year-anniversary of that was approaching last year so we wanted to honor their memories and their families by getting everyone together for an evening in Rembert. Marvis asked Kemper if he would provide the entertainment because we felt he would be perfect for this event that we knew would be part-somber, part-celebratory. He agreed, and that night he added the perfect touch to the event. As he’d done so many times, he sang songs that provided comfort to people.

That was the gift Kemper had. He was the gift a group of senseless thugs took away one year ago, one night in Rembert. My hometown is small, but violence happens anywhere, and far too much violence happens there. Kemper was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a home invasion took place. A shootout ensued, even though he wasn’t armed. He was the only one who lost his life.

A few weeks ago, while we were back home during the Thanksgiving holiday, we went to see Kemper's parents. His mom, Pat, greeted us at the door, saying that she was happy to see us and that we must have known she was struggling today. It was a sad day because it was their first Thanksgiving without Kemper, who lived with them up until the time of his death. Last Thanksgiving, both of her sons were home--Felepe was visiting from Atlanta--and it was a joyous occasion. This Thanksgiving, with Kemper no longer with us and Felepe in Colorado for work, Pat was having a tough time dealing. I'm glad we were able to visit her for about an hour. We sat in the living room talking, while James was asleep around the corner in the den.

Sitting there was my first time hearing Pat recap Kemper's last day. She talked about events of that day from when she'd last seen him that morning up until that night when she received the call no mother ever wants to get. Her eyes welled up the entire time she was talking, but she remained strong and composed.

The most touching moment, though, is when she talked about how different life is now without Kemper. How she still often expects that he'll come walking through the door. She said that they'd recently sold his car because it became too painful seeing it parked under the carport each day. One day, she'd pulled into the driveway and saw his car and said to herself, "Oh, Kemper's home already," thinking that he'd gotten home from work early. But the instance his name passed her mind, she snapped back to reality, realizing that Kemper's car was there, but he wasn't home. Nor would he ever be again. When she told that story, I felt my emotions building. It was hurt mixed with anger. I began to think that every young man who walks around here carrying guns, having no regard for life, should have to sit and watch a mother tell this story. How would they feel if it was their mother telling this story?

We walked over to speak to James, who in Thanksgiving tradition had fallen asleep on the couch watching a football game. He hugged us and began talking about how tough this holiday was without Kemper. He shared stories about how he's learned how his son impacted so many people's lives in just 23 years.

Several members of Kemper's family gathered last year during Christmas, less than a week after his funeral.

I think about Kemper often. Even though I hadn't seen him much over the last few years, I think about him because I know he should still be here living his life. But God had other plans. And Kemper's family has some of the strongest faith I've ever seen, so we're all comforted in knowing that they are comforted by that.

Okay, that's where I should end this. But since this is my blog and I say what I want, I'll say this. This past year, I've gone back to my hometown the fewest number of times I ever have since I moved away years ago. I've always lived less than two hours away (Charlotte and Augusta are about equal distance from there, and before that I was in college in Columbia, which is even closer), but I didn't realize this until recently. After Kemper died, something changed in how I see my hometown. While he lost his life that night, the guys he was with, some who are his cousins and friends, and some who I grew up with, haven't learned the lessons of that night. Kemper was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but there are too many wrong places in these times we're living in. And it's happening to too many young black males in small towns like Rembert, SC, and big cities all over this country. How many young black men do we have to lose before young black men decide they want a better future for themselves; a different future for their mothers?

Earlier this year, Pat launched the Kemper Brennen Holiday Memorial Scholarship Fund in her son's honor, giving an initial $5,000 in October to Allen University in Columbia, where Kemper had attended. Contributions can be mailed in the scholarship's name to 8080 Black River Road, Rembert, SC 29128.

Kemper's in a better place. We all try to remind ourselves of that, even though it's hard. And I'm thankful for the memories I have of him.

*Some of my relatives spell Holliday with two L’s and some spell Holiday with one. 


  1. Rest in peace Cousin. Your memory will live on through the many lives you touched. There will never be another like you.

  2. Wow Jarvis. This is awesome.Thanks for taking th time to honor the Kemper's life. I love you and take care.

  3. James,Pat, Felepe /Kemper's familyDecember 15, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    Thanks Jarvis, I really do appreciate the article. I cried when I read it. Thank you so much for sharing with others the story of our beautiful son. We miss him so much. The world would have loved you and your music Kemper. Rest in peace until we meet again. We love you Kemper.black boi :certified kuntry boi!!!

  4. Hi Jarvis, this article is so emotional, and overwhelming. I know that God doesn't make mistakes when he is ready for one of his children. I know that Kemper is looking down smiling on his family members, and friends. It is so hard to accept sometimes the way God leads us to that "Promise Land". Thank you again for this beautifully written article. I love you dearly Mom.

  5. This article is very touching Jarvis. It makes no sense for all these senseless gun violence...Rip. Kemper.

  6. What a small world! I now live in Rock Hill, but grew up in Sumter. In fact, the article attracted my attention because Kemper was one of my students when I taught at CHS. He was a terrific person and I can still picture him sitting in my classroom. Thank you for sharing his story.

  7. Wow this is a wonderful article. He was our musician and friend. Kemper was such a GREAT person. He is truly being missed but never ever forgotten. As a matter of fact I was looking for one of "Kemper's songs" but I couldnt think of the name which brought me to this article.

    Kemper'sRIP KEMPER

  8. Wow Jarvis...That was sweet of you to put this on the web about the well known Kemper Holiday..He will certainly be missed..

    "Gone but Never Forgotten"
    Miss you "Black Boi"

  9. That was a great article, I went to school with Kemper and the smile he had on his face when you saw him could light up a room. He was full of life, and yes, he was definitely a talented singer/rapper. I was so shocked to hear of his passing and it makes me think of all the other fallen Knights (Crestwood H.S.) that will truly be missed! Thank you for sharing such an incredible tribute to someone who will not be forgotten. RIP Kemper!


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