I was sitting in my grandmother’s house when I learned of my friend’s death. Mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, I came across statuses, posts and pictures filled with grief and disbelief on Qwan Lewis’ profile, remembering the man he was.
Many Millersville students mourned on that day. Qwan Lewis, who had graduated from Millersville University in the fall of 2015, died on Aug. 21, 2016 in a fatal car accident. Although I was not his closest confidant, he was a friend and many individuals at Millersville felt the pain of his loss– his classmates, his fraternity brothers, his old roommates and many more.
He was a vital part of Tau Kappa Epsilon, a fraternity on campus, as well as a rising, local hip-hop artist. Many, including his friend Rasheed Wesley and brother Tislam Ramsey, recalled just how many aspects of hip-hop, from free-styling to producing beats, came naturally to him.
“He was one of those people who you could explain what to do, and he’d pick it right up,” Ramsey said. “He was good at pretty much anything he set his mind to.”
From the theme song for the video game “Kingdom Hearts” to “The Ghost of You” by My Chemical Romance, Lewis took music, stripped it down and evolved it into catchy and memorable beats.
“When it came to music, it was natural to him,” Ramsey said.
Not only was he a brilliant musician, but he is also remembered as being a brilliant peer, fraternity brother, and man.
Qwan Lewis touched many lives. Even now, his Facebook profile is still thriving with posts of love, support and the shared memories of a man who had passed away over a month ago.
“I can’t believe you’ve been gone for a month,” Emily Brynn wrote on his Facebook wall. “I will strive the rest of my life to be as kind and accepting towards others as you were. I miss you every day.”
“Today was beyond hard, but one thing we all found comfort in is knowing how great of an impact Qwan had on everyone,” Melissa Brennan wrote.
This is true—Qwan impacted countless lives, from his friends, to his family, his fraternity to fellow musicians. He was a hilarious, lovable, energetic person. So it came as no surprise when I heard that Wesley had planned and organized an event in Qwan’s honor. This was “QwanFest.”
“I wanted to give something that showed how much Qwan meant to me and to everyone else,” Wesley said.
On Oct. 2, he did just that. Over one hundred people gathered in the Student Memorial Center’s Multipurpose Room at 7:30 p.m– not to mourn Lewis, but to celebrate his life and his astounding music. Bathed in purple light, Lewis’ favorite color, the stage was set for a freestyle rap competition, rap battles and live performances of Lewis’ own songs from his posthumous album, “Legends Never Die.” This, produced by Jordan Aris, a friend of Lewis’ for over a decade.
“I loved his big personality,” Aris said. “In middle school, we [actually] didn’t like each other because people compared us. I remember a group of us going to his house to record some music and he came in and was super funny and laughing, and then we got along.”
Over the course of the next ninety minutes, Rasheed Wesley and Quinton Collins emceed a freestyle rap competition, rap battle event, and lip syncing contest in honor of Lewis.
The room now filled with friends, relatives and peers of Lewis, the event opened with a video of him free-styling on WIXQ, Millersville’s own radio station, as images of him flashed across the screen. By the end of the slideshow, a memorial picture created by fellow Millersville student Haakon Hirt remained, showing a smirking Lewis pointing to the crowd, mic in hand, as if he was really there– expressing his love for the cheering audience who turned out.
“This is a night to remember Qwan ‘Young Black’ Lewis,” Wesley announced before starting the lip sync rap competition with performances by Billy Gilmore, John Jones, Quinton Collins and others.
Although it was 8:00 p.m., more and more people poured into the room. All ten tables were filled, leaving a long line of individuals standing in the back, leaning against the walls or on one another.
After the lip sync contest concluded, Aris performed “King Shit,” from the posthumous album he completed featuring his and Qwan’s own songs and collaborations. Halfway through his performance he stopped and nearly fell to his knees, overtaken by the massive crowd of people who were sharing in the mutual adoration of Qwan.
“If you’re listening right now,” Aris said, looking up at the ceiling, “I want you to know how much I love you.”
Everyone in attendance clapped, cheered, and voiced their support for Aris, motivating him to complete the show, which he did with another of Lewis’ songs—one that was unreleased to the public with good reason.
“I hope [Qwan] isn’t mad at me because he hated this song,” Aris said into the mic, laughing along with the audience.
With Aris’ heart-wrenching performance concluded, the rap battles began. After a few rounds of verbal onslaught between Quinton Collins, Julian Worrell, and AJ Jalloh, AJ came out on top.
The proceedings to that moment had been boisterous—full of boundless energy and support from the countless lives that Lewis had touched and yet when the members of Phi Mu Alpha performed Frank Ocean’s “Strawberry Swings,” the crowd grew silent, saddened by the slow, mesmerizing melody of the song and fraternity’s voices.
Afterwards, Ramsey walked to the front to say some final words after a night of celebration, remembrance, and pain.
“This is an overwhelming echo of the love [Qwan] held and the love he showed,” Ramsey said. Many in the crowd nodded in affirmation.
After all the performances were concluded, all the Lewis memorial T-shirts sold and entrance fees counted up, the event raised over $450 towards the Qwan Lewis Memorial Scholarship—a fund that will help future aspiring musicians to attend Millersville University in commemoration of Lewis’ great musicianship.
“Hip-hop is not just music,” Wesley said afterwards, “but it’s an art form and culture. Qwan lived and breathed it. He was the human embodiment of what hip-hop culture is: the work ethic, the creativity, the spontaneity, the fun, the competitiveness.”
And that is why Wesley coordinated a hip-hop-driven event: to honor ‘Young Black’s’ memory, music, and legacy that many will never forget.
“I thought only fifteen people were going to show up,” Aris said, looking around at the dispersing crowd, “but a lot of people came out.”
Although Qwan Lewis is gone, his music and memory will continue to be cherished and celebrated.
As Wesley said to me later, “Qwan was a best friend, a brother, a mentor—just one of the best people you could’ve known. Even if you didn’t know him, he was so welcoming. You know those textbook ways to describe what a good person is? Qwan was that—a genuine, open-hearted, kind human being.”
Rest in peace, Qwan.