Friday, August 29, 2003

Wheels of Soul 

Last night was the premiere of the WHEELS OF SOUL documentary(WYBE public TV).
The Wheels are an outlaw motorcycle group based in West Philadelphia. They’re a
multi-racial, primarily African-American club whose headquarters can be seen
from the EL at 61st & Market St. You can’t miss it. DEATH TO THE KLAN is
painted on the front door of their headquarters.

In a culture where so many outlaw bikers have been portrayed(not altogether
inaccurately)as drug dealers & thugs, the Wheels are unique. The West Philly
block where the group convenes couldn’t be happier to have their neighbors,
who’ve been there since 1967. There is no drug dealing on the Wheels block. The
elderly & women are escorted by the bikers, if they wish. Local business folks
have the WoS to call if there are any problems in their stores. They’ve been
involved in a number of charities & worked with residents to develop community

One of the biker club’s chief spokesmen was Wine-O, aka JR. Some of us knew him
as Jerome Robinson. He was Wheels of Soul president, visual artist & poet. He
had many gallery exhibits in Olde City. He often read his work at the long-
defunct Bacchanal on 13th & South St., where you could have found Lamont
Steptoe, CA Conrad or Linh Dinh in the same room on a given night. He’s
featured prominently in the documentary describing the lifestyle of his
brothers & sisters. It was good to see him.

Jerome was the first poet I ever had a conversation with in Philadelphia. He
was a generous & patient guy, giving his time to talk about poetry with me in
all my ignorance. JR destroyed my preconception of the poet as a brooding,
alienated figure. What I took away from our first meeting was a reinforcement
that pretension helps no one; I should be engaged in(not apart and/or above)
the world, because I am part of a community whether I like it or not. Most of
all, he showed by example that I could just be me. I didn’t have to try to be a
poet. I was/am one.

Robinson was murdered earlier this year. We weren’t best friends, but I did get
to thank him a few months before his death, 12 years after we’d met. He was
flattered & surprised- either humble or unaware he’d taught me anything. I can
still see him smiling in the Tiberrino Courtyard. He’s beyond the stars & in
the soil now. Wheels of Soul keep turning.

Check for the rebroadcast of WHEELS OF SOUL

Frank Sherlock

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