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Former Alderman Terry Kennedy remembers his late twin brother, Gary 'Dhati' Samuel Kennedy

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Danny
During a 2017 conference, Dhati Kennedy holds up a newspaper story on the commemoration of the 1917 massacre in East St. Louis. Most St. Louisans knew Gary Samuel Kennedy as “Dhati Majaliwa,” which in Kiswahili means “Free will, determination, and talented.”

Former St. Louis Alderman Terry Kennedy was culturally reflective when discussing the recent passing of his twin brother, Gary (Dhati) Samuel Kennedy. Most St. Louisans knew him as “Dhati Majaliwa” which in Kiswahili means “Free will, determination, and talented.”

“There’s an African tradition that says twins hold a spirit that’s too big for one body…but it’s still one spirit,” Terry said, speaking to the connection between he and Dhati.

Dhati died from complications related to leukemia on Friday, Nov. 11.

He was diagnosed with the illness in September after passing out at a local grocer. Dhati spent the past two months with his twin brother, Terry, who considers their final days together a blessing.

Harkening back to the African proverb, Terry Kennedy said he physically felt a shift in he and his brother’s universe after the dire diagnosis.

“We would say ‘we’re sick,’ not just him…that’s how connected we were,” Kennedy recalled, adding: “When twins get in trouble, they always look for one another. Most people don’t have a sense of what it’s like to always feel this other person.”

The twins were both storytellers, artists, activists, and champions for Black people — politically, culturally, and economically. In a way, they were born into that dramatic world. There were five children in the Kennedy home in the 4100 block of Enright Ave.

Their father, Samuel Kennedy, was a native of East St. Louis who served as president of a Textile Union prior to becoming alderman of the18th Ward in 1967. He held that seat until his passing in 1989. Terry Kennedy assumed the role and held the aldermanic seat until 2019 when he decided not to seek reelection.

Their mother, Frances, was active in community activities and the arts and was the first black nurse to conduct orientations at Children’s Hospital, Kennedy said, adding that she was the one who brought the music and influence of legends like Harry Bellefonte and South African-born singer, Miriam Makeba, into their home.

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St. Louis Public Radio
Dhati Kennedy, at left in blue, drums at a ceremony recognizing his twin brother Terry's last day as an alderman on April 15, 2019.

The Kennedy Twins

The Kennedy Twins are known for speaking with a quiet wisdom that Terry attributes to his “fiery, contemplative and reflective” parents.

Family lore has it that their great, great grandfather was a slave who escaped captivity with his wife after savagely beating a slave master. Plantation and East St. Louis stories, including the race riots of 1917, were passed through the Kennedy Family for generations. Mother’s grandfather, a griot in his own right, was the only one who predicted his daughter would have twins even though doctors detected one heartbeat.

Terry, who is 18 minutes older than his twin brother, Dhati, recalled a day in kindergarten when their teacher asked if anyone in the class could play an instrument. He remembered the fear of being embarrassed when his brother raised his hand. To Terry’s utter surprise, Gary, who never had lessons, played a whole song on piano.

“He told me he could see and hear music in his head,” Kennedy said. “He didn’t consider himself a musician per se…he just used whatever was available-a spoon, a fork-anything to make music. He easily took to music.”

When internationally acclaimed dancer Katherine Dunham brought her troupe member, Senegalese drummer, Mor Thiam (rapper, Akon’s father) to briefly live in St. Louis, the elder Kennedy’s arranged to have him teach Dhati how to play the djembe (a goblet-shaped drum traditionally carved from African hardwood).

The Kennedy Twins came of age during St. Louis’ cultural revolution of the 1970s. In their teens, they joined the Black Student Union and the Black Patriot Party at Vashon High School. They were members of the Free Angela Davis Support Committee, the St. Louis Kwanzaa Committee, and the Sudan Illustrators, which started at Mid-City Community Center, and manages Progressive Emporium & Education Center.

All their activities as youngsters were “political,” Kennedy stated, including his brother’s love for drumming.

“He entered drumming as a political act for two reasons,” Kennedy said. “One; to recapture the art and a tradition that had been denied us during slavery and two; to use music to teach lessons and give factual information about our culture and history.”

The twins separated briefly during their college years. Terry attended Howard University and Dhati studied music and history at Hampton University in Virginia, where he learned the South African Gumboot Dance as a member of the Hampton African Dance Troupe.

Dhati was a mainstay at local festivals. He organized St. Louis’ first open mic poetry and drumming sets under the name “Ngoma” where luminaries such as Eugene Redmond, Shirley LeFlore and the Bosman twins shared their talents with eager audiences. He was actively involved in the Michael Brown and George Floyd protests and organized the annual commemoration of the East St. Louis Race Riot.

According to a press release from Progressive Emporium, Dhati is survived by a large family, including his older sister Dr. Joyce Kennedy, sister Katherine “Azima” Kennedy, his daughter Laurice Pye, son Kevin Liddell, grandson Damon Clark, his companion Coralicia Howard and her four children and eight grandchildren and “a host of other relatives, friends and extended family who will miss him.”

Terry said he wants people to remember Dhati as “a good, caring, loving, ideologically clear and committed brother who loved his people. He was extremely gifted, and he shared those gifts with whomever came his way.”

When asked if still feels that connection with his brother even in death, Terry answered resolutely:

“Oh, absolutely.”

Sylvester Brown Jr. is The St. Louis American’s inaugural Deaconess Fellow. 

For more information on services for Gary (Dhati) Samuel Kennedy, please contact: Veronica L. Banks at Progressive Emporium & Education Center (314)  875-9277.

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