O’Shae Sibley, dancer killed in alleged NYC hate crime, celebrated in Philadelphia

O'Shae Sibley
Jake Kelly, right, father to O’Shae Sibley, gestures to the sky while talking about his son following a celebration of life on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, at The Met in Philadelphia.
AP Photo/Joe Lamberti

Family members and friends gathered Tuesday to mourn and celebrate the life of O’Shae “Sage” Sibley – the 28-year-old dancer who was fatally stabbed last month in Brooklyn in what authorities there have described as a homophobic attack.

Sibley, a Philadelphia native, spent most of his life in the city before moving to New York to further hone his talents as a dancer. Sobs echoed during the ceremony, held at the Met Philadelphia, and Sibley’s mother, Onetha Sibley, groaned in agony as his casket was closed.

Family members gather outside following during a celebration of life for O’Shae Sibley on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, at The Met Philadelphia.AP Photo/Joe Lamberti

“He just showed love. O’Shae was always about family,” Jake Kelly, his father, told reporters. “He’s a peaceful person. To know O’Shae is to love O’Shae.”

On July 29, during a stop at a gas station, Sibley and his friends were reportedly voguing – a style of dance popular in the LGBTQ community – shirtless to a Beyonce song when they were confronted by a group of teenagers.

The altercation, part of which was caught on video, allegedly included anti-gay and racist slurs, and a 17-year-old boy has been charged with committing a hate-motivated murder. Prosecutors have not identified him.

Sibley’s killing sparked an outcry, particularly in the LGBTQ community.

“O’Shae would have done everything in his power to stick up for what he believed in and to show it,” said Otis Pena, one of the friends who was with Sibley at the gas station. “He encouraged us to stand out and be us.”

Representatives from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office attended the celebration of life ceremony but declined to comment.

“I’m glad they got the guy,” Kelly said. “I hope justice will be served, and it’s just a tragedy.”

Dancer Onederful Ancrum performs Tuesday, Aug. 8, during O’Shae Sibley’s celebration of life.Jack Tomczuk

Mourners lined up Tuesday afternoon on Poplar Street to pay respects at the viewing, which included an open casket. The service featured scripture readings, a video tribute and a solo performance by Onederful Ancrum, of the Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco). He was later buried at Fernwood Cemetery in Lansdowne.

Instructor Karen Pendergrass remembered a 14-year-old Sibley poking his head into her middle school dance class. Two years later, he joined Philadanco’s apprentice assembly.

“His dedication and commitment to his craft, his joy and his artistic ability will remain a beacon of light for other young men and women,” Pendergrass said.

Family members of O’Shae Sibley attend his viewing Tuesday, Aug. 8, at the Met Philadelphia.Jack Tomczuk

After relocating to New York a few years ago, Sibley, who attended Girard College, Mastery Charter and Temple University, participated in the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Extension program and danced in Kemar Jewel’s “Love Letter to Black Queer Men.”

Philadanco is planning to set up a scholarship for young dancers in Sibley’s honor, Pendergrass told those assembled. He received a funding award to attend the company’s Philadelphia School of Dance Arts as a teenager.

Bishop Bernard Brown, of North Philadelphia’s United Church of the First Born, delivered an impassioned eulogy, encouraging people to mind their own business and not judge others.

“God loved O’Shae, despite what anybody says,” Brown said. “He was loved by God.”