Sojourner Kincaid Rolle Celebration of Life

Sojourner Kincaid Rolle was everywhere in Santa Barbara. I think I first met her about 30 years ago at one activist event or another, but it is hard to remember which of so many events it was. She was Poet Laureate for the City of Santa Barbara from 2015-2017.

She was an educator, seeking out the most challenging young people who were incarcerated and/or at risk of incarceration. I was honored to be a part of her 80th birthday party a few months back, knowing that she did not have long to live. Sojourner passed away on Monday, November 13, 2023 after a battle with cancer.

I knew her husband Rod Rolle for decades as well, as a fellow professional photographer. For most of that time I did not even realize they were a married couple!

On Martin Luther King Day, January 15, 2024, a Celebration of Life and Legacy for Sojourner was the centerpiece of the all-day Martin Luther King celebration in Santa Barbara.

Here are my photos from that Celebration at First United Methodist Church. I am sharing these with the kind permission of Rod.

The organizers have kindly shared the entire Celebration on YouTube, which was nearly three hours long:

Community organizer Jordan Killebrew helped organize this celebration and created a printed program for the event that is a magnificent work of art. Here he kindly shared it with me as a PDF.

Here Jordan was speaking at the Celebration, but mostly he did what he says he does best: working quietly behind the scenes:

For me, the highlight of the Celebration came near the beginning, with her husband Rod Rolle recalling how they met. And how their relationship thrived by giving each other support and by giving each other plenty of space.

Here are my notes from Rod’s speech, which is almost verbatim, but I will take the blame for any deviations.

Rod started by saying, “Today’s a good day, Sojourner”

In her final days they took time to cherish the good days together.

Celebrating receiving a grant. Going to Butterfly Beach.

“I lost my best friend. The love of my life. I feel blessed to have known her.”

He offered thanks to all those who helped make the Celebration a success:

  • Pastor Rob
  • United Methodist Women of Faith
  • Reverend Ficklin
  • MLK Committee of SB
  • SB Healing Justice
  • Juneteenth SB
  • Pueblo Rey Funeral Home for the beautiful display

“And the Santa Barbara community for making Santa Barbara so much a home for us.”

Sojourner and Rod met in 1977 through a mutual friend named Julia. Julia said her friend’s name is Joy.

Rod thought: “Joy. Hmm, interesting.”

Julia arranged for the three of them to have lunch together at the White Horse Restaurant in Charlotte NC. Joy and Rod hit it right off. They liked travel and talked about places they might like to go.

“We stood by each other.”

Rod worked in radio and he got fired.

Joy hung in there for him.

Joy graduated from the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

She was accepted at the prestigious UC Berkeley Law School.

She asked him to help her drive cross country.

They passed through many cities and towns along the way. They would think how one place or another looked like a good place to live.

Going up highway 101 they stopped at a strange place with traffic lights. Mountains on one side and the beach on the other side. This might be a nice place to live. Then they kept going, to get her to Berkeley.

Rod had to go back to North Carolina. Joy got settled in Berkeley.

Rod was supposed to go back to California. But his car died. He was stuck in North Carolina for a couple of years!

He decided he wanted to go to photography school. He wanted the best. A friend suggested a place called Brooks. In a strange place called Santa Barbara.

Rod called Joy. She knew Santa Barbara. “Where the traffic lights were”.

He got a new car and raised $700. He had $74 when he arrived in California.

He went to Berkeley and Joy helped him while he worked a few jobs and saved enough to come back to Santa Barbara.

After Joy graduated Berkeley Law School she changed her name to Sojourner. Her mother said if she had known the name Sojourner she would have given her that name.

At this point Rod had completed two years at Brooks.

Sojourner came to Santa Barbara to support Rod. She got a job at City Hall. He finished Brooks. The plan was to go to Atlanta. But Santa Barbara had other plans. One job led to another. And he had many jobs, not just photography. Including performing music.

Meanwhile, Sojourner met Shirley Kennedy and they started working together on early Martin Luther King celebrations.

Years went by. Sometimes Rod and Sojourner worked together and sometimes they each did their own thing.

Sojourner got involved with City At Peace. Teaching kids how to write to express themselves. She did conflict mediation and taught alternatives to gang violence.

She taught poetry.

He taught video production.

Both worked with people with special needs.

A lot of trips to Disneyland.

Sojourner’s dedication to Santa Barbara was endless.

She would get up early and as soon as possible, be on the phone. Then she would be working on project. Then writing a poem. Then it would all repeat.

Rod noted that both he and Sojourner were artists.

One time he heard an interview with Miles Davis. Davis was asked, “What kind of drummers do you hire?” Rod’s ears perked up as he thought maybe he could drum for Miles Davis.

Miles Davis answered: “I like drummers who can play the space between the beats”. Rod pondered the meaning. They can understand the flow.

He discussed this with Sojourner. They put on a Martin Luther King photo exhibit at the Eastside Library. They called it “The Space Between the Beats”

Sojourner had an exhibit at Karpeles. She called it “The Space Between Us”.

“We cherished that space in our own way.”

Rod ended, thank everyone for being there, filling this space w love. And then:

“Sojourner, it’s a good day.”

There were many other memories shared over the nearly three hours of the Celebration. I want to share one other that stuck with me. It was from this woman Margaret Matson.

Matson said that she and Sojourner met in the early 1990s in a surprising way. Matson had a friend who was moving to Italy and the friend gave Matson her old Volvo station wagon. With just one rule: “You must share it with my friend Sojourner and you must do anything she asks of you.”

This led to a lot of time together and some wonderful road trip adventures together. But then Matson jumped to the recent past. Sojourner was not yet in hospice, but she was very quiet with her eyes closed. All of a sudden, Sojourner spoke, without opening her eyes.

It seemed Sojourner was saying, “I saw an aunt.” Matson asked if her aunt had come to visit. No. “No. I saw an ant. I saw it twice. It’s my scout. My escort. You have to make me an ant.”

Matson said that she makes a lot of things but she didn’t know what she meant. Sojourner said, “You will know.”

Matson went on: “The days passed and procrastination is my friend and I kept hoping that the command would just evaporate. Or that I would forget or that somehow I would be out of this assignment. And with just a few days left I thought I think I have to deal with the ant issue.”

“I went online and I went to ant images and they were kind of creepy and I didn’t know what to do.”

“And then along came an image that was like a bookplate and it had an ant that was drawn in the late 1600s. By a woman Maria Sibylla Merian. She was also known as a scientist because she studied the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies.”

Matson knew that was indeed the Ant that Sojourner was seeking! Matson created a drawing and that became a pillow for Sojourner with the help of a woman named Leticia. Here is that very special Ant in all of its original glory!

Please check out the full video for more stories. I will share some of my many photos and you can look for these people in the video. Thanks to Jordan Killebrew for identifying so many of these people for me by name!

Santa Barbara Poet Laureate (Sojourner’s old job!) Melinda Palacio:

Kincaid family member Vanessa Monroe:

Singer Lazandria Richdey:

Sojourner friend Henry Brown:

Janis Mayfield Rorick:

Wendy Sims Moten:

Kundai Chikowero, speaking on behalf of her daughter, who learned poetry from Sojourner:

Rod Rolle family member Zahia Z Rolle:

Sarah York Ruben:

Mayor Randy Rowse presented a proclamation for Rod about Sojourner from the Santa Barbara City Council:

And Congress Member Salud Carbajal’s representative presented a similar proclamation from the US Congress!

Akivah Northern:

Dr. Anna Everett with Jordan Killebrew:

Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams:

Krystle Sieghart Farmer:

Pastor David Moore 

Sojourner’s much younger brother Barron Kincaid:

And, finally, a group photo before we headed off for lunch together!


Written by sbrobert

What do you think?


0 Comments deleted by Administrator

Leave a Review or Comment


    • Thank you for the kind words, Mo! It was indeed delightful to hear Rod tell their “how we met” story and how they supported each other while giving each other space.

      Yes, there were a number of moments of comic relief!

Granada Theatre Forced to Cancel Shows Due to Water Damage

Drone Footage Reveals Possible Great White Shark Newborn off Carpinteria Coast