Who was Brian Powers? Family and friends describe him as a “ball of light.”

words by Noor Hindi, photos by Ilenia Pezzaniti

Brian Powers, 43, was found dead by the University of Akron on the morning of Saturday, June 13. Lt. Michael Miller of the Akron Police Department says police have no leads, and the investigation has posed a challenge because of the lack of witnesses and time of death. Residents with any information are encouraged to call detectives at 330-375-2490, and to “please review if they had been in that area on or around” the time of Brian’s death, or seen him before his death, because “no detail is too small.” Tips can be submitted anonymously. Community members may also donate to his sister’s reward fund at https://gf.me/u/yjnxsw

When loved ones think of Brian Powers, what comes to mind is his laugh: Loud, infectious, deep. When you heard Brian’s laugh, you knew he was in the room, probably rocking his “unicorn hair” with four or five colors on his head.

He loved colors. The brighter, the better; yellow was his favorite. With his lipstick and sunglasses, his 6-foot-3-inch stature and his hearty laugh, you couldn’t not notice Brian.

“He lit up any room that he came into,” says sister Vivian Powers. “He was a ball of light. So energetic and positive and sure of himself.”

Brian often compared himself and his sister to Dora and Boots from Dora the Explorer. As kids, they were inseparable, with Brian insisting he sit next to her at all family functions. They were three years apart, and Brian loved his big sister.

Read more:

As adults, when he couldn’t reach Vivian, he’d joke about pulling out the map from Dora and finding her.

“When he was little, he didn’t talk to other people for about four years. He would whisper things to me. But once he started talking, he never stopped,” Vivian says.

Vivian Powers, Brian’s sister, has been working diligently to find her brother’s killer.

When the two got older, their relationship grew stronger and stronger. Brian would often “pop up” at Vivian’s house during the day, asking to go on a walk, or go to the park, or sit by the lake. He was easy to talk to and easily distracted, often diverging into funny tangents.

He loved animals, Vivian says, especially his beta fish named Miguel, and later, a neighborhood cat that Brian adopted. 

“He would call me in the middle of the night talking about his fish,” Vivian says. “And he was so upset because Miguel couldn’t have friends. And I kept telling him, ‘They’re loners, Brian. If you put a fish in there, he’s going to eat it.’ And he’d say, ‘Well, he’s lonely! And he needs a friend.’”

As kids growing up in South Akron, Vivian always knew Brian was gay. He’d often dress in ways people perceived as feminine, and his walk, which he’d later perfect, was fierce and sassy. To Vivian, “Brian was just Brian,” even as he threw on a skirt, or his Daisy Duke shorts, or became Egypt, “his alter ego.” Though Vivian often worried about his safety, Brian was fearless: He owned his identity and didn’t take disrespect from anybody.

“He did a show at the Interbelt [Nite Club] as a drag queen and I was so proud of him,” she says. “He was gorgeous and so confident and just so sassy. His makeup was flawless, and when he became Egypt, he was a little diva. Just gorgeous and his spirit matched it.”

When he wasn’t with Vivian, he could was working with Hertistine Price at her catering business, or cooking with his cousin, Rose Watkins.

He often got creative with his ingredients, Rose says, once putting pepperoni in the chili he was making for Rose and her kids, whom he loved to give “bags and bags of candy.” After he died, Rose and her kids created a memorial garden for Brian. While digging through the dirt, Rose found a piece of Brian’s blue hair in the ground.

Rose Watkins and Brian Powers were cousins. Rose loved Brian’s authentic and vibrant spirit.

“He had a magical spirit,” Rose says. “I felt that was a sign from him.”

Despite his vibrant personality, Brian often struggled with depression, and he battled addiction on and off for years. Friends describe him as “sensitive,” often hiding away when he was having a hard time.

At IBH Addiction Recovery Center, Brian met Carmella Nelson, his counselor and friend. Carmella describes Brian as someone who “could always find a smile.” He jokingly referred to her as Ms. Caramel, and when he was struggling, he would visit her, humorously shouting, “Ms. Caramel! Where’s Ms. Caramel?”

Carmella says he was very protective of his family and friends. A month before his death, Carmella ran into Brian at a dollar store.

Carmella Nelson was Brian’s coworker and friend. Brian affectionately called her Caramel anytime he would see her.

Carmella recalls, “He said, ‘You be careful out there. Put on your mask. You staying out of trouble? Don’t let me hear someone’s bothering you because don’t make me come down to those streets and find somebody if they’re messing with you!’ He was like that with so many people and his family.’”

His best friend since childhood, Carlton Amos, says Brian was always protective, even as a kid. When they were younger, Carlton and Brian would joke about becoming like Laverne and Shirley, getting an apartment together, “having cute bad boy boyfriends,” and working together.

“We were gay. And we were young. And kids pick on you when you’re not like them. And [Brian] struggled a lot with that,” Carlton says. “I’ll tell you this: He wasn’t going to let nobody disrespect him. He had hands,” he says, laughing.

Any time someone messed with Carlton, Brian would fight them. He usually won. But, Carlton says, Brian wasn’t the type of person to go looking for trouble.

Carlton Amos and Brian Powers had been best friends since childhood, Brian often standing up for Carlton to bullies when they were kids

“He knew no strangers. And in that way, he had an infectious spirit and that rubbed off on me. I was very shy,” Carlton says.

When remembering Brian, friends and family picture the Brian who always laughed, who danced and knew the lyrics to every Beyoncé song, and who was a friend to everyone that met him.

“If you hear him laugh, you’re going to laugh,” Vivian says. “And he always wanted to make people happy.”

A vigil for Brian is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 29 at Hardesty Park. Contact Hertistine Price at 330-203-0938, or email her at justiceforbrian20@gmail.com