A Remembrance of Friendship
Dean Copans ’99 and Ibrahim Abdul-Matin ’99 served as president and vice president of the URI Student Senate. After graduation, they took separate paths, but reconnected through a chance reunion 10 years later. When Abdul-Matin died in June at the age of 46, Copans shared this remembrance of his remarkable, wise, and compassionate friend.
I don’t know if there is any way to adequately summarize him. Ibe was one of the first people I met when I arrived at URI in 1995. I had enrolled very late in the summer and was placed in temporary housing at Weldon where Ibe was living. I think we met on my first or second night on campus.
It was an interesting dynamic. Ibe was a black Muslim from New York, and I, a white South African Jew. We became fast friends and were close throughout our time at URI. In spring of our sophomore year, we ran as a ticket and served as president and vice president of the Student Senate.
After graduating, we didn’t do a great job of staying in touch. Randomly, sometime around 2009, my wife, Amanda, and I were enjoying a day at Stinson Beach (Calif.) when Amanda pointed to someone about 20 yards away standing in the water and said, “That looks like Ibe.” Sure enough, it was him!
Ibe had lived in Oakland for a year or two after graduation. He was back visiting and just wanted to see the beach; we didn’t usually go to Stinson Beach. It was completely random. After that chance reunion, Ibe and I connected once or twice a year. Recently, we spoke more regularly, and I am incredibly thankful that we got to spend an afternoon together with our families last year.
At URI, Ibe was a presence. He was energetic, outgoing, and incredibly intelligent. He was probably the most popular member of the community. He knew just about everyone and was well-liked. He was a student-athlete, leader, and role model. He was passionate about poetry and would often compete in poetry slams and open mic nights.
In addition to being the student body vice president, Ibe was a 3-year letterman on the football team and served as captain in 1999. He was a finalist for the NCAA National Scholar Athlete of the Year in 1998 and was our senior class graduation speaker.
After URI, Ibe served in various community-oriented roles including as director of community affairs for the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. More recently Ibe was a leading environmental activist and a published author.
Ibe was just an incredible person all around and, even though we did not see each other often, his passing has had a huge impact on me.
—Dean Copans ’99
Ibrahim Abdul-Matin ’99 was the author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet, co-founder of the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment, author of the “Brooklyn Bedouin” blog, a regular contributor to WNYC radio show The Takeaway, and a board member for numerous organizations.
Honoring Maya Angelou
When poet Maya Angelou died in 2014, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin ’99 wrote “Six Things You Can Do To Honor Maya Angelou” for Thought Catalog. In the article, he shared the story of bringing Maya Angelou to URI with Dean Copans ’99:
I met her majesty once. I was a student at the University of Rhode Island and it was the mid-1990s. At the time our campus was convulsing from a series of race and class charged incidents. I was the vice-president of the student senate and the president, a guy named Dean Copans, and I were elected on a slogan of “Unity is Strength.” We meant it. He was Jewish, I Muslim; he White, I Black. He was from South Africa, I was from Brooklyn. The slogan fit and our landslide victory ushered in the first non-Greek ticket in the school’s history.
We genuinely did want to bring the campus together. We agreed that we wanted to bring someone to campus that everyone could respect, that all could look up to, someone that would inspire the campus to be better than we were. So on January 24, 1998, we welcomed Maya Angelou to our campus.
–Ibrahim Abdul-Matin ’99