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The crowd wound down the street and around the block for a socially-distanced candlelight procession for Lloyd Cornelius Porter, an actor and entrepreneur dubbed the “Mr. Hooper” of his beloved Sesame Street-like neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn.
Porter, 49, died from complications related to COVID-19 early Wednesday.
That evening, dozens of locals gathered, in masks and many in Porter's trademark bowtie and hat, to parade past the home he lived in with his wife Hillary and daughter MacLemore, a fifth-grader.
One mourner held a handwritten sign that read “Bread Love, it’s the Brooklyn way,” a tribute to Bread Love, the neighborhood bakery Porter ran with Hillary, named in honor of another beloved Brooklyn son.
Another wore a Bread-Stuy T-shirt, from when the Porters ran a local cafe in the brownstone-filled historically black neighborhood for nearly a decade.
A neighbor, and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity brother, led a gospel tune. Someone started playing songs by his brother, Grammy award-winning jazz singer Gregory Porter from their car.
"You don’t get that kind of processional he got if you haven't impacted the lives around you," close friend Keith Arthur Bolden told BuzzFeed News. "He would hold court. People just look to him to lead, to be the pulse."
Most people who grew up with him in California knew him as Corn or Neil. Hillary called him Corny. In Brooklyn, his home of nearly 20 years, he was Lloyd. His mother actually named him "Sir Lloyd" on his birth certificate, Bolden said.
Bolden and Porter first met in college at Fresno State University 29 years ago, and went on to become fraternity brothers, groomsmen for each other, fellow actors, and later, neighbors for a time in Bed-Stuy.
"Low-key, I’ve always wanted to be like him," said Bolden, who once dressed up as Porter in a flour-covered Bread-Stuy T-shirt for Halloween. "He was the most courageous person I know."
Porter opened several businesses over the years, nurturing them to be community spaces. Hillary was the baker, he was the one cracking jokes and charming customers. He hired artists and people who struggled to get work elsewhere. He encouraged people to write books and doctorates sitting at the tables and allowed film students to turn the cafe into a set.
"Lloyd took care of me when I got to BK. He let me sit in his shop all day and write," Jason Reynolds, the National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature, posted on Twitter.
“What made him special was he just saw possibility in things and people,” said Crystal Bobb Semple, a long-time friend, neighbor, and fellow Brooklyn business owner. "He would feed their bodies and also their souls, talk them through their ideas."
She first met the Porters nearly 20 years ago, when they walked into her former bookstore shortly after moving to the city. Shortly afterwards, they opened Bread-Stuy next door.
Porter helped organize a farmers market and CSA pickups (he had first studied agriculture business in college), chess tournaments, and music nights at his cafe, street fairs and local fundraisers. Every year in the local tree lighting, Porter dressed up as Santa Claus, with Hillary as Mrs. Claus.
“He’d always ask me 'what’s next?'," Semple said. "He wasn’t one of those people fishing for an answer, what he was trying to do was keep me and keeping us all thinking about our own potential.”
Porter grew up in Bakersfield, California, and fell in love with theater at college. He continued to find work as a commercial actor, starring in multiple Super Bowl ads over the years.
Daryl C. Patterson, an assistant director, knew of Porter because of Bread-Stuy but first met him when they worked on a FedEx commercial together in 2012.
"When I got on set with him, that’s when I realized just how cool of a person he was," Patterson said. "No scratch that, when I realized he was funny and talented."
He said top advertising directors hired Porter again and again because he could handle any comic line and was great at ad-libbing, and the quick wit seen on screen was exactly who he was off set.
"He’s that person that no matter how much of a rush you’re in, you get sucked into the conversation," Patterson said. "You’re aware you’re late, but you don't mind being late."
Porter started feeling sick in March. In early April, he took a turn for the worst. A test at the hospital confirmed it was COVID-19, Bolden said.
He texted his friend, asking what he needed. "His simple funny response was 'oxygen,'" Bolden said.
Porter spent nearly a month on a ventilator, before improving and being able to come off it and FaceTime his family. Friends celebrated, thinking the worst was over. But within three days, Porter died from COVID-19 complications.
The Porters were supposed to move back to California next month, to be closer to family. Already they had found a bakery to buy. Porter was due to turn 50 this summer and had wanted to go see his brother perform somewhere in Europe.
Instead, an outpouring of love has filled Facebook neighborhood groups as people shared stories of the man who made everyone laugh and encouraged them to fulfill their dreams.
"I realize now in looking at all the posts that my relationships with him wasn't unique," Bolden said. "Everybody had that feeling."
In just over a day, over $50,000 was raised on GoFundMe for his daughter. Mourners waved to Hillary and held posters with hand-drawn love hearts as she stood on the steps during the candlelight procession on Wednesday night, a small chance for the huge community Porter built to come together.
"He’s healing us, still," Semple said. "He’s our mayor in its fullest sense."