Fighter with a big heart: activist, journalist, MSR stalwart Mel Reeves passes at age 64

Photo by Travis Lee Mel Reeves

It is with deep sadness that we announce that Mel Reeves, MSR community editor, passed away on Jan. 6, 2022, from complications of COVID-19 and pneumonia. He was 64.

Reeves described himself as a political and human rights activist, journalist, commentary writer, and organizer.

A native of Miami, Florida, Reeves arrived in Minneapolis after attending college in Iowa. He was a presence on the Twin Cities journalism scene for more than 20 years, covering the news with an activist’s passion and perspective.

“Mel was a true champion for justice. Thinking about his life and his legacy brings a smile to my face even in the midst of mourning his loss of life. I considered him a friend, a brother, and a comrade in the fight for justice,” said his fellow activist and civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong.

Even after he was hospitalized at HCMC in December, Reeves continued to write and report on topics ranging from new COVID-19 protocols to coverage of the inaugural George Floyd Memorial Classic. His timely end-of-the-year roundup appeared on Dec. 30. 

“Mel was a writing machine; it just poured out of him,” said Jerry Freeman, MSR’s senior editor and a colleague since the mid-1990s. “He always had an intelligent, conscientious, well-thought-out understanding of what was happening. And a passion to express it as best he could.

“He was a fighter for justice who cared about the underdog, always thinking about who we need to stand up for. He had a fine-tuned sense of fairness.” 

Freeman holds Reeves in high esteem for his personal sacrifice in service to his values, his “huge heart,” and the way he used his platform to shake things up. “He was the living embodiment of the expression ‘No justice, no peace.’ 

“Decades before the George Floyd tragedy, Mel was working on police violence against Black people,” recalled Freeman. “And he spent years working on integrating construction trades, pushing to get more people of color into these jobs. He made a difference and used his verbal skills, spoken and written, to achieve some remarkable things.”

Reeves was known among MSR readers for his popular “Mellaneous” blog and column, which was his take on the urgent public policies, politics, and community matters of the day. The commentary allowed Reeves to blend his reporting, analysis, knowledge, and opinions and gave readers the feeling that they were getting their own personal download from a well-connected and fearless source.

Photo by Travis Lee Mel Reeves writing a story at the MSR in the mid-1990s

Governor Tim Walz offered condolences on Twitter: “Mel Reeves left a remarkable legacy. As a journalist, civil rights activist, and community leader, he informed and inspired generations of Minnesotans,” tweeted Walz. “I’m terribly sorry to hear of his passing. Gwen and I will keep his loved ones in our prayers.”

“This is a terrible loss. He is going to be missed,” said his former colleague Larry Fitzgerald, sports journalist and president of the National Programming Network. Fitzgerald praised Reeves for digging into stories that were “missed or ignored” by other media sources.

“Mel had a nose for what was unfair, and he was able to expose things that weren’t right. There were many cases where individuals of color had been wronged and there was no one to stand up for them. He found out what happened and got their stories out there,” Fitzgerald said.

During the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and the Derek Chauvin verdict, national and international journalists and commentators sought Reeves out for his insight. He was also a mentor to young journalists and set a powerful example for them.

Related Story: Homegoing services announced for activist, journalist Mel Reeves (updated)

“Mel wasn’t afraid of the power structure,” said Sheletta Brudgidge, former MSR columnist and founder/owner of the podcast platform ShelettaMakesMeLaugh.com. “He was not a person who went along to get along. He took a stand and took some hits and blazed a trail for other people to be bold and brave.”

The final on-camera interview with Reeves was from his hospital bed when he talked to WCCO’s Reg Chapman and urged folks to get vaccinated. While he was hospitalized, he talked to George Hoffman, his friend of 38 years, every day.

“The last time I talked to him, two days before he died, he thought he had beaten it. He thought he was going to get out, but then he was diagnosed with pneumonia,” Hoffman said, his voice breaking with emotion. “He was a person who cared about people. He wanted people to be treated fair. I will miss him.”

Last October, the Racial Justice Network, a grassroots civil rights organization founded by Levy Armstrong, honored Reeves and several other community journalists for their work. “The contributions of community journalists often go unrecognized,” she said. “I’m thankful we were able to uplift him, never knowing that would be our last opportunity to do so.”

On January 1, 2022, Reeves shared his gratitude on Facebook for making it to another year. He noted from his hospital bed that he was “overwhelmed” with the outpouring of love shown to him while he was sick.

“I tried to love folks, and it turns out I am here today because folks loved me back,” he wrote. “I never ever want any credit for anything I ever do for anybody else, but I guess I too wanted to be appreciated. I wanted to get my flowers while I could appreciate them. Turns out you all gave them to me.”

A GoFundMe page to help with funeral arrangements has been created by the family.