We have nothing to lose but our chains: a tribute to Mel Reeves

(Chris Juhn/MSR News) Mel Reeves addresses attendees at a rally against Met Transit cuts, April 18

On January 6 of this year, our community suffered a devastating loss when Mel Reeves, beloved activist, organizer, and MSR editor and journalist, passed away suddenly from COVID-19 complications. 

Mel was a champion for racial justice who was unwavering in his commitment to fight for equality on the frontlines of protests and demonstrations demanding an end to police violence in Minnesota and across the nation. 

Mel helped organize protests and rallies long before there was a Black Lives Matter Movement to call attention to the day-to-day injustices that Black folks experience while trying to breathe, live and work in a society built upon the denigration and dehumanization of our people. 

Rather than lose hope in the face of hypocrisy and oppression, Mel made the decision to use the power of his pen to tell our stories and to set the record straight about who we are as a people, our culture, our fight, and our resistance to White Supremacy and racism in all its forms. Mel wrote fervently about the Minneapolis police murder of George Floyd and the protests in our community, with his articles garnering national and international attention and accolades.

Mel also wrote about the push to demand Myon Burrell’s release from prison and organized a public forum that included Myon’s family and local activists and organizers to raise awareness of the case in the Black community.

When Terrance Franklin was killed by Minneapolis police in 2013 under suspicious and troubling circumstances, Mel was the first to help organize protests to call attention to the horrors of the situation and accountability for the officers who were involved. Although the officers have still not been held accountable, the Hennepin County Attorney recently acknowledged that the case should be investigated.

Demetrius Pendleton Leslie Redmond, Joe McLean, Lucretia Luckett, Ianna Burrell, Michael Toussaint, Nekima Levy Armstrong and Mel Reeves at the forum for Myon Burrell’s release

As an elder in the Movement for Black Lives, Mel took the time to engage younger activists, to show up whenever he could, and to lead by example. As an editor at MSR, Mel went to great lengths to recruit and help train young journalists and to encourage them to dive into stories that impacted the Black community. 

He always spoke highly of MSR and put his all into producing high-quality stories that provided an alternative perspective from White, mainstream publications. Mel also befriended and even helped school journalists from those mainstream publications, encouraging them to identify and check their biases and to look through a racial justice lens when telling stories that pertain to our community. 

To that end, his impact will continue to be felt within our community of activists across multiple generations, journalists near and far, and community members here and around the country.

Even as Mel was in the hospital battling COVID-19, he continued writing stories, publishing articles, seeking quotes, and analyzing current events. He was especially glad to see the jury in the Kim Potter case, the White female former Brooklyn Center officer who killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April 2021, return a guilty verdict. 

Mel had gotten to know the family of Daunte Wright and wanted to see justice served in that case. While he expressed relief at the guilty verdict, he simultaneously lamented the police killing of a Black man in Austin, Minnesota, and the police killing of a 14-year-old girl in Los Angeles that both happened on the same day as the Potter jury returned its verdict.

The dichotomy of celebrating progress while lamenting stagnation is at the heart of Black folks’ struggle in this country. Mel understood that we should take time to celebrate the “wins,” while not taking our eyes off the prize of pushing for systemic change and the promise of full freedom, justice and equality. 

One of the best ways that we can honor Mel’s legacy is to press forward in the pursuit of justice. We must find the strength, courage, and resolve to continue to use our voices to speak truth-to-power and to not settle for anything less than our full freedom from oppression. 

We must continue to demand the justice we deserve, and to protect rather than harm one another. For as Assata Shakur reminds us, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” 

Rest in power, Mel Reeves. Thank you for your service to our community and to humanity. You will be missed, but never forgotten.