Mel Reeves, 64, of Minneapolis, and most recently the community editor for the MN Spokesman-Recorder (MSR), died on January 6 after complications from COVID-19 and pneumonia. A journalist and activist, his experience—as well as mentoring in—both roles, go back over 30 years.
Activists and journalists alike say they miss his matter-of-fact stances and unwavering support on issues, particularly those that face the Black community, and particularly around civil rights.
“Mel stood out as the kind of unabashed voice of the community and making that particular effort feel with energy, feel with commitment,” said Dr. Rose Brewer, who organized with Mel over the years and invited him to speak in some of the classes she taught at the University of Minnesota.
Reeves often was a trailblazer, supporting causes that took time for people to get around, which included supporting public housing and ensuring support for those whose closest to them were killed by the police. He supported Toshira Garraway, who founded Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, for example. “When he heard the story [of my son’s father, Justin Teigen, being killed by St. Paul police], he just kept pushing me saying, ‘Sister, we need to get this story out.’”
Reeves also deeply cared about mentoring activists, particularly young ones. For years he and young activists gathered at the Espresso Royale cafe on Hennepin Avenue to read and analyze radical texts.
DJ Hooker, who is involved as an organizer with the group Twin Cities Coalition Justice For Jamar, first met him growing up in Minneapolis when he attended Black Men Reading, a book club at NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center with his father. He remembers being mentored later by Reeves around the messaging Black Lives Matter versus All Lives Matter.
“I thought that all lives mattered because that would get us the most people at a protest to get more change. And then Mel kept trying to explain to me that All Lives Matter is, like, in retaliation to Black Lives Matter and that, you know, all the All Lives Matter people are all racist, and I was just, like, I don’t know. And I remember we got into this huge four or five-hour argument about it, and then at the end I was like, yeah, you’re probably right,” said Hooker.
His penchant for writing and reading, as well as uncovering the facts, found him editing for the MSR on and off for the past 30 years. His final three bylines—one looking back at 2021, the other about the inaugural George Floyd Holiday Classic tournament, and the last about COVID—were written from his hospital bed.
“His wealth of knowledge, too, of the community and the history of a lot of people and organizations was pretty great compared to people that might have just shown up,” said Chris Juhn, a contributing photographer for the MSR, where he got his start because of Reeves.
Juhn also recounted one time where he drove Reeves around to photograph construction sites because Reeves did not think construction sites were employing enough Black people.
Your author knew Reeves for the past five years. We first met through a transit advocacy organization, where he was leading a campaign to stave off 40% transit cuts at the state legislature and I was a transit activist and photographer who completed a land-use planning internship had recently moved to the area and was figuring out my life.
In subsequent years, I saw him on and off at various demonstrations, from when a group crashed a press conference at Minneapolis City Hall in 2017 after being disinvited, to when students rallied against racism in Prior Lake late last year.
It wasn’t until we went to Prior Lake—when I drove him to the protest because I was covering it for him— did I get to know him more; his upbringing in Miami, his moving to Iowa for college, his venture for seminary in Arden Hills, and his disdain for the suburbs.
It was like an adventure; one moment he was supporting and connecting with the students, the next, we drove to the school and the City of Savage administration offices to see if we could interview anyone about the incident while forgetting that the day of the protest was a national holiday.
The last assignment I accepted from him was to cover the Israeli consulate awarding $5,000 grants to three organizations. I couldn’t believe my ears when he told me the assignment. “This is a very bad idea,” Reeves said, adding it sets a precedent for foreign governments to meddle with our democracy.
Reeves planned to write a news analysis about this, but the pandemic had other plans. Shortly after the event, he fell ill, and he was in the hospital by the Sunday after. “Have covid,” he texted. He told me a week later, over the phone, “I must have let my guard down [by not wearing my mask in the hallway of the apartment I recently moved into.]”
Nevertheless, we still coordinated over stories. We also talked about connecting to potential contributors, and he enthusiastically gave me permission to give his number to another potential contributor so they could text about story ideas.
While at the hospital, he and Garraway talked about having a welcome-home celebration for when he would be discharged. “Yeah, it’s about time. It’s about time everybody started celebrating me around here,” Reeves said to Garraway two days before he passed. Friends who visited him said he was doing very well and he thought he was going to beat it.
Instead, the coming-home celebration, which was hosted at the Aloft Hotel in Downtown Minneapolis last Tuesday evening and attended by dozens, became a space for remembering, solidarity, and laughs. Rep. John Thompson (DFL-St. Paul), recalled in a speech how he was humbled by Mel the first time they met.
“We were organizing a rally around the Take a Knee Nation, and I was just talking to brother Isaiah about that. And Mel Reeves was, like, yelling at me. And like, I couldn’t understand why he was. I hadn’t realized that Mel was born in 1957. I’m born in the ’70s. So maybe I should listen to what the heck he’s talking about,” said Thompson.
“Mel said to me, ‘John, I like your passion. I like it cause you’re angry and sometimes we need somebody to bang they fist. But brother, if you ever learn how to organize, brother, you’re gonna be one powerful brother here in the Twin Cities.’ And he never lied.”
Henry Pan is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.