Reeves honored, memorialized during Celebration of Life

Outpourings of love, respect, admiration, and gratitude were on full display during the January 13 memorial service for Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) stalwart, journalist, and activist Mel Reeves.

Held at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in the heart of North Minneapolis, the Celebration of Life was also streamed online, allowing people to pay their respects from near and afar. 

Earlier in the day, Reeves, who passed away suddenly on January 6, was honored by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz as he declared January 13 “Mel Reeves Day,” crediting the late writer for his commitment to activism and justice. 

Presiding over Thursday’s service was Senior Pastor Brian Herron of Zion Baptist Church, who also served as Reeves’ longtime pastor and friend. Thandisizwe Jackson-Nisan, who described Reeves as legendary, iconic and honorable, recited a rendition of one of his favorite poems.

Biblical scriptures from the Old and New Testament were read respectively by Deacon Andre Marshall of Zion Baptist Church and Matthew McGlory while Jamelia Pettiford delivered a passionate rendition of “Eyes on the Sparrow.”

MSR photographer and writer Travis Lee, a close friend of Reeves since the ’90s, spoke on behalf of the publication and its publisher, Tracey Williams-Dillard, by recounting Reeves’ last story at the paper and reflecting on the love he had for his son. 

“Mel was so dedicated that even in his worst times and in dire sickness in the hospital, he called for his laptop to be brought to him,” Lee reflected. 

On the love Reeves had for his son Kellen, Lee added, “One time Mel rented out two rooms at
the Embassy Suites for his son Kellen, who was 14 at the time. I said, ‘Mel, why are we renting
rooms at the Embassy Suites? We live in Minneapolis?’

Mel responded, ‘Well, Trav, my son Kellen is 14 now and he’s been going to a lot of people’s houses, and I want to let his friends know that we got it going on too.’ So, Mel rented two rooms at the Embassy Suites so that Kellen and his friends could play and that’s the kind of father Mel was.”

Lee likened Reeves to a “smoke detector” for injustice. “I would say a fire detector, but by the time the fire gets here, it’s too late. So when the lightest stench of injustice was in any process, Mel would smell it. Because you know, where there is smoke there’s fire, and there was Mel Reeves,” Lee said to applause.

Longtime friends George Hoffman, Greg and Janet Nelson, and Rose McGee, creator of Sweet Potato Comfort Pie, offered further remarks, as did grandson David Johnson, Pastor Herron, who offered the eulogy, and son Kellen Reeves, who spoke at length about his father’s work in activism and the love he had for his grandchildren. 

Days after Thursday’s Celebration of Life, Kellen spoke with the MSR where he offered additional recollections about his father and what he wants people to understand about him.

“There are two things I want people to know about my father,” said Kellen. “He was motivated in power to do his work because of his faith and his belief in God. He read the Bible and really believed that it was calling him to do the work of justice and to care and stand up for people. He was operating on a call from God, and I believed this as well. 

“I also want people to know that he was a loving father. I talk about him a lot as a loving grandfather because that’s the stage we’re in now, but he was a loving, present father.”

Reeves paused before reflecting on his own legacy. “What I want people to know about me is that I’m a product of my father and a mother that raised me and the city raised me too,” Reeves explained.
“When you grow up the son of a revolutionary, you have revolutionary tendencies, so I take that
with me.

“What’s funny is that I recently started a new job, and we work with young adults or ‘opportunity youth’ as we call them,” Reeves continued. “I share this because we’re at a non-profit that’s dedicated to racial equity, and I remember telling them about growing up in South Minneapolis and how it
wasn’t too far from the George Floyd tragedy.

“This led me to talking about my dad and how he was on the news and in the middle of the fight. So, there I was talking about my father during the interview process. At the end of the day, I am my father’s son, and his legacy will always be with me. It’s an honor to be his son.”