For 30 years, Mel Reeves was a dynamic presence in the fight for education reform, police accountability, labor rights, and the Occupy movement in the Twin Cities, who spoke up for the interests of the Black community and mentored a generation of activists.
Reeves, the community editor at the state’s oldest Black-owned newspaper, the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, was hospitalized in mid-December for COVID-19 and pneumonia. He died Thursday of complications from COVID-19, the news organization said. He was 64.
“I was going to do all I could to make a better world and stand up for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves,” Reeves wrote in a Facebook post on New Year’s Day. “And I never really wanted anything for myself and didn’t know how much I was appreciated, until now.”
News of his death brought an outpouring of grief from public officials and media colleagues.
Nekima Levy-Armstrong, former president of the Minneapolis NAACP and leader of the Racial Justice Network, remembered Reeves as a committed journalist, freedom fighter, and friend.
“Sometimes he would be on one side of the room as a journalist, and then he would step onto the other side of the room and speak as an activist at a press conference,” Levy-Armstrong said. “That was remarkable to see him doing double duty—capturing the words of fellow activists, and speaking truth to power on his own.”
Reeves was a longtime member and active participant in the Twin Cities chapter of the National Association of Black Journalists. Chapter president Nicole Norfleet said that while the two didn’t agree on every story, she appreciated his dedication to the community, his perspective, and his rich institutional knowledge in Minnesota.
“Whether he was marching or writing a column he was always trying to fight for the Black community,” she said.
Reeves worked with Twin Cities Black Journalists to sponsor interns at the Spokesman-Recorder, and had the patience needed to help students and young writers develop, Norfleet said. His tireless work to publish stories at the Spokesman-Recorder served as an inspiration to others in the group. In September, he was presented with a chapter appreciation award from Twin Cities Black Journalists recognizing his commitment to holding the powerful accountable.
“He was cool with being himself,” Norfleet said.
Reeves grew up in Miami, and moved to Minneapolis in the early 1980s after graduating with a theater degree from Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, according to friend Matthew McGlory.
McGlory described Reeves as having a very warm sense of humor and the ability to connect and talk to people. Reeves wrote with authority and a sense of familiarity that came from a deep love of humanity.
“He really believed in the power of the average human being, and what we could accomplish,” McGlory said.
Reeves was well-read, sharp and had left-wing politics that were based on a fact-based understanding of the world, McGlory said. Throughout his life, Reeves embedded himself in the struggle for social and economic justice, from campaigns against police brutality in Minneapolis, to standing with food processing workers in Austin, Minnesota.
After Minneapolis Police shot and killed 17-year old Tycel Nelson in 1990, a tense community meeting was held at North High School. At the meeting, Reeves pulled aside leaders of two large gangs, the Vice Lords and the Gangster Disciples, and convinced them to put aside their differences to focus on getting justice for the community, McGlory said.
“There wasn’t a struggle in Minnesota that Mel wasn’t connected to in some form or fashion,” McGlory said.
Minneapolis City Council Member Robin Wonsley Worlobah told Sahan Journal she credits her journey towards becoming a socialist and organizer to Reeves.
“Mel was one of the key figures who was helping create spaces and organizing for any and everybody to come in and learn,” Wonsley Worlobah said. “He was invested in so many of us learning how to take on this fight for a better world. I feel so privileged and honored that my life got to be influenced by him in such a meaningful way. It’s a deep loss.”
D.A. Bullock, a local filmmaker and activist, recalled many conversations with Reeves about the importance of storytelling. Even while hospitalized, he began planning a few op-eds with Bullock.
“He had a great sense of history, but he wasn’t bound by it,” Bullock said. “He had a lot of admiration for a lot of young people doing work here. That’s the thing I would like to emulate in myself.”
Minneapolis City Council member Jeremiah Ellison had known Reeves since he was 18 years old. Ellison, who represents north Minneapolis, remembered him as someone who made an effort to elevate the voices of Black residents in the north side.
“He didn’t give into this notion that he could be purely objective,” Ellison said, noting Reeves’ long-time experience as a Black activist. “He felt like it was his obligation to be up front about his vantage point in this world.”
A week before his death, Reeves gave an interview from his hospital bed to WCCO. At the time he seemed to be improving, but later he was transferred to ICU, WCCO reported. Reeves explained that he had not been vaccinated because of a concern about blood clots. However, he urged others to take precautions against the virus.
“People should get vaccinated, wear your mask, social distance if you are going out to party even among friends and family just wear your mask, it doesn’t hurt anything,” Reeves said in the interview.