The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ) was heartbroken to learn of the death of longtime member J. Whyatt “Jerry” Mondesire. In his passing, we and other journalists recall the man who was always our conscience.
Mondesire, 65, was an early member of PABJ, helping to build the foundation for the organization. He started his journalistic career at the Baltimore Sun as a writer and the Philadelphia Inquirer as a city-desk editor. He later became a top staffer for the late Congressman Bill Gray.
Mondesire took over the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP in 1991, and was
a relentless crusader for human and civil rights. He was an advocate for
the community that he loved as publisher of the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
and as a community affairs host on WDAS-FM radio.
During his tenure as president of the NAACP, which ended in 2014,
Mondesire helped pass laws that gave ex-offenders the right to vote in
Pennsylvania. He helped take down Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, fought for
better schools, stood up against gun violence and supported low-wage
workers fighting for fair pay.
“Jerry used the power of the pen and the bullhorn to advocate for those in
Philadelphia without a voice,” says Cherri Gregg, president of PABJ. “He
fought not only for Philadelphia’s Black community but for all people of
color, and wanted nothing more than for all people in this city to be
His passing has deeply affected our members both locally and nationally,
many of whom have been sending condolences to the group and his family.
“Jerry was a champion for equal rights and an early member of the
Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists,” said Sarah Glover,
president of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and a
former two-term PABJ president. “He’s had a lasting impact on the City of
Philadelphia by developing many of the city’s young leaders and
journalists. His fearlessness while speaking truth to power stands out as
much as his signature cowboy hat. He challenged me and others to be bold
in our leadership. I will work to that end and remember the man who fought
so hard for equality for all.”
“Jerry was one of the most talented and skillful writers and journalists
that I have known,” says Acel Moore, one of the founders of PABJ and NABJ.
Moore met Mondesire when he began working at The Inquirer. “He was a force
at the newspaper and made a contribution to journalism in a significant
way and made sure his voice was heard as leader of the NAACP on many
issues that affected African American people.”
“Mondesire used his God-given talents to speak for many who had no voice,
to ask questions that would not be raised and to challenge the status quo
on behalf of the disenfranchised,” says NABJ treasurer Greg Morrison,
who was also a founder of PABJ. “Initially he was a journalist
but chose to follow the legacy of John B. Russwurm and Frederick Douglass,
moving into advocacy for people of color. His loss takes his voice from
us, but his dedication to presenting a clear and honest expression of the
Black Experience will continue through the people he mentored and those
whose stories he told. Rest friend, your work in this life is done.”
“Jerry was an integral part in the beginning of PABJ along with several
other people,” says Paul Bennett, an early member of PABJ who drafted the
organization’s bylaws. “… there’s a group of folks who were early members
who helped build the foundation and Jerry was one of those. But Jerry
didn’t just write about what was wrong, he also worked to make change. His
perspective didn’t just come from journalism, but also from politics. It
set him in a different class. When you saw Jerry – you saw a warrior. The
question is will his legacy of social action and of being concerned about
the community – will that continue? Hopefully, it will.”
“To me, Jerry was one of the great leaders of Philadelphia – right up
there with the Cecil B. Moores,” says Loraine Ballard Morrill, news and
community affairs director of iHeartMedia’s Philadelphia stations who met
Mondesire in the 1980s. “He was someone who made a difference in the lives
of people. He wasn’t afraid to take on anybody – not afraid to take on the
corporations, not afraid to take on politicians. I don’t see that type of
leadership today. I hope that someone will come up that will have the type
of passion and courage that Jerry Mondesire had. He was one of my dearest
friends. I will miss him.”
Community and professional organizations that worked with Mondesire also expressed their condolences.
“We will never forget his sterling leadership over the Philadelphia branch over the past 17 years. We will never forget his leadership over the state chapter or on the national board of the NAACP,” says Minister Rodney Muhammad, president of the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP. “In my heart I will always know Jerry Mondesire as Mr. NAACP of Philadelphia.”
“On Sunday we lost a leader, advocate and champion of justice,” says Shabrei Parker, president of the Barristers’ Association of Philadelphia. “Jerry’s legacy of service to the community and commitment to equality had rippling effects in the legal and political communities, and he will truly be missed.”
On Oct. 17 during PABJ’s annual awards banquet, where Mondesire was always
present, we will honor his legacy.