Hundreds Celebrate Jerry Mondesire’s Life

Among those mourning the death of the longtime Philadelphia NAACP president was a who's-who of the city's political elite.

President of the Pennsylvania NAACP, Jerome Mondesire, left addresses the media at a news conference announcing Federal Lawsuit against the Lebanon, Pa School District Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011 in Lebanon, Pa. At right is attorney Michael Churchill of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia which is also named in the suit. (AP Photos/Bradley C Bower)

Jerry Mondesire | Photo by Bradley C. Bower/AP

A power-packed crowd of hundreds, including Mayor Michael Nutter, former Gov. Ed Rendell and likely next mayor Jim Kenney, said goodbye to Jerry Mondesire at Bright Hope Baptist Church on Wednesday. Mondesire died on October 4th after suffering a brain aneurysm.

Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour-long funeral service, family members, friends and dignitaries paid tribute to the longtime president of the Philadelphia NAACP. They described Mondesire as a tough-as-nails advocate for African-Americans and low-income residents. They said he was brutally honest, highly intelligent, and known for occasionally using a four-letter word to get his point across.

“He fought for the most basic right that all of us have, and that is the the right to vote,” said Rev. William Moore. “He was a voice for children who wanted to get an education.”

Several politicians also said Mondesire played a key role in their personal success. “I am who I am today because of Jerry Mondesire,” said District Attorney Seth Williams.

Mondesire got involved in politics early, pushing for the City College of New York to accept more students of color while he was enrolled. Later, he served as the assistant city desk editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer, editor-in-chief of the Philadelphia Sunday SUN, and co-founder of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. He also worked as a top aide to the late U.S. Congressman William Gray, battled fiercely against Pennsylvania’s voter ID law, and has been credited with helping to grow the local NACCP chapter’s membership rolls.

“By the time Jerry took over, [the Philadelphia NAACP] had fallen into disrepair. It lost its leverage and it lost its clout,” said Rendell. “He turned it into something special.”

Time and time again, officials at the service said that they were originally skeptical of Mondesire, but eventually grew to care for him deeply. Councilwoman Marian Tasco she first met Mondesire in the 1970s and found herself at odds with him. “I said, ‘I don’t like that guy.'” After becoming friends with him while working for Gray’s Congressional campaign, though, Tasco said Mondesire helped her get elected as City Commissioner and then City Councilwoman.

Tasco said he was as good a friend as he was an advocate. When an accident left Tasco’s daughter-in-law paralyzed from the waist down, Mondesire “just took over, took over, and gave all the support to help me,” Tasco said.

U.S. Congressman Bob Brady said, “I met Jerry Mondesire about 35 years ago, and for the first … 12, 14, we were not on the same page.” That changed, Brady said, when he sat down with Mondesire one day. “We had a five-hour cup of coffee, and we realized we had more things in common than we had not in common.”

Sheriff Jewell Williams, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown also paid their respects to Mondesire on Wednesday.

In his eulogy, Moore said Mondesire gave a voice to the voiceless, and that residents should “honor his legacy by picking up where he left off.” Moore said Mondesire was “a good man, not a perfect man, but a good man.”

In 2014, Mondesire and three local NAACP board members were suspended by the national organization amid questions of financial mismanagement. Mondesire was never charged with any wrongdoing.

Nutter said Mondesire was “politically courageous and a stand-up leader.” He called on young people to carry the torch of Mondesire and other late African-American leaders, including Gray and Councilwoman Augusta Clark.

“We need more leaders. We need folks to step up. They did their work. Your time is here,” said Nutter. “Don’t be mistaken. Leadership has its challenges, but it also has its rewards. You change people’s lives. Those people did it. It’s time for a new generation to do the same.”

Wednesday would have been Mondesire’s 66th birthday. Toward the end of the service, Mondesire’s son, Joseph, requested that the crowd sing a rendition of “Happy Birthday” in honor of him.

At about 1:30 p.m., Mondesire’s funeral ended at Bright Hope, the same place where Gray served as a longtime pastor and Dr. Martin Luther King gave a speech at the groundbreaking in 1963.