The city remembered the late veteran journalist Fatimah Ali at her “Celebration of Life” memorial service on Monday, Jan. 30.
It was standing room only at the Summit Presbyterian Church, Greene Street and Westview Avenue in the West Mount Airy section of the city.
Family, childhood and college friends, journalism colleagues, sister friends and listeners to “The Real Deal with Fatimah Ali” which aired daily on 900AM WURD were on hand. They filled the church where Ali was baptized, made confirmation and grew up attending Sunday School before converting to Islam.
Among those who gave remarks were Mayor Michael Nutter, Art Sanctuary director Lorene Cary of Mount Airy, poet Sonia Sanchez of West Germantown, WURD general manager Sara Lomax-Reese of Mount Airy, Barbara Grant, the former Philadelphia New Observer editor Helen Blue of West Oak Lane, and actor Tom Page from Freedom Theatre.
Childhood friends and family members also gave their tributes during the community memorial.
For West Mount Airy native Pamela Chestnut it was an emotional experience. Though she readily admitted she never met Ali, she knows many who knew her personally and she herself has been an avid listener of her morning radio show for the past year. Chestnut used to read Ali’s columns in the Philadelphia Daily News and the former Philadelphia New Observer.
“She was such an inspirational sister,” Chestnut said. “She advocated for education, those who were incarcerated and the homeless. She was just so honest and direct. I knew that I had to come here to pay tribute to someone who affected our community so much,
“I am also concerned about her children,” she added. “I know that she had a strong family, but like most of us there are struggles. Though I can’t donate much at this time, when I get some money soon I plan to give more. I understand, like she did, that it takes a village to rear our children, and we have to ensure that hers will be okay.”
Zahfar Rashied of Germantown was busily taking photographs and video footage of what he referred to as “an historical moment.”
He was hired by Ali at WDAS-FM in 1990 when she was the news director, he said. Rashied remembered that she always patiently worked with him as he was learning the ropes of the broadcast industry.
“She was always a tremendously giving and supportive person,” he said. “When I heard the news I was saddened. I know that she’s not here — but the way she lived her life — she is continuing her journey now. God sends us persons like her to teach us how to walk on this earth.”
Among the memories that radio salesperson and photographer Saundra Ali — not related to Fatimah — had about the late journalist was their last conversation and email.
The two Alis were brainstorming about a cookbook in which Fatimah Ali, a gourmet cook, would pen the recipes and Saundra Ali would provide the photos. They also toyed with the idea of starting a national African-American newspaper.
“We said the book was going to make us rich,” said Saundra Ali, who coordinated Fatimah Ali’s Muslim funeral, held in West Philadelphia on Friday. “We were going to meet about the newspaper idea, but she sent me an email the night before she died saying that she didn’t feel well and just wanted to sleep. I am glad the last time I saw her that we hugged and she said to me, ‘You are my sister.’ That’s how I’ll always remember her.”
Among the tributes that were read by broadcaster and SCOOP USA columnist Thera Martin Millings was a testimonial from Fran Aulston, founder and director of the West Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and the Paul Robeson House. Aulston and Cary noted Fatimah Ali had a commitment to the arts.
“She was just an aware sister,” said Raja Thomas of Germantown. “I learned about life from her. I started reading the One Step Away newspaper for and by the homeless because of her show. She understood what it is to be human. That’s why she’s up there with the saints now.”