For over a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the African American community. Since that time, we've been committed to honoring the lives of local and national figures through recognition of their meaningful contributions to society.
Your support during this time helps The Wright retain essential staff, maintain facilities, and continue our work of opening minds and changing lives through the exploration and celebration of African American history and culture.
Brenda Perryman was a metro Detroit fine arts educator, poet, and generous mentor. She did Women's History Month programs at the Charles H. Wright Museum, reading the poetry of Maya Angelou, and she staged a play on the Tuskegee airmen. Perryman taught English and drama from 1970 to 1988 at Highland Park High School and from 1988 to 2010 at Southfield High School, where she also served as Fine Arts department head for several years, said her oldest daughter, Heather Perryman Tank. “She made everybody feel that they were her favorite,” said Banner, a 1989 graduate of Southfield High. “She was constantly creating and always inspired us to do the same.” Perryman’s impact extended far beyond the classroom. In addition to teaching, she was a playwright, poet, and radio show host. On her show, “Talk 2 Me, With Brenda Perryman” on Comcast 20/TV33 WHPR, she championed numerous local artists, educators, writers, and others.
Gil Bailey, affectionately known as the Godfather of Reggae Radio, passed on April 13, 2020, from COVID-19 as confirmed by his family. Bailey, born in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands in 1936, first gained recognition for his skills on the radio in London before relocating to New York in 1967. For over 50 years he helped introduce the reggae sound to mainstream American audiences. He leaves to hold on to his memory of his family and the greater reggae community.
Bootsie Barnes was an American tenor saxophonist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the 1950s, he played with various musicians in Philadelphia, including Lee Morgan and Philly Joe Jones. Barnes left an indelible mark on the Philadelphia and wider jazz communities. Robert “Bootsie” Barnes, the widely respected tenor saxophone player with a hard-driving sound and restless creative spirit died April 18, 2020, of COVID-19.
Bishop P.a. brooks
First Assistant Presiding Bishop and Prelate of the Northeast Michigan Jurisdiction for the Church of God In Christ Bishop P. A. Brooks - has passed away. Bishop Brooks was a legendary preacher, statesman and social activist in Detroit. He passed away on April 9, 2020, at the age of 88. In an April 10 story in The Detroit News, Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake, Sr. described Brooks as an “intellectual giant” for writing the manual for the training of COGIC leaders. Brooks, who was also selected by Blake to serve as the denomination’s vice president, was known as a confidant to the Hon. Coleman Young, Detroit’s first black mayor, and to the late recording artist, Aretha Franklin.
Ruben Burks was the African American UAW secretary-treasurer, as well as a social justice activist, philanthropist, and Flint community advocate. Ruben Burks died at age 86 on April 6, 2020. Starting as an assembler at the former General Motors Fisher Body Plant 2 in Flint in 1955, he would steadily climb through the ranks with a reputation for strength and integrity. “Ruben Burks was a man of inspiration, he was a man of hope and he was a man of dedication,” said Chris Martin, pastor of Cathedral of Faith Church in Flint and a former president of the Flint School Board. “He was always trying to make sure people were fed. He was a framework, not just a person, a framework in Flint. He was loved by thousands.”
Don Campbell, a hip hop dance innovator, formed the Lockers dance troupe, which performed in support of artists like Sammy Davis Jr. and Parliament-Funkadelic, performing as well as on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show,” “The Carol Burnett Show” and “Saturday Night Live.” Moves like the ones he pioneered have appeared in dance routines by Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, ’NSync, the Backstreet Boys, and many others.
Priscilla Carrow was the coordinating manager at Elmhurst hospital in New York. In addition to her tireless work in the medical community, she also served as director of community relations with the New York Senate. She is survived by her two children.
commander donafay collins
Commander Donafay Collins was a beloved friend, a husband, and a father of four. He passed away on March 25, 2020. He was 63. A member of the Sheriff’s Department for nearly 30 years, Collins worked in just about every role before becoming commander of the Division II jail on Clinton Street in Detroit.
Jacqueline Cruz was the mother of Minnesota Timberwolves All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns. “Jackie was many things to many people -- a wife, mother, daughter, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend. She was an incredible source of strength, a fiery, caring, and extremely loving person who touched everyone she met. Her passion was palpable, and her energy will never be replaced.”
William "Kiing Shooter" Daniels
William Daniels, better known in the music industry as rapper Kiing Shooter, passed away on May 5, 2020, from liver failure due to COVID-19. Daniels, who gained recognition for his first single “They Say” and his debut EP in 2018, was signed to hip hop icon Nas’s record label Mass Appeal. Daniels is mourned by the hip hop community at large.
Detroit ballroom community
For decades, urban ballroom dancers have assembled in clubs and venues across the Metro area to take part in one of Detroit’s richest and most distinctive social traditions. During the second week of March 2020, just before Michigan’s ban of mass gatherings, there they still were, dancing as they’ve always done — mingling closely, hand in hand, cheek to cheek. However, by month’s end, the coronavirus had swept ferociously through Detroit’s ballroom dance family, igniting ongoing waves of grief and pangs of anxiety among a tight-knit group mostly made up of older African Americans, for whom dancing was supposed to be a respite from life’s rigors. “This thing has been a direct hit on us,” said dancer Darrell Wilson. “Facebook is like an obituary page right now. Every time I look up, somebody I know has died.” People entrenched in Detroit’s urban ballroom scene offer varying estimates of the toll on their community to this point. Some say they know of five, six, ten, a dozen dancers who have died during the past two weeks. Others put the count at more than thirty.
Professor David Driskell was born in 1931 in Eatonton, Georgia. He was educated at Howard University and received the Master of Fine Arts degree in 1961 from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He was the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award in Art from Howard University in 1981 and from The Catholic University of America in 1996. In October 1997, Driskell was awarded the President’s Medal, the highest honor the University of Maryland bestows on a member of its faculty. He received the Presidential Medal from Bill Clinton in December 2000 as a National Endowment for the Humanities recipient. Upon his retirement from teaching at the University of Maryland in 1998, The David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the African Diaspora was founded to promote his scholarship and service to the University.
John Elliott was motivated by one thing: providing the best education possible for Detroit students. Elliott served as president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers (DFT) from 1981 until 2001, following many years as a teacher in the Detroit school district, including at Hutchins Junior High and Cooley High School. “With John Elliott, anything he negotiated or proposed was for the good of members, but also in the best interest of the students we served,” said Keith Johnson, who served as DFT president from 2008 to 2015. “For him, the quality of the contract and the quality of education children received were inextricably linked. He was passionate about our kids getting a quality education.
Kenneth Farnum passed on April 4, 2020, in New York City due to complications related to COVID-19. A Barbados-born cyclist, Farnum earned folk hero status when he became the first Olympian from Barbados in 1952 and three-time USA Cycling New York State Champion. He is survived by his wife Judith, children Judy and Ken Jr., two sisters Colleen and Ann, and a host of nieces and nephews.
Lila Fenwick was the first black woman to graduate from Harvard Law School, in the class of 1956. She was the only black woman in her class among the few and first women who were enrolled at Harvard. After graduation, Fenwick went on to a career in private practice and as the Chief of the United Nations Division of Human Rights. In addition, she co-founded the Foundation of Research and Education in Sickle Cell Disease with Doris Wethers and Yvette Fay Francis-McBarnette. Lila Fenwick died April 4, 2020.
In his 92 years, Theodore Gaffney witnessed some of the most consequential moments in history. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II. One of the first black photographers in the White House, he took photos of U.S. Presidents Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as Queen Elizabeth II. But he was perhaps best known for an assignment he undertook for Jet Magazine in 1961: documenting the Freedom Riders as they journeyed to the Deep South to challenge racial segregation.
fred the godson
For more than a decade Fred the Godson was a respected figure in New York hip-hop, an understated master of wordplay with a signature flow. He died in the Bronx at age 41. Back when mixtapes were still the coin of the realm in New York rap circles, Fred the Godson was a reliable, forceful presence. He had a husky voice, but it was nimble, too — all the better for the kind of wordplay-heavy punch-line-filled bars that thrived in those settings. Double entendres, homophones, homonyms, assonance — he always found a way to bend a rhyme.
reverend Isaac graham
Reverend Graham was pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Harlem, where he faithfully led this landmark church's congregation for over 40 years. He leaves to cherish his memory his loving wife. He was 67.
Celebrated jazz musician Henry Grimes, 84, died April 15, 2020 of complications from the coronavirus. Grimes, a bassist whose career spanned six decades, performed with jazz greats including Sonny Rollins, Don Cherry, Billy Higgins, and Cecil Taylor in the 1950s. He then worked with McCoy Tyner, Albert Ayler, and more in the 1960s, but faced financial problems in the late ’60s that forced him to sell his double bass. After years in obscurity, he resurfaced — at age 67 — to perform at the 2003 Vision Festival in New York City. It was his first stage show in decades. “I never gave up on music, not for a minute,” Grimes told For Bass Players Only in 2012. “You could say I was absent for a long time, but I always believed I would be back one day. I just couldn’t see the way to get there, but I knew it would happen.”
bishop Robert Lee harris
Church of God in Christ (COGIC) has lost many members and leadership due to COVID-19, including Bishop Robert Lee Harris, Senior Pastor for St. Paul Church of God In Christ, where he pastored for over 30 years. He fed over 10,000 people with his feeding program for the homeless, during his holiday food delivery and Annual Fish Fry to the homeless shelters and under freeway bridges.
There were many losses in the University Prep school community. The most dramatic was Skylar Herbert, a kindergartener at UPA Elementary (Mark Murray campus). Other UPREP Community losses include Brian Darrell, father of a 12th-grade scholar at UPAD High School; Laneeka Barksdale, mother of a 12th-grade scholar at UPAD High School; Darrin Cato, cousin of UPAD High School crew member; Marlowe Stoudamire, father of UPSM Elementary School scholar; Dobie Gainey, a family friend of UPAD High School crew member; Darrin Adams, a classmate of UPSM Elementary School crew member; Dennis Haynes, uncle of UPAD Middle School crew member; Brenda Ann Jones, cousin of UPSM Elementary School crew member; Jim Esmond, cousin of a UPAD Elementary School crew member; Carrolle Harris, grandmother of a UPSM Elementary School scholar.
Former Senator Morris Hood, III
Morris Hood III, who went by Mo, came from a family of Detroit politicians and had been working in Wayne County Executive Warren Evans' office. His father, Morris Hood Jr., was a longtime state representative for Detroit until his death in 1998. His grandfather, Morris W. Hood Sr., was active in Democratic politics in the 1950s and '60s.
“Morris was a dear friend. He was a proud Detroiter and continued the family commitment to the service of his community,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “There was not a more loyal friend, thoughtful advisor or quicker wit. Mo was the type of guy that lit up the room and made you glad to be there. He is doing that in his next life now and those of us left here are better having known him. May he rest in peace. My love and prayers go to his beloved family and many friends who grieve this tough loss.”
With a musician's ear and a scholar's sensibility, Mike Huckaby adventurously and diligently bridged the emotive sounds of house music with the precision of techno. He was an avant-garde jazz fan with an interest in philosophy, fascinated by the relationship of music and mathematics. The Cooley High School graduate landed his first DJ gig in 1988 via Detroit fashion designer and party promoter Maurice Malone. He was a fixture at spots such as Motor Lounge, St. Andrew's Hall, Panacea and the Majestic Cafe, where he often held residencies, and toured the U.S. and globally playing gigs.
The world of House Music and R&B is mourning the loss of one of its favorite singers. Ceybil was known for the 1990s music hits, “Love So Special” and “Open Your Heart.” She performed under a few names but was best known as Sweet Sable.
Wilson Roosevelt Jerman
Wilson Roosevelt Jerman, a White House employee who served 11 presidents, died on May 16, 2020 at age 91. Jerman started working at the White House as a cleaner in 1957, rising to doorman and butler before retiring in 2012.
A statement from Michelle Obama said: "With his kindness and care, Wilson Jerman helped make the White House a home for decades of First Families, including ours. His service to others –– his willingness to go above and beyond for the country he loved and all those whose lives he touched –– is a legacy worthy of his generous spirit. We were lucky to have known him. Barack and I send our sincerest love and prayers to his family.
The Detroit Mumford community lost a legend when former basketball coach and athletic director Dwight Jones passed away from complications as a result of the coronavirus. He was 73 years old. The news has shaken the school’s community as Jones touched many lives in a positive way over his 49 years at Mumford High School. Even the school’s gym is named after Jones. He loved being around the coaching clinics held the week before the games in each Final Four city, but also the vendor shows, for he was always in search of a good deal on uniforms and equipment for his sports teams at Mumford.
Jacquelynne Jordan will be remembered by her son Jamon as a woman of strength, that she was a teenage mom who went on to college and became a Detroit police officer, and who worked for the Department of Corrections for 30 years. She had just retired in October 2019. "We were talking about all the different things we were going to do this summer now that she's retired," Jamon Jordan, her son said. But they couldn't even properly say goodbye. In this age of COVID-19, they had just a small service at her gravesite. Jamon’s company Blackscroll Network History and Tours offers bus tours and walking tours of African American historical sites in Detroit. He thinks he was exposed during one of those tours just a week before he became ill - and before there were any warnings about social distancing. He has since recovered.
Pearson Jordan, a Barbados-born former 1976 Olympian, passed away from complications-related COVID-19 on March 28, 2020, at the age of 69. Although Jordan didn’t win the 100-meter dash in the Summer Olympics in ‘76, he was a part of the championship 4 x 400 relay team for Louisiana State University in 1979.
otis Knapp lee
Otis Knapp Lee was a Detroit business icon, community servant, beloved father, and a retired Detroit restaurateur widely admired for serving up massive corned-beef sandwiches at his former Midtown deli called Mr. Fofo’s — and he was beloved for giving away thousands of Thanksgiving turkeys to all who lined up each November around his eatery. He died on April 5, 2020 of COVID-19. From 1973, when Lee opened Mr. Fofo’s Deli until closing it about 2007, the eatery on Second Avenue at Hazelwood in Detroit’s Midtown area was a diamond in the rough — a thriving eatery in a troubled neighborhood.
The House of Dance and Feathers, as Ronald Lewis named his cultural institution, was an astonishing treasure trove of local history focused on the Lower Ninth Ward and the Mardi Gras Indians. These performers dress in feathers, bangles, and dazzling, hand-sewn costumes as they danced through the city’s black neighborhoods on special occasions (The group dates to the 1800s, formed by African Americans to pay tribute to the Native Americans who had helped them during the time of slavery).
Giuseppi Logan, a staple of the free jazz scene in New York, passed away on April 14, 2020, from COVID-19. Logan, originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, taught himself piano and drums before the age of 12, studied woodwind instruments from the saxophone to the clarinet to the flute at the New England Conservatory before relocating to New York in 1964. He is known to have played with jazz greats such as Earl Bostic, Roswell Rudd, and Patty Waters.
Ellis Marsalis passed away in New Orleans due to COVID-19 related pneumonia. He leaves to carry on his legacy his sons: trumpeter Wynton, trombonist Delfeayo, drummer Jason, and saxophonist Branford.
Orlando McDaniel was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and attended college at Louisiana State University, where he played as a wide receiver for the Tigers. He became a professional football player, working as a wide receiver in the National Football League. McDaniel also ran track and was the founder and coach of North Texas Cheetahs Track Club. On March 27, 2020, McDaniel died of complications from COVID-19.
Bishop C.L. Morton, Jr.
When Morton Sr. died in 1962, his son became one of the youngest bishops in the country at age 20. He filled in for his late father and took over the ministry at Mount Zion Church in Windsor. Throughout his life, Morton Jr. was instrumental in establishing churches all throughout the Michigan and Windsor region, but his reach spanned state and country borders. Morton Jr. traveled all across the region and country establishing churches and preaching.
Florence not only cared for her four children, but she also opened her home in Detroit’s Rosedale Park neighborhood to countless others who she met while working as a licensed practical nurse at Detroit’s Receiving Hospital and later as a social worker and probation office manager at Wayne County Juvenile Court. “While working at the hospital, she would often meet patients of all backgrounds with no place to live and she would readily bring them home to live in her crowded household,” recalls her daughter Elaine Davenport of Southfield. “As her children, we became accustomed to this.” Still, that wasn’t enough for the passionate caregiver. She left nursing and pursued a social work degree from Wayne State University in 1965 after a former patient committed suicide. Owens died April 14, 2020, just one day before her 90th birthday. The cause of death was complications from COVID-19.
bishop Anthony pigee
L.A. Bishop Anthony Pigee, Sr., the 49-year-old founder and senior pastor of Life of Faith Community Center died on April 8, 2020, of complications from coronavirus. Known throughout the U.S. for his powerful preaching, Pigee was also lauded by his family and colleagues for his charitable and generous spirit towards others in need.
Wallace Roney, a trumpeter renowned for his interpretations of Miles Davis’ iconic jazz compositions, died at 59, his fiancée Dawn Felice Jones confirmed on April 1, 2020. Roney passed at a hospital in Paterson, NJ, where he was admitted last week, the Guardian reports. The Grammy winner — a leader in a post-bop or fusion style — trained at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Howard University, and Berklee College of Music. After working clubs in New York City, Roney was recruited by the Jazz Messengers, a famed hard bop band led by Art Blakey. He was later hired by Tony Williams, the drummer who played alongside Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter in Miles Davis’ second great quintet. Roney went on to perform with Ornette Coleman, Chick Corea, Pharoah Sanders, and other jazz legends.
Willie Mae Sheard
Willie Mae Sheard was a beloved leader of women’s ministry throughout the Church of God In Christ, the largest predominantly black Pentecostal denomination in the world. Mother Sheard, as she was affectionately known throughout the country, was a longtime chairwoman of the Bishops Wives Circle, a prominent organization of the wives of pastors that helped raise scholarship money and provided other services to church members.
“My mother loved people,” said Bishop J. Drew Sheard, pastor of Greater Emmanuel Institutional Church of God in Christ in Detroit. “She was always extending herself. She was a great leader in the church, but she shied away from the spotlight. She’d do the work, but didn’t have to get the credit.”
Nathaniel Slappey, Sr. and Nathaniel Slappey, Jr.
Nathaniel Slappey Sr., pastor of New St. Luke Baptist Church in Detroit, died April 30, 2020. Nathaniel Slappey Jr., a girls basketball coach at Detroit Country Day and a graphic artist and designer, died May 2, 2020. Both were suffering from COVID-19 complications.
NBA Reporter and Senior television analyst Sekou Smith died from COVID-19 complications on January 26, 2021. Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Sekou attended college at Jackson State in Mississippi. Smith covered college football, basketball, and baseball for The Clarion-Ledger. Smith was an NBA beat writer for The Indianapolis Star and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He worked at Turner Broadcasting as a senior analyst for NBA Digital in November 2009. He was also the creator of Sekou Smith’s Hang Time Blog on NBA.com, a host of The Hang Time Podcast, and a Senior Analyst on NBA TV. Smith was also a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.
Troy Sneed released albums on Malaco and Savoy Records, and in 2005 he started his own label called Emtro Gospel Records. His first release on his own label in 2005 “A State of Worship” was his breakthrough, reaching number 22 on the Billboard gospel chart. His 2011 album “My Heart Says Yes” peaked at number 5 on the gospel chart. Sneed also appeared in the movie “The Preachers Wife” as part of the chorus.
Detroit champion, community leader, beloved family man, Marlowe Stoudamire died March 24, 2020. Marlowe was larger than life, a vibrant man with a huge smile, known for his tireless dedication to Detroit, his kindness, and his honesty. He truly saw others and dedicated his life to building the Detroit community and creating opportunities for Detroit and Detroiters. One of Stoudamire's last projects was a partnership with the NHL and the Detroit Red Wings called "Learn, Play, Score," an initiative to bring hockey to more than 30,000 Detroit youths through street hockey at 79 schools, 12 parks, and rec centers, hockey as a classroom tool, e-sports, scholarships for hockey programs, open skate sessions at Little Caesars Arena and more.
dr. lenard wells
Dr. Lenard Wells had worked at the University of Memphis for around seven years and spent 30 years with the Milwaukee Police Department before he started teaching. “During his tenure at the University of Memphis as an instructor in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Dr. Wells touched the lives of many students. He was well known for his compassion and dedication to the imparting of knowledge and for providing guidance to his students regarding their future careers and life,” a release said. "Dr. Wells was an insightful instructor, a researcher, and a supportive colleague in the department. Many students benefited from his leadership as he worked tirelessly in creating the ‘Mock Crime Scene’ and perfecting the ‘Mock Law Enforcement Interview Board.’” Students often were observed in his office seeking his sage advice.
Aretha Franklin's former romantic partner and longtime friend Willie Wilkerson died April 4, 2020, of COVID-19 at 72, at Ascension Providence Hospital in Rochester. He had been living in Southfield, Michigan. He was born in Detroit and graduated from Eastern High School in 1966, then he served with the U.S. Marine Corps in the Vietnam War, the family said. Upon his return, he joined the Detroit Fire Department around 1970 and became an outstanding fire engine operator, said Capt. David Webster, who commands the department’s Ladder Co. 27 in northwest Detroit.
Detroit Fire Department Captain Franklin Williams, loyal Lions fan, beloved husband, father, and grandfather, and 32-year veteran of the department, passed away due to complications of COVID-19, said Thomas Gehart, president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association. “Just a great worker, a leader in this department,” Gehart said. "He was a leader of men and women. It’s tragic to see this happen."
Mary J. Wilson
Mary J. Wilson, the first African American senior zookeeper at what is now the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore whose expertise was caring for gorillas and elephants, died at Northwest Hospital in Randallstown of the coronavirus. She was 83. Said former coworker, Carol M. Barth, “Mary brought love, skill, and passion to her work with the animals at the zoo. She was also like everyone’s mentor. She was a mother, friend, and supervisor. What a great woman.”
Tom Wilson was a retired Detroit teacher and community activist who was living his best life — enjoying his wife and family and working, always, to make Detroit and Detroiters better.
Nashom Wooden, better known as famed drag performer Mona Foot in the New York City club scene passed away on March 23, 2020, of COVID-19. Mona Foot was a prominent member of the band 'The Ones'.