Poetry, prayer and lots of humor marked the packed celebration of renowned multimedia journalist Heshimu Jaramogi’s life at a memorial service Saturday at the Arch Street Friends Meeting House at 320 Arch St.
“He would mention things that would get your gears turning,” said his son Anwar Neale-Jaramogi. His son also recalled how his father kept him guessing and on his toes. “If I thought he was going right, he would go left.”
Heshimu Jaramogi, 67, died at his home Jan. 14, one month after his diagnosis of colon cancer. He was said to have been publishing his newspaper “The Neighborhood Leader” up until his passing.
While the service started off a bit somber as the Celine Dion song “Fly” played, it was not long before the laughter erupted as people remembered his infectious smile and wonderful sense of humor.
His partner Tremaine Smith said “he was large and in charge … he was teaching until the end.”
While she recalled that time surrounding his diagnosis as a “whirlwind,” she said they took solace in their “peaceful cocoon.”
The warmth of Jaramogi’s spirit was felt throughout the cavernous Quaker meeting house, which he frequented. And it got warmer as colleagues, friends and family shared their humorous recollections of him. There were stories about not being able to pronounce his name or someone calling him by his “government” name — James Henry Wilson Jr. or just “Junior” — which he would rarely answer to after changing his name in the 1970s. But people really recalled his smile and how he liked to converse about the community, politics and things that were important in the world.
Jaramogi’s career spanned over 35 years, where he worked at WPEN-AM, WCAU-AM, WDAS-AM and FM, WUSL, WJJZ, WURD AND WRTI. He is also a past president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists and won the organization’s lifetime achievement award in 2011.
Besides his time in broadcast, he also published numerous articles and photos in the Philadelphia area’s media network. He also founded Jaramogi Communications through which he produced “The Neighborhood Leader.” There were pins at his service fashioned out of black ribbon and pieces of The Neighborhood Leader for all to wear.
“Heshimu showed true versatility in his career as a journalist, publisher, photographer, and adjunct professor,” a letter from Mayor Jim Kenney. “His knowledge of media and communications led him to also be a media buyer and advertising producer on political campaigns of several prominent political figures.”
“To really know him was to love him,” said Michael Days, a colleague who met Jaramogi years ago while both were covering City Hall.
Days, vice president of diversity and inclusion at The Philadelphia Inquirer, also recalled how Jaramogi was anything but a quick talker — sentiments that were echoed by others during the service. “He did not do drive-by conversations,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans added that Jaramogi was like a community physician. “He was the only person who could give the vital sign of the community,” Evans said.
Several others were present to honor Jaramogi, including City Councilmembers Helen Gym and Derek Green, state Sen. Sharif Street and former City Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell.
A world traveler, Jaramogi was known to keep up with politics, social justice and urban community issues, was said to have grown his activist roots during his time in Chicago.
“People from Chicago thought Heshimu was from Chicago,” said Yvonne King, who knew Jaramogi during his time there. “Chicago was his political and cultural home.”
Others who spoke during the service claimed Jaramogi as their own community activist. There were shout-outs from Germantown, Strawberry Mansion and North Philadelphia.
But the primary remembrances were of his impact on West Philadelphia, where he was pivotal as a member of that area’s empowerment zone during the 1990s and was a key cog in the development of the Park West Town Center.
He was someone who verbally communicated and kept abreast of what was going on in the areas that mattered to people. No matter what section of the city or the world his journalism and activism affected, it was agreed that Jaramogi’s impact was a real and positive influence on everything and everyone he came into contact with.
“He will always be a good brother in our heart and in our minds,” Days said.