Fatimah Ali, as the title of her WURD 900AM radio broadcast declared, was “The Real Deal.”
Ali was a straight no-chaser who spoke her mind without apology. Her words were just as effective as any knockout punch.
“My mother was an endlessly giving woman,” said Ali’s daughter Khadija Ahmaddiya. “She cared about the African-American community. She cared about the children and her thing was ‘each one, teach one’; it takes a village to raise a child.”
Ali died on Tuesday, Jan. 24, at the age of 55. She was eulogized as an asset to urban publications since she not only personified their success, but also sought to define the struggle.
“Fatimah was the room because she was so passionate in everything she did,” said Michael Days, managing editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Before his job at the Inquirer, Days was editor of the Philadelphia Daily News, where Ali contributed as a guest columnist. “I just think she’s one of the city’s — one of the nation’s — brightest lights, and her passing is untimely.”
The longtime Philadelphia journalist, whose prolific career spanned two decades through the spectrum of media, gave voice to those who felt they were without on her show, “The Real Deal,” which aired Mondays to Fridays from 10 a.m. to noon.
She gave the disenfranchised her full support, tirelessly advocating on their behalf through thought and deed.
Ali lent her time to such organizations as One Step Away, a newspaper distributed to the homeless and We Are Black Women, a network of blogs written for and about Black women over the age of 40.
Headlines often blur for reporters who have seen it all and done it all, but Ali never gave anything less than her whole being. It was a trademark of her character that began at home.
“My mom, she was one of the most generous people that you’re going to meet,” said her son Malik Ahmaddiya. “She lived her life caring for other people. She put everybody before herself.”
Karen E. Quinones Miller, author and longtime friend, concurred.
“She was the type of person that a friend could go to at any time, and she never turned them away. If it was money and she didn’t have money, she would hustle to get the money as hard as she would hustle to get it for her and her own family,” she said.
“She was generous sometimes almost to a fault. She had a very, very good heart and was highly principled and stuck by her principles.”
Ali’s unwavering disposition was on full display in September of 2008 when she penned the column, “We Need Obama, Not 4 More Years of George Bush” for the Philadelphia Daily News about a potential race war if Sen. John McCain defeated then Sen. Obama for the presidency.
The article created an online tremor, reverberating across the World Wide Web.
Conservatives attempted to intimidate her, accusing her of being a racist and making her an anathema among their ranks. Ali received death threats and aspersions against her Muslim faith.
The Drudge Report spent two weeks stirring a backlash, but she would not cede from her assertions. In a follow-up piece, the powerhouse orator demonstrated her resilience.
“No, we’re not anywhere near ‘post-racial’ times,” Ali wrote. “If we were, the possibility that a Black man may well become our next president wouldn’t matter.
“And two words out of 775 in my original column would not have unleashed the kind of hatred that makes me want to retreat to a bunker,” she wrote.
Ali’s unexpected death rippled throughout the journalism community in Philadelphia who had come to know Ali as more than just a colleague but a personal friend.
“We have lost a very important voice in our community,” said Loraine Ballard Morrill, Director of News and Community Affairs for Clear Channel Radio in Philadelphia.
Morrill hired Ali over 25 years ago at Power 99 FM when she was the news director.
“She’s always been an incredibly strong and powerful voice for those people who often don’t have a voice,” she said. “She has constantly supported causes that have benefited our community. She had passion. She was excellent. She was brilliant, and she will be sorely missed.”
Thera Martin Milling first met Ali in the early 1980s when they worked together at WDAS-FM.
“First of all, she had a very melodious voice, a very excellent speaking voice and she was an excellent writer,” Martin Milling said. “She used to talk about the late Reggie Bryant as a great wordsmith. But amongst women broadcast journalists that I know of in Philadelphia, I would have to put Fatimah in that same category of being a wordsmith.”
Martin Milling spoke of how Ali’s spirit was never daunted to tell a story. She never considered her platform to be a limited ceiling of potential.
“For all of the passion and energy and the love that Fatimah put into her work, she, like me and some others of us who choose to work specifically in Black media from the time period she’s worked in black media, it’s almost a sacrifice to do it because you know you’re not making the same amount as your counterparts in the white mainstream media — but you do it for love of your people,” Martin Milling said.
“You do it for the love of Black-owned media — and understanding the importance of us having our voice no matter what else is going on in the media and around us.”
Ali was born Susan Hughes on June 16, 1956, to Mary Bunny Hughes and Deurward Hughes in Philadelphia; she grew up in Mt. Airy.
She graduated from Germantown Friends School in 1974, and earned a degree in English and history in 1978 from Wesleyan University.
From that point forward, she went on to burnish her credentials at such outlets as WHAT, KYW, 1010 WINS (CBS/NYC), WLIB and WBLS-FM (NYC) and the Philadelphia Daily News to name a few.
“The beauty of Fatimah Ali’s career is that despite career changes, she seized new opportunities for her vibrant voice to be heard,” said Sarah Glover, president of Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists.
She released a statement on behalf of the organization lauding one of its early members.
“Fatimah made a smooth transition from radio to newspaper and continued to grow as a journalist. She’s a Philly girl who kept it real, produced thoughtful commentary in written and spoken words, and gave back to the community. You can’t help but applaud Fatimah Ali and her life’s work,” Glover said.
Despite her work ethic, she found time for her family. She was married to state Sen. Vincent Hughes as well as television journalist A. Brahin Ahmaddiya who died in 2000.
“She lived life on her own terms,” Hughes said in a statement. “She was very thoughtful, very insightful, very intelligent and very committed to social change.”
One of Ali’s last public appearances was in the name of this premise as she helmed a broadcast coverage of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
“Over the 30 years I’ve known Fatimah Ali, she has consistently maintained a sense of community advocacy while successfully negotiating the changes in the media landscape,” said Bobbi Booker, reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune. “She seemingly and effortlessly transitioned from WDAS radio reporter Susan Hughes to noted Daily News columnist Fatimah Ali.
“As she dealt with life’s changes, she continued to blossom and became a wonderful, and highly-rated, daily radio talk show host on WURD,” she added. “Her media footprint in the fifth largest market was quiet, yet vast, and will be missed.”
Ali is survived by husband Natu Ali; five children, Ariell Hughes, Khadija Ahmaddiya, Rashida Ali, Yasmin Ali and Malik Ahmaddiya; parents, Mary Bunny Hughes and Deurward Hughes; two sisters, Diane Webster and Brenda Miller; and two grandchildren.
PABJ is collecting money to assist the family of Ali. Deadline to donate is Jan. 30. PABJ will accept cash or check. Make the check out to “PABJ” and write “Fatimah Ali donation” in the memo portion of the check.
Donations can be sent to the Ali Family Fund in care of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists (PABJ): Sarah Glover, Philadelphia Daily News, P.O. Box 8232 Philadelphia, PA 19101.
A viewing will be held Friday, Jan. 27, at Khadijah Alderman Funeral Service, 613–15 North 43rd St. It will be from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
A Janazah service will be held Jan. 27, at The Philadelphia Masjid–Sister Clara Muhammad School, 4700 Wyalusing Ave., starting at 10 a.m.
The family will host a citywide tribute on Monday, Jan. 30 at Summit Presbyterian Church, 6757 Greene St. Please call the church at (215) 438-2825 for exact time.