As a journalist and an advocate, Fatimah Ali tried to make things better for the African American community.
By Denise Clay
ABOVE PHOTO: WURD-AM’s Fatimah Ali broadcasting on location. Ali died suddenly on Tuesday, Jan. 24; she was 56.
(Photo by Martin Regusters)
One of the first hires that Kernie Anderson made when he became the General Manager at WDAS-FM in the 1980s was a newswoman named Susan Hughes, who later became Fatimah Ali.
She was the news director at Power 99-FM at the time, and Anderson believed she’d be a good fit for the community radio format he was trying to create at WDAS-FM. Ali brought a commitment to excellence to her work and would tolerate nothing less from those she worked with, Anderson said.
“She was a true professional; an excellent broadcaster,” he said. “She had a commitment to her audience and when you listened to her, you could tell that. Fatimah may have gotten under some people’s skin because she was so professional and demanded the same from everyone, but she was a great person and very supportive.”
Fatimah Ali, host of The Real Deal on WURD, died on Tuesday. She was 56.
Ali was a native of Philadelphia, who had done most of her professional work here. In addition to her work at WDAS and Power 99 FM, she had also worked at WHAT, KYW, 1010 WINS, New York’s CBS news radio station, WLIB and WBLS-FM. She had also worked for the Philadelphia Sunday SUN and The Neighborhood Leader, One Step Away, a newspaper produced by homeless men and women and the We Are Black Women Network.
In other words, she was a multiplatform journalist in the truest sense of the word.
“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, a photographer for the Philadelphia Daily News and president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. “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.”
But while she was a journalist and understood that world, she was also and advocate and was passionate about causes ranging from education to human rights to the betterment of the African American community, said Barbara Grant, who mentored Ali as an intern at WDAS and who later brought her on to WURD-AM to host a show when she became program director.
“[Ali] was what I’d like to call progressive and proud,” Grant said. “She was an unapologetic advocate for the progress of the African American community. She was a really committed journalist.”
One of those places where the journalist and the advocate intersected was when Ali worked as a columnist and an associate editorial board member of the Philadelphia Daily News. Because she was unafraid to speak her mind, her columns were sure to generate hundreds of comments on Philly.com, the online home of the Daily News.
“Fatimah Ali was a rare warrior woman, who took on every task given to her with courage, intellect, grace and power,” said Amy Simmons, a freelance writer and playwright. “She was relentless in her pursuit of truth, and in her reporting of it, even when it was not popular, and without the Schadenfreude that often creeps into the telling of difficult stories these days.”
But while she was passionate about her career, Ali was equally passionate about those she loved and cared about, her friends say.
“She was a caring and determined individual,” said Gary Shepherd, who worked as part of WDAS-FM’s morning drive team with Ali in the 80s. “She was fiercely loyal and protective.”
“When I hired her, she had young kids,” Anderson said. “I think that they were under 8-years-old. She did the morning news, so she had to be there at 5 AM. Since she was a single mom at the time with three kids and doing the morning show, she brought them with her and turned one of our conference rooms into a quasi-nursery while she was doing the newscast. So the kids were there, much to the consternation of some of the staff. During a manager’s meeting, someone brought this up and I said, “Just don’t step on them!” I think that everyone got the point…”
Ali was the daughter of Dr. Deuward and Mary Hughes and grew up in West Mount Airy. She graduated from Germantown Friends School and attended Wesleyan University.
She was married to State Sen. Vincent Hughes and to fellow journalist A. Brahin Ahmaddiya, who died in 2000.
In addition to her parents, Ali is survived by her partner, Natu Ali, four daughters, Khadija Ahmaddiya; Ariell Hughes; Rashida Ali and Yasmin Ali; a son, Malik Ahmaddiya; two sisters, Diane Webster and Brenda Miller, and two grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held on Friday at 10 AM at the Philadelphia Masjid, 4700 Wyalusing Ave. A memorial service is also planned, but arrangements were not complete at press time.
The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists is collecting donations to benefit the family of Fatimah Ali.
If you would like to donate, please do so by Monday, Jan. 30 in one of the following ways: Take a check or money order to the Philadelphia Inquirer/Philadelphia Daily News building, 400 N. Broad St. Please place your donation in an envelope and put on that envelope: “ATTN: Annette John-Hall/Inquirer” and in the memo section of your check.
You can also donate at the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists’ Media Access Workshop, which will be held on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012 at the NBC-10 Studios, 10 Monument Drive, Bala Cynwyd from 10 AM to 2 PM.
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