By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

Gone But Not Forgotten 2021

After the coronavirus cut a swath through the African American community in 2020, we continued to experience a great deal of loss this year. From honored celebrities whose careers we’ve followed for decades to everyday folks who were largely unknown until they left this world, we said goodbye and “Rest In Power” far too often. As the year ends, we take a minute to reflect and acknowledge some of those who went on to glory in 2021.

Former Denver Broncos running back Floyd Little died in his Nevada home on January 1 after a long battle with cancer; the Hall of Famer was 78.

Best-selling author Eric Jerome Dickey, 59, died of cancer in Los Angeles on January 3. The prolific writer penned such novels as “Sister, Sister,” “Milk In My Coffee,” “Waking With Enemies” and his final book, “The Son of Mr. Suleman,” which came out three months after his passing.  

South African food writer Dorah Sitole died of COVID-19 on January 3. Sitole, 68, was the author of the book, “40 Years of Iconic Food.”

Jamal Sutherland died in North Charleston, South Carolina on January 5. Sutherland was incarcerated at the time; a deputy used a stun gun on him multiple times when he allegedly refused to leave his cell for a bond hearing.

Media personality and author Dr. Barbara Young passed away on January 8. Dr. Young was a radio talk show host and motivational speaker who authored the book “Dancing on Broken Legs: Journey of a D.I.V.A.”

Duke Bootee who co-wrote the classic rap song, “The Message” died on January 13, he was 69.

Duranice Pace of the legendary gospel group The Pace Sisters died on January 14 after battling thyroid cancer. She was 62.

Detroit Judge Beatrice “Pennie” Millender died on January 16 at age 68. Judge Millender was active in a number of Black legal organizations and often spoke in the Black community about knowing your rights and Black representation in the court system.

Singer James Purify died of COVID complications on January 22. Purify, 76, scored a classic with the 1966 song “I’m Your Puppet” which he recorded with his cousin, the late Bobby Purify.

“Hammerin’” Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats with stoic dignity during his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record and gracefully left his mark as one of baseball’s greatest all-around players, died January 22. He was 86. The Hall of Famer finished his career with 755 home runs, a total surpassed by Barry Bonds in 2007 — though many continued to call the Hammer the true home run king.

Longtime NBA reporter and analyst Sekou Smith died of COVID-19 on January 26. Smith, 48, was the creator and host of’s “Hang Time” blog and podcast.

Actress Cicely Tyson photographed in 1976 in New York City. (Photo by Jack Mitchell/Getty Images)

Legendary actress Cicely Tyson died on January 28. Tyson, 96, was one of the most revered and lauded Black actresses in history. She starred in films, theatrical plays and TV shows as “Sounder,” “ The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” and in later years, “The Trip To Bountiful,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “The Help” and “How To Get Away With Murder.” President Barack Obama presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 and she was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 2020. Her memoir, “Just As I Am,” was released just two days before her death.

Sheila Washington, the founder of Alabama’s Scottsboro Boys Museum and Cultural Center, died on January 29. Through the museum, Washington, 61, told the story of nine Black men falsely accused of raping two White women in the 1930s. She also worked tirelessly to help clear their names. 

Iconic college basketball coach John Chaney died on January 29, just a week after his 89th birthday. Chaney led Temple University’s champion men’s team from 1982 through 2006. He was inducted into both the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

Local pastor and real estate entrepreneur Bishop Ron Allen died January 30, he was 62.  Dr. Allen became a real estate broker and established Ron Allen & Associated Real Estate Inc. and the Ron Allen School of Real Estate. He would later go on to found the International Faith Based Coalition where he helped fight against the legalization of marijuana. In 2014, Bishop Allen was among a group of leaders saluted as The OBSERVER’s Persons of the Year.

TV writer and comedian Marc Wilmore died in Pomona on January 30. Wilmore, 57, worked on such television shows as “In Living Color,” “The PJs” and “The Simpsons.” He was the brother of fellow comic, writer and producer Larry Wilmore, who created “The Bernie Mac Show.”

Danny Ray, who was known for draping capes on legendary soul performer James Brown, had a cape laid across his casket after he died in Augusta, Georgia on February 2. Ray was 85 years old.

Pioneering gymnast Dianne Durham died in Chicago on February 4, after a brief illness. Durham, 52, was the first Black female athlete to win an all-around title at the USA Gymnastics National Championships, paving the way for future Olympic champions like Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and Dominique Dawes.

Leon Spinks

Former heavyweight boxing champ Leon Spinks died on February 5. Spinks, 76, was known for having missing teeth and famously beating an aging Muhammad Ali in 1978.

Mary Wilson of the best-selling female group, The Supremes died of hypertensive atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease on February 8. Wilson, 76, and the iconic group had hits with such classics as “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.” Days before her passing, Wilson announced that she was about to release new solo music.

Apostle Frederick K.C. Price, founder of the Crenshaw Christian Center in South Los Angeles, died on February 12. Price, 89, was also known for his Ever Increasing Faith ministries. He was also the prolific author of books on faith and prosperity.

Robert Maraj, the father of rapper Nicki Minaj was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Long Island, New York on February 13. Maraj was 64. 

Former NFL wide receiver Vincent Jackson was found dead in a hotel room on February 15 near Tampa, Florida.  Jackson, 38, played for the San Diego Chargers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His cause of death was listed as “chronic alcohol use.”

Business owner Cecelia Rose Huffman White — the sister of former California-Hawaii State NAACP Alice Huffman and late Sacramento NAACP President Ida Sydnor — passed away on February 16 at the age of 80. 

Pioneering electronic engineer Kenneth C. Kelly died on February 27 after battling Parkinson’s disease. Kelly, 92, designed  antennas that helped land an American on the moon and ground satellites that tracked the Apollo space missions. His designs also enabled consumers to eventually have DirecTV and Sirius XM connections. Kelly fought for civil rights and inclusion in housing. He notably helped convince “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz to add a Black character, Franklin, in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assasination.

Bunny Wailer, the last surviving founding member of the iconic reggae group The Wailers, died in his native Jamaica on March 2 at the age of 73. 

Boxing great Marvelous Marvin Hagler died on March 13 at the age of 66. Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion of the world from 1980 to 1987, was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1983.

Veteran actor Yaphet Kotto died in the Philippines on March 15. Kotto, 81, was known for roles in such films as “Live and Let Die,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Alien” and “Brubaker.”  His television credits included “High Chaparral,” “Hawaii 5-0” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets.”

Evelyn Williamson, the mother of local line dance aficionado Tina Baltimore died on  March 17; she was 88 years old.

Elgin Baylor, the Lakers’ 11-time NBA All-Star who soared through the 1960s with a high-scoring style of basketball that became the model for the modern player, died March 22. Baylor was also a longtime executive with the Los Angeles Clippers. He was 86.

Craig muMs Grant, who was best known for his portrayal of  “Poet” on the acclaimed HBO drama “Oz” died on March 24. At the time of his death, Grant, 52, was shooting a recurring role on the Starz series “Hightown” and on the BET streaming series, “All the Queen’s Men.”

Attorney and legal commentator Midwin Charles died suddenly on April 6. Charles, 47, often appeared on MSNBC, CNN Bloomberg TV and TV One.

Longtime Florida Congressman Rep. Alcee Hastings died of pancreatic cancer on April 6. He was 84.

Iconic New York rapper and actor DMX died on April 9. Born Earl Simmons, DMX  released a number of albums including “It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot,” “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood,” “And Then There Was X,” “Undisputed,” and ironically, “Exodus” which was released this year.  DMX also appeared in films like the hood classics “Belly,” “Romeo Must Die,” “Exit Wounds,” and “Cradle 2 the Grave.”  Often plagued by drug use, DMX was hospitalized due to a cocaine-induced heart attack. He was in a coma for a week and fans the world over prayed for his recovery.

Duante Wright, 20, was fatally shot by White Minnesota police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop on April 11. Potter said she meant to use her taser while struggling with Wright, but accidentally pulled out her gun. She was convicted of first and second degree manslaughter in the case just this week. 

Skylar Herbert, 5, became the first child in Michigan to die of COVID-19 on April 19. Both her parents are first responders who worked diligently to save lives during the pandemic.

Sixteen-year-old Makhia Bryant was shot and killed by a police officer in Columbus, Ohio on April 20, after getting into an altercation with the adult daughters of her foster mother that involved knives.

Irene B. West

Pioneering local educator Irene B. West died of a heart attack on April 21. West, 88, was the first African American teacher in Elk Grove. She was the beloved mother of fellow educator Dr. Cornel West. 

Forty-two-year-old Andrew Brown, Jr., was shot in the back of the head by the Sheriff 

Department in Elizabeth City, North Carolina on April 21 while deputies were serving warrants on him for possession with intent to sell three grams of cocaine. Body cam footage brought deputies’ accounts into question, but the local district attorney found their actions to be justified and they were never criminally charged.

Shock G of the famed Bay Area rap group Digital Underground died of an accidental drug overdose in a Florida hotel room on April 22. The rapper, born Gregory Jacobs, was 57.

Joseph W. Hatchett, who in 1975 became the first Black man to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, died on April 30. Hatchett was 88.

Early rock ‘n roll singer-songwriter Lloyd Price died of complications from diabetes on May 3. Price, 88, had hits with such songs as “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,”  “Personality” and “Stagger Lee” and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

Two-year-old Amari Nicholson was beaten to death in Las Vegas by his mother’s boyfriend on May 5 after he wet himself. The boyfriend hid little Amari’s body and reported him missing. He was found a week later in a parking lot of the complex where he lived not far from the Vegas strip. 

Former prima ballerina Natalia Johnson passed away suddenly on May 7. After traveling the globe as a dancer and instructor, Johnson, 38, founded the NaTalia Johnson Conservatory of Dance in Sacramento and fought to bring dance instruction to girls of color. She also taught classes at Roberts Family Development Center’s Freedom Schools sites.

Merle Wright, a beloved staple of Sacramento’s Del Paso Union Baptist Church, passed away on May 9 at age 93.

Nedra Ruffin, the daughter of legendary singer David Ruffin passed away in Detroit on May 9. Rufflin, 58, died of COVID-19. 

Reggie Wortham, a well known panhandler in the Alta Arden area, died on May 13. Wortham, a veteran and burn survivor, was 65. 

Zoey Hughes, a 16-year-old from Modesto, and 19-year-old Alayasia Thurston of Stockton, were killed in Oakland on May 18. The two teens were celebrating a friend’s 21st birthday aboard a party bus when it was fired upon approximately 70 times by at least two people inside another vehicle. 

Legendary comic and writer Paul Mooney died of a heart attack at his Oakland home on May 19. Mooney, 79, was Richard Pryor’s longtime writing partner. He was known for his commentary on race and racism in America. 

Former Olympian turned humanitarian and track coach Lee Evans died in Lagos, Nigeria on May 19. Evans, 74, famously wore a black beret in bringing awareness to the Black struggle at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City. His college teammates Tommie Smith and John Carlos were sent home that same year for raising their fists on the medals stand. 

Melvin Mack, the first Black mayor of Laurel, Mississippi died on May 28, his 72nd birthday.

Kansas City rapper and visual artist Vonza Wastson, was fatally shot at a bar in Lake Ozark, Mo. on May 29, during Memorial Day weekend. Wastson, who went by the stage name VNZA, was 27.

Sacramento area poet and motivational speaker Akronems the G.R.E.A.T. died on June 2. Akronems was a member of the spoken word group, Writers Block and championed the importance of young people valuing literacy. 

Veteran actor Clarence Williams III died at his Los Angeles home on June 4 after a battle with colon cancer. Williams, 81, was best known for his portrayal of Linc Hayes in the groundbreaking 70s television show, “The Mod Squad.” Williams’ credits also included “Purple Rain,” “The General’s Daughter,” “American Gangster,” and “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.”

Temitope Balogun Joshua, one of Africa’s most popular televangelists, died June 5. The Nigerian-born pastor, known as T.B. Joshua, was 57.

Pioneering pitcher Jim “Mudcat” Grant died on June 11. Grant, 85, was the first African American to win 20 games in Major League Baseball’s American League and helped the Minnesota Twins win their first World Series in 1965. He also played for teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics. After retirement, Grant worked as a broadcaster and also advocated for more Black participation in sports. He wrote about the legacy of Black pitchers in his 2006 book, “The Black Aces.”

Rapper Timothy Parker, aka Gift of Gab, who performed with the Bay Area duo Blackalicious died on June 18. Parker was 50. 

Local beauty expert Kali “Toochie” Salaam Cuffee died of ovarian cancer on June 21. Cuffee, 50, was an entrepreneur and the sister of  SacCulturalHub founder Pleshette Robertson.

Former Florida A&M University and Tennessee State president Frederick S. Humphries died on June 24 at age 85. His own academic career included becoming the first African American to earn a Ph.D in chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Lauren Walker, the 4-year-old daughter of rapper Fetty Wap, died on June 24. Walker was born with an irregular heart beat. 

Gloria Richardson, an unsung civil rights hero, died in New York on July 15. Richardson, 99, was captured in a 1963 photograph, pushing away a National guardsman’s bayonet while protesting racial inequality in Cambridge, Maryland. She organized sit-ins to desegregate restaurants, bowling alleys and movie theaters and fought for better jobs, health care access and housing for Blacks.

Biz Markie, the New York-based rapper known for such songs as “Just A Friend,” “Vapors” and “Pickin’ Boogers,” died on July 16. Born Marcel Theo Hall, Biz was 57. He earned a new generation of fans after appearing as a beatboxing alien in the 1997 movie “Men In Black,” starring fellow rapper Will Smith and as a DJ on the children’s show “Yo Gabba Gabba.”

Troubled reality TV personality Frankie Lons died of a drug overdose in Oakland on her 61st birthday, July 19. Lons, the mother of R&B singer Keyshia Cole, made a name for herself and fans of her own appearing on her daughter’s reality shows and spin offs with her other children.

Patricia Lovan, the mother of local rapper and music producer Terrin Young died of COVID-19 on July 21. Lovan was 70 years old.

New Orleans boutique owner Angelle Mosley died of COVID-19 on July 25 despite being fully vaccinated. Mosley was just 33. Her family urged others to get vaccinated against the coronavirus despite losing her to a “breakthrough” case of the Delta variant.

Local crafter and entrepreneur Gloria Grandy passed away on July 25. Grandy, 72, was known for her beautiful quilts and handmade Black dolls. She was a member of the Black Crafters Guild and the Sisters Quilt Collective and owned Cre8tiv Designs. 

Haiti’s President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated at his home in the capital of Port-au-Prince on July 27. Moise was 53. 

South Carolina Black newspaper founder and publisher James “Jim” French died July 31. French, 94, founded The Charleston Chronicle in 1971 and oversaw its operation until he retired in 2016.

Charles Connor, a drummer who performed with iconic stars such as Little Richard, James Brown and Sam Cooke died at his Glendale home on July 31. Connor, 86, was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2010; he was working on an autobiographical documentary at the time of his death.

Historian and author Runoko Rashidi died on August 2.  Rashidi, 66, was an expert on ancient Egypt and died while there on a tour. His books include “Beautiful, Royal and Divine: The Black Image In Antiquity,” “Uncovering the African Past: The Ivan Van Sertima Papers” and “Assata-Garvey and Me: A Global African Journey for Children.”

Chicago house music DJ and producer Paul Johnson died from complications of COVID-19 on August 4. Johnson was 50.

Bad Boy Records producer Chucky Thompson died in Los Angeles of COVID-19 on August 9. Thompson, 53, had stellar credits including Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa,” Faith Evans’ “You Used To Love Me,” and Mary J. Blige’s “My Life” album. 

Local photographer and entrepreneur Sharon Ann Lewis-Dee earned her wings on August 9. Lewis-Dee passed away from COVID-19 complications, after battling kidney disease. The 60-year-old was the sister of former Sacramento OBSERVER sales team member Deborah Lewis-Grimes.

Blues guitarist Roy Gaines died on August 11, the day before his 84th birthday. Gaines played for legends like Ray Charles, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Gladys Knight and was also an accomplished songwriter. He performed his song, “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister)” in the 1985 film, “The Color Purple.”

Geraldine Rivers

Long-time educator Geraldine Rivers passed away on August 14. Rivers, 85, was the mother of frequent OBSERVER consultant and public relations entrepreneur Cheryl Brownlee.

Joyce Graham Johnson, the beloved mother of longtime OBSERVER photographer Ray Johnson, died peacefully on August 15. She was 89. Johnson was a former substitute teacher for the Sacramento Unified School District.

Famed Oakland Symphony composer Michael Morgan died August 20. Morgan, 63, was credited with diversifying participation in and appreciation of classical music. Morgan was also music director of the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra.

Local entrepreneur and literacy champion Dana Maeshia, 48, died of a COVID-19-related illness on August 30. She was the owner of several businesses including All Things Literacy and More and creator of the Boyz N The Hood and Around The Way Girls book clubs, through which she encouraged young people to read and  make their voices heard.

Lee Williams, the lead singer of the Mississippi-based gospel quartet, The Spiritual QC’s, died August 30. Williams was 30.

Award-winning Chicago TV news reporter and anchor Allison Payne died on September 1 after battling a number of health issues. Payne was 57. 

Stand-up comic Fuquan Johnson, 43, was found dead on September 3 alongside fellow comedian Enrico Colangeli, 48, in a home in Venice Beach. The two, and a woman, died after apparently using fentanyl-laced cocaine. 

Actor Michael K. Williams, who starred in memorable roles in such TV series as “The Wire,” “Boardwalk Empire” and “Lovecraft Country” died of an accidental fentanyl overdose on September 6. 

Former San Francisco 49er linebacker Parys Haralson died in San Jose on September 13. After retirement, Haralson, 37, served as the 49ers’ Director of Player Engagement.

Albert Raboteau, a leading expert and lecturer on African and African American religions died on September 18. Raboteau, 78, taught at Princeton University and authored such books as “Slave Religion: The “Invisible Institution” in the Antebellum South” and “American Prophets: Seven Religious Radicals and Their Struggle for Social Justice.”

Because of him, the revolution was televised. George Holliday, the White amateur videographer who captured the 1991 police beating of Rodney King, died on September 19. Holliday was 61.

Iconic filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles died on September 21. Van Peebles, 89, was most known for his Blaxploitation era work, most notably the 1971 film, “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.”

The body of Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day, 25, was found in the Illinois River on September 4 after he’d gone missing August 4. Famed attorney Ben Crump is representing Day’s family and has called on the FBI to investigate his death as a hate crime.

Groundbreaking filmmaker, playwright and musician Melvin Van Peebles, whose work ushered in the “blaxploitation” wave of the 1970s, passed away on September 21. He was 89.

Local music director and community champion Rev. Charles Cooper, Jr. died on September 29. Rev. Cooper, 60, was the co-founder of Sacramento’s Images Theatre Company and vowed to continue presenting quality Black productions when creative partner Lisa Lacy died just last year. Cooper also provided music for Unity Church of Sacramento.

Clara McLaughlin, publisher of the Florida Star and the Georgia Star newspapers passed away on October 3 at the age of 81 years old. McLaughlin was best known for being the first Black woman to own and be the majority shareholder of a network-affiliated TV station in the United States. Upon securing ownership of KLMG-TV in East Texas, she also became the first Black person to own a CBS affiliate station.

Lillian Mitchell, one of the first Black journalists to work for API, died locally on October 7. During the 1950s and 60s, Mitchell, 90, traveled extensively with famed Black artists, politicians and entertainers to write stories on them.

Comic Ricarlo Flanagan, who appeared on the standup competition, “Last Comic Standing” and in episodes of “Insecure” and “Shameless,” died on October 13. Flanagan was 41. 

Cleopatra Johnson, a 45-year-old mother of five was found dead at a bus stop in Phoenix on October 15. Johnson was shot dead, the victim of an apparently random crime.

Dorothy Steel, who starred as an elder in the movie “Black Panther” and its yet-to-be-released sequel “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” died on October 15 at age 95.

Local barber Stephen L. Grey died on October 18.

Veteran military leader and the nation’s first African American Secretary of State, Colin Powell died on October 18 from COVID-19 complications. Powell, who helped shape America’s modern foreign policy, also served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Although fully vaccinated, Powell lived with a number of serious ailments including multiple myeloma and Parkinson’s disease.

Beverly Tate Broadus Green, the 70-year-old mother of rapper Snoop Dogg, died on October 24, just days after he turned 50.

Pastor Joe Reginald Moore, Sr. was shot and killed  in front of his Compton church, Upper Room Christian Center, on October 24. Moore was 67.

Terrance Long, a 32-year-old heavy equipment operator, and Daron Turner, a 22-year-old landscaper from Antioch, were shot and killed on October 30 while attending a Halloween party at the Royal Castle Banquet Hall near Foothills Farms.

John Cole, a local entrepreneur and co-founder of The Sacramento OBSERVER died November 1. In his heyday, Cole, 103, owned a variety store and repair shop in Oak Park and was influential in the radio success of the gospel song “Oh Happy Day.” In his later years, he sang with the Soul Crusaders gospel group.

Ronnie Wilson, a co-founder of the GAP Band, died on November 2 after suffering a stroke. Wilson, 73, and the group had hits with such songs as “Outstanding,” “You Dropped a Bomb On Me” and “Early In The Morning.”

Ed Bullins, a prominent playwright in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, died of complications of dementia on November 13. Famed writer August Wilson counted Bullins, 86, as an influence. Known on both the East and West coasts, Bullins once served as the Black Panther Party’s Minister of Culture. He also taught at Contra Costa College, City College of San Francisco and Northeastern University in Boston.

Ezra Blount, a 9-year-old Travis Scott fan, died on November 14 of injuries sustained while trampled at an Astroworld Festival in Houston. Blount was one of 10 concertgoers who died.

“King of Memphis” rapper Young Dolph was shot and killed in Memphis on November 17.

Born Adolph Robert Thornton Jr., Young Dolph was 36.

Malikah Shabazz, one of Malcolm X’s six daughters, was found dead in her Brooklyn home on November 22. Betty Shabazz was pregnant with Malikah and her twin, Malaak, when her husband was assassinated on February 21, 1965. Malikah Shabazz, 56, died just days after the exoneration of two men who had been convicted of killing  her father.

Longtime Sacramento community organizer Tommie R. Whitlow passed away from leukemia on November 23. She was 77 years old. Whitlow was the past president of the Sacramento Valley Section of the National Council of Negro Women and spearheaded a number of the organization’s signature events such as the Sweet Potato Festival, the Christian Women of the Year Awards and the Children of Promise Workshops. 

Delisa Tucker, 34, was shot and killed in the Roseland neighborhood of Chicago on November 24 while placing candles at the site where her 14-year-old son Kevin Tucker was killed just days before.

Former Maryland police chief Charles Moose died November 25. Moose, 68, led the police department during the 2002 manhunt for the “DC sniper” that gripped the nation.

Jonshel Alexander, the former child actress who starred in the 2012 movie “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” was shot and killed in New Orleans while sitting in a car on November 27. Alexander was 22.

A former University of Alabama track star and Olympian Emmit King was killed in a shootout with another man in Bessemer, Alabama on November 28. King, 62, was a sprinter and a member of the U.S. relay team for the Summer Olympics in 1984 and 1988, but he didn’t compete. 

Fashion entrepreneur Virgil Abloh died of cancer on November 28. Abloh, 41, was the first African American to serve as artistic director of a luxury French fashion house, Louis Vuitton. 

Pioneering golfer Lee Elder died on November 28. Elder was the first African American to play in a PGA Masters tournament. He and others faced racism and discrimination in breaking the sport’s color barrier.

Marvell Reed, general manager of the local radio station 97.5 KDEE, passed away on December 1 after battling with diabetes. Reed, 52, built the station from the ground up and served in many capacities.  He was called the “glue” that held it all together.

Jacqueline Avant, a philanthropist and wife of Los Angeles music producer Clarence Avant, was murdered in their home by a would-be burgler on December 1. Avant was 81.

Zen Scott Cannon, the five-month-old son of actor/TV host Nick Cannon and model Alyssa Scott died of brain cancer on December 5.

Former New Orleans Saints player Glen Foster died on December 6 while in police custody in Alabama. Foster, 31, was arrested for speeding and allegedly beating another inmate while trying to steal his socks. Foster was said to be dealing with mental illness.

Harry C. Alford, President/CEO and Co-Founder of the National Black Chamber of Commerce,, transitioned December 6, in Washington, D.C. Alford often spoke before Congress on behalf of Black businesses, and for many years, he served as a board member of the United States Chamber of Commerce and the National Newspaper Publishers Association (the Black Press of America).

Curtis Clark, a coach with the Sacramento Raiders youth football organization, died on December 7; he was 44.

Demaryius Thomas, who played nine seasons with the Denver Broncos died at his home in Roswell, Georgia on December 9. Thomas was 33.

Tqarontarion “TQ” Harrison, the older brother of Kansas City Chiefs’ cornerback L’Jarius Sneed was stabbed to death December 10 in Minden, Louisiana. Harrison was 32.

Decades after his remains were found in a garbage bag in a wooded area of Ohio, Frank “Frankie” Little, Jr. , a former guitarist and songwriter for The O’Jays, was identified on December 14. While DNA technology finally gave a name to the bones, how and why Little died remain a mystery.

Groundbreaking author, educator and activist bell hooks, 69, whose explorations of how race, gender, economics and politics intertwined helped shape academic and popular debates over the past 40 years, passed away on December 15.

Wanda Young of The Marvelettes, 78, died of heart disease on December 15. Young sang on timeless classics like “Please Mr. Postman” and “Don’t Mess With Bill.”

Leonard “Hub” Hubbard, a former bass guitarist for The Roots died on December 16. Hubbard, 62, played on albums such as “Things Fall Apart” and “The Tipping Point.”

Shaun Shiller Fequiere, better known as Kangol Kid of the rap group UTFO died of colon cancer on December 18. The rapper, producer and songwriter who co-wrote the classic, “Roxanne, Roxanne,” was 55.

Mixed martial arts fighter Jordan Young, 27, died in Florida on December 18.

Rapper Drakeo the Ruler was fatally stabbed on December 19 while backstage at a music concert in Los Angeles. The rapper who was born Darrell Wayne Caldwell had just turned 28.

Award-winning singer, writer and producer Bruce Lacy died on December 20, Lacy, 68, performed throughout Northern California with the group Hip Service.

Local music entrepreneur Kenneth Hall died on December 26. Hall owned the artist management company, Tack Entertainment Group and acted as stage director for events like the Black Music Awards and the Black Expo.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu worked tirelessly to end apartheid in South Africa. The iconic priest and Nobel Peace Prize winner died on December 26 at the age of 90.

Gail Cordelia Berkley-Armstrong, legendary awarding-winning Bay Area journalist and Sun-Reporter Editor, died December 26 after a lengthy illness. She was 74. Prior to joining the staff at the Sun-Reporter Publishing Company, Berkley-Armstrong was the longtime Executive Editor and Assistant to the Publisher of the Post Newspaper Group in Oakland. The Post Newspaper Group was founded by her late father – Attorney Thomas L. Berkley.

Mary Alice Jervay Thatch, the third generation editor and publisher of The Wilmington Journal, died December 28 at the age of 78. Thatch was the proud daughter of publisher Thomas C. Jervay, Sr., and granddaughter of founder R.S. Jervay, a Black printer who started The Journal originally as the Cape Fear Journal in 1927.