EVEN WHILE HOBBLED by severe kidney disease, which required weekly dialysis treatments, Reggie Schell was out on Cecil B. Moore Avenue passing out leaflets or holding up signs, relentless in his pursuit of justice for black people.
The former leader of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia, Reggie was never deterred from working for the cause of equality for black people, the mission that had consumed him since the '60s - driving him to join demonstrations, work to get out the black vote and to get involved in other efforts to improve the community and the lives of his people.
His community activities once caused a judge, who sentenced him to probation on a gun charge in 1972, to praise him for his good works.
"There is uncontradicted evidence that you have been extremely active in a creative way in the North Philadelphia community," said U.S. District Judge Thomas A. Masterson, who could have sentenced Reggie to 20 years on the gun charge.
"I think today we have a tremendous need for people who can be creative, and it would be a bad thing for the community to cut off the effect of your involvement."
There is no doubt that some of Reggie's activities over the years, especially his fervent support of convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, have caused considerable controversy. But his focus had always been to improve the lot of his people and seek justice and equality for them.
Richard Reginald Schell died May 9 of kidney disease and heart failure. He was 70 and lived in North Philadelphia.
Although Reggie often ran afoul of the police, his most notorious arrest came in September 1970, during Frank Rizzo's years as police commissioner. He was one of 14 Black Panther members rousted out of their headquarters on what was then Columbia Avenue. Police ordered the men to disrobe and a famous photo of the seminude suspects by the Daily News' Elwood P. Smith caused a sensation.
Reggie was the defense captain of the local Black Panther Party when a 15-year-old recruit named Wes Cook joined. Reggie took him under his wing, one of many young people he taught and mentored in his career. When Cook, who changed his name to Mumia Abu-Jamal, was arrested for the Dec. 9, 1981, shooting death of Officer Daniel Faulkner, and subsequently sentenced to death, Reggie stood by him.
He visited Abu-Jamal in prison and supported him as the death sentence was commuted to life in prison in 2011. Abu-Jamal is now housed in the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy.
In a broadcast over Prison Radio, Abu-Jamal commented on Reggie's death, saying, "Above all, he loved black people. He died like he lived, as a revolutionary, relentless, determined, straight ahead."
Reggie was an active member of the Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition.
Reggie left the Black Panther Party in 1970 and subsequently formed the Black United Liberation Front, with the same goals he had pursued as a Panther. He also formed the Malcolm X Freedom Party and under its banner ran for the state Senate in 1972. He got a handful of votes.
One of Reggie's major accomplishments in the community was encouraging members of the city's violent street gangs in North Philadelphia in 1971 to give up fighting and work together on community problems. Reggie and other men went to the corners where the gangs hung out to talk them out of fighting among themselves.
Reggie would go up to the gang members and say, "Why are you dudes killing each other? Black people must unite for self-determination."
Four of the gangs were convinced, gave up their wars and created the Mongol Nation to work on community problems.
"He was a gentle man," said his daughter, Dessalina Clement. "But he could be stern. He stood up for his beliefs. He fought for equality for black people - but he was also my Dad."
Reggie was born in Philadelphia to Richard Schell and the former Eleanor Nesbitt. He served in the Army from 1959 to 1962. He often worked odd maintenance jobs over the years to support himself and his family. He was divorced and raised his children as a single dad.
Besides his daughter, he is survived by a son, Richard R. Schell Jr.; another daughter, Leslie Turner; a brother, Robert Schell; two sisters, Ellen Boston and Marian Schell; 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Services: 11 a.m. today at the Cannon Alfonso Funeral Chapels, 2315 N. Broad St. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be private.
Contact John F. Morrison at 215-854-5573 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @johnfmorrison.