On Saturday, Angelo Henderson's family, friends and fans filed in to pay their respects during the first viewing day at Swanson Funeral Home on McNichols in Detroit. (Todd McInturf / The Detroit News)
Detroit — In the back of the flower-filled room at Swanson Funeral Home on the city’s west side, a poster was displayed showing a tall man in a brown suit, smiling in a way that lifted his personality right off the page.
Around that photograph, hundreds and hundreds of names had been signed, alongside well-wishes for a beloved radio icon and community crusader. Messages of love and respect for a man who became the conduit of the people. Notes of grief and comfort for a family left behind.
Angelo Henderson, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and community activist, died at home unexpectedly Feb. 15. He was 51.
On Saturday, Henderson’s family, friends and fans filed in to pay their respects during the first viewing day at Swanson Funeral Home on McNichols.
They brought flowers, gave hugs freely and some shed tears. But all were there to celebrate the life of a man who loved life and loved giving back to others.
“He had a dream that our women, our seniors, our children could safely walk the streets of our city and not be afraid,” said Martin Jones, spokesman for the Detroit 300 community activist group that Henderson helped to start four years ago.
“He looked at a person’s strengths and talents before he looked at a person’s weaknesses
Henderson used his position as host of the “Your Voice with Angelo Henderson” radio show on WCHB-AM 1200 to drive community activism and lead what essentially became a movement in the neighborhoods of Detroit, friends say.
After a 92-year-old woman was raped and her home robbed on the east side, Henderson put out a call to all those willing to help defend the streets and get past the “no-snitch culture” that made it so hard for police officers to solve crimes in the city.
Bernice Smith, an original member of the Detroit 300 and a member of Henderson’s “Mother’s Board,” a quartet of senior citizens who each Friday appeared on his show to discuss city issues, remembers what it was like that first day driving near Pingree through the neighborhoods.
“There were about 30 cars driving down one street and on to the next and somebody had brought a bullhorn,” she said. “I had my speech. ‘We’re going to find out who you are and we’re going to get you.’”
A man ended up coming up to the lead car and providing the information necessary for the police to arrest the culprit.
“And that’s how we got our reputation,” she said. “That’s what Angelo started.”
Henderson was also an associate minister at Triumph Church, where he also served as the director of evangelism and outreach.
Henderson was best known locally as the host of “Your Voice” on WCHB, one of Detroit’s most popular news talk radio shows, owned by Radio One Detroit.
He was also the founder of Angelo Ink, a writing, speaking and media consulting firm.
Henderson was a print and broadcast journalist for 24 years, winning a Pulitzer Prize while with the Wall Street Journal. He served two terms as a parliamentarian of the National Association of Black Journalists and two terms as president of the group’s Detroit chapter.
Henderson worked at The Detroit News from 1989-95 and again for a couple of years in the early 2000s.
As for his radio show, Smith says Angelo was the same behind the microphone as he was when he was off work.
“He never changed. His head never got big,” she said. “The people loved him mostly because he let them talk.”
In addition to the poster, visitors to the funeral home were able to look at displays of Henderson with his family: wife Felecia, an assistant managing editor at The Detroit News, and their 20-year-old son, Grant.
There were many photos of Henderson playing with his son when he was a toddler, sitting together and smiling.
“He loved that boy,” said Smith. “He loved his family.”