African drums echoed throughout the halls of Anderson’s eighth floor as the spasmodic cadences neared the packed study hall. Draped in colorful dashikis, the two-man drum procession opened the Glenn “Omodiende” Reitz memorial and celebration Sunday in honor of the Temple student and educator.
About 50 friends, neighbors, family members, and colleagues gathered to remember Reitz, 43, who passed away Dec.14 of AIDS related causes after an 18 year bout with HIV.
The Wisconsin native received undergraduate and masters degrees in African-American studies from Temple after medically retiring from the Navy following a 12 year stint. He guess lectured at Chestnut Hill College and was a Ph.D candidate in African-American Studies. He also participated in Temple’s Inside Out program, which consisted of going to local prisons and talking to inmates.
“Whatever I thought I knew about him has been enhanced from meeting his friends and going through his things,” said his mother, Arlene Reitz, prior to the ceremony, while sifting through his belongings at his home.
She was one of several people who shared poems written by or for Reitz. She took joy in exchanging poems with her son via email.
Sitting next to a box of clothes he had ordered on Craigslist to give to the needy, she combed through a box a letters from students that had taken his “Death and Dying” class.
But it was not the typical well-wishing remembrance ceremony. Those that told stories about Reitz recounted his rebellious spirit, intellectual jousting matches and constant defiance.
“When I first saw Glenn in the basement of Speakman [Hall], he had on army fatigues, dog-tags, a shaved head and a brown ponytail and my first thought was ‘neo-nazi,'” said African-American studies professor Sonja Peterson-Lewis.
Days later, Reitz was standing in front of her office trying to decide which black studies course to take to fulfill the core requirements of his dual major; African-American Studies and Womens Studies.
His neighbors and Strawberry Mansion Block Captains also briefly spoke of his persistence and dedication to his Ridge Avenue community. He was instrumental in getting the city to build a playground on the 33rd block of Ridge Avenue.
“He stood out there with the blue prints while they were building the playground,” said one block captain. “If something didn’t belong, he would point to the blue print and call the architect.” he added that Reitz drafted the letter to the city to get the playground built.
His youngest sister and closet sibling, Paige Politte, recited her favorite poem written by Reitz. “I am not my body,” she quivered, “I am not weak, weak with fatigue, weak with atrophy, weak with limbs that give out well before the job is done.”
Throughout the recollections of personal experiences with Reitz, one sentiment was resounding; he challenged the thoughts and convictions of the people he met. “He invested in people,” said Urban Education and American Studies professor Marc Lamont Hill. His first encounter with Reitz was through email where Reitz wrote a three page email critiquing his ideas on hip-hop and his study of the topic.
“Glenn, more than anyone I ever met, looked death right in the face and kept on moving,” Hill said who led the ceremony. “He found out he had HIV/AIDS decades ago and continued because of his illness.”
Renita Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org