Mr. Certaine’s son, Earnest Todd Stewart and his son’s wife, Monique Ferguson Stewart at memorial service. Photos: Jehron Muhammad

PHILADELPHIA—The city of Philadelphia recently commemorated the life and legacy of former city managing director Joseph “Joe” Certaine. His organizational skills and work helped guarantee the success of Philly’s participation in the historic 1995 Million Man March called by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.

The Million Man March was held October 16, 1995 with the theme of: Atonement, Reconciliation and Responsibility. Nearly two million Black men of various backgrounds attended the gathering.

Philadelphia sent more men to the March than any city in the country. At the time Mayor Ed Rendell, whom Mr. Certaine reported to, not only supported Certaine’s involvement in the March, but Philadelphia’s Jewish mayor also supported the idea of the March.

The family of Mr. Certaine released a statement about his transition. “It is with profound sadness that the family of Joseph (Jemadari) Certaine announces his passing on Thursday, July 27, 2023, at the age of 76 years old. He bravely faced many health challenges after the recent passing of his dear wife and love of his life, LaTanya Certaine,” the statement said.  

Abdul Qiyam Muhammad interviews Joseph Certaine at the Philadelphia Convention Hall at the anniversary of the Million Man March.

“Joseph, lovingly known as Joe, left behind an indelible legacy that touched the lives of countless individuals in the city of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through his work with former Governor and Mayor Edward G. Rendell.” 

The statement also included sentiments expressed by Mr. Rendell who shared his deep admiration for Mr. Certaine. “Nobody knew and understood the City of Philadelphia and its neighborhoods more than Joe Certaine,” Mr. Rendell said. “His passion and dedication to this city and his efforts to protect and expand the right to vote in minority communities is unparalleled. He will be sorely missed,” he added.

According to his obituary, Mr. Certaine was born on December 18, 1946 and was raised by foster parents who instilled in him a sense of compassion and empathy that would define his character throughout his life. “In 1979, he made Philadelphia his home, and from that point on, his dedication to the city and its people was unwavering,” the obituary stated.

Among the speakers at Mr. Certaine’s August 31 memorial service were Mayor Jim Kenney, U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, and City Councilmember Cindy Bass, each of whom spoke glowingly about Mr. Certaine’s political acumen and his ability to improve how city services were delivered. In a statement read at the service, David L. Cohen—Mr. Rendell’s former chief of staff and the current U.S. ambassador to Canada—referred to Mr. Certaine as “the heart of the city.”

Dr. Benjamin Chavis, on left, and Joseph Certaine in an undated photo.

Student Minister Rodney Muhammad of Mosque No. 12, attended the memorial service. “I think if Joe were here to say some of his work that he’s most proud of I’m sure on that list is the work that he did to bring Philadelphia front and center for the unprecedented historic Million Man March,” Student Min. Muhammad told The Final Call.

“No question about it and I keep thinking of the many warriors that Joe brought on board that are no longer with us like State Representative David P. Richardson; local NAACP president and publisher of the Sunday Sun, Jerry Mondesire; political consultant and founder of North Philadelphia’s largest basketball league, Omjasissi Kentu; Secretary of the Democratic City Committee and Chair of the Alliance of Black Ward Leaders, Carol Cambell; former football defensive back for the Baltimore Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, Johnny Sample and business women and local political power broker, Lana Felton Ghee.”

According to Student Min. Muhammad, Mr. Certaine was not only able to bring together participants for the 1995 Million Man March, but he also repeated that undying commitment during subsequent marches and anniversaries known as the Holy Day of Atonement. This included the 2011 anniversary held in Philadelphia and the 20th Anniversary of the March held in Washington, D.C. in 2015 themed, “Justice or Else.”

“Not many realize the significant role that Joe Certaine played. I think it was the spirit of God first above all that made the Million Man March a success. But second to that I would have to say that the commanding (organizational) skills of Joe Certaine (who acted as a consultant to the executive director of the March, Dr. Benjamin Chavis) helped make that March a success,” said Student Min. Muhammad.

Joseph Certaine, city of Philadelphia managing director, Student Minister Rodney Muhammad and Dr. Benjamin Chavis, executive director of the 1995 Million Man March, at the first organizing meeting which took place in Mr. Certaine’s conference room.

During a 2015 interview, scheduled to be aired in a podcast in October commemorating the 28th anniversary of the Million Man March, Mr. Certaine shared that the organizing for the Local Organizing Committee (LOC) began in the managing director’s conference room at the Municipal Services Building. That meeting included Dr. Chavis.

“The Local Organizing Committee (eventually) mushroomed into the Regional Organizing Committee. From there we went out and organized other leaders (from the surrounding Delaware Valley), and that’s where the Regional Organizing Committee came from,” Mr. Certaine said. “It was important to have as broad a base as possible.

We made a conscience attempt to involve the union leadership … the unions represented people from the Black empowerment movement, and (significant) numbers of people—Black folks—that needed to know what was going on. Plus, they had resources to help so we could build the local movement,” he added.

On top of that, one of several unions involved which included 1199c the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Workers, the International Labors Union, Local 332 and District Council 33, the City of Philadelphia workers union, became the headquarters of the Regional Organizing Committee for the 1995 March, initially chaired by State Representative David P. Richardson.

Concerning his significant involvement in the behind-the-scenes organizing for the March Mr. Certaine said, “I as a tactician assumed the role as the operational chief, which I generally do. I took the responsibility of organizing and scheduling meetings, broadening the base of the coalition, and getting everything ready (for the March). As it turned out Ben Chavis asked if I could help him at the national level, which I did, going back and forth to Washington D.C.”

Mr. Certaine’s son, Earnest Todd Stewart, told The Final Call that his father’s commitment can be understood in a quote from General Douglas McArther he learned while a cadet at the Air Force Academy. “’There is no limit to the good that you can do if you don’t get the credit.’ And that really personified Joe Certaine.” said Mr. Stewart.

Joseph Certaine is survived by his son, Ernest, daughter-in-law, Monique Ferguson Stewart; and grandchildren, Brendon, Christian and Alexa.