Houston community activist Gerry Monroe, known for his fierce and uncompromising voice against education inequities within the city’s public school system, died on April 30.
The self-proclaimed “Five Star General” dedicated his life to the youth and was often seen standing front and center during Houston Independent School District board meetings and community forums, holding public officials accountable, no matter how uncomfortable or harsh his language or tone might sound.
During his last interview with the Defender, he said that if he had to “kick over the tables” to fight for a quality education for the youth, then that was what he was going to do.
“My assignment is the youth. I believe that these kids can be anything that they want to be. But I also know the school system is failing them across the country,” he said. “So, I’m just doing what people say when they say it takes a village. I’m one of the villagers that believes in public education, and I believe that our kids are not getting a fair shot.”
Monroe was a proud Jack Yates High School graduate of the class of 1986 and spared no time reminding the community of where he went to school, sporting his gold and red T-shirts and letterman jacket. He was part of the Yates football team that won a state title his senior year.
But what solidified his legacy is more than his work on the field. Monroe’s mentor and fellow community activist Travis McGee said that the death of his friend created a deep void in the community that needs more passionate and consistent voices like his to keep the momentum going.
McGee knew Monroe for nearly 16 years and took him under his wing because of his desire for change and courage to confront the status quo. He helped Monroe understand the “policies, procedures, and laws” and took things to a different level.
“People don’t understand the sacrifices this man-made. I work full-time like many other parents, educators, and community advocates. Gerry made sure that he was at the (school) board meetings, city council meetings on a consistent basis and made sure the community was updated all the time,” McGee said.
“I took Gerry in, but he had his own twist to things. His delivery was different; I didn’t always agree, but I rather have someone do something than not do anything at all. To create change, you have to disrupt.”
That’s precisely what Monroe did. Last year, he showed up to a Houston ISD school board meeting wearing a black and yellow superhero outfit, warning them about his plans to expose them for allegedly receiving a kickback from district contractors. He also spared no words on his online show called “The War Zone,” a nonpartisan show that brings awareness to community and school district issues and exposes illegal activities among those in leadership. More recently, Monroe was seen during the Texas Education Agency’s second community forum on the state takeover, interrupting the meeting with a bullhorn strapped to his chest, opposing the board of manager process.
“That’s something I know I couldn’t have done. It takes a lot of guts to do what he did, but it got the attention it needed, and whatever he set his mind to, he made sure it happened,” Houston ISD educator and community activist Larry McKinzie said. “Now that he is gone, we have to keep the momentum. Until we get more people to come out, it’s going to be difficult. We’ve got to work harder and put in more enthusiasm, just like he did. The fight doesn’t stop.”
McKenzie named several instances where his methods brought results, including Monroe’s push to have Yates Principal Tiffany Guillory reinstated after Houston ISD removed her from the school she worked at for eight years.
In March, the Defender asked Monroe what his driving force behind that effort was, and he said that two of his former coaches who passed away told him to do whatever he had to do to protect the school’s legacy.
“He fought for Yates. He fought to ensure every Brown, Black, and white kid was good and treated fairly. He fought for me,” Guillory said. “He wanted the best for our students. Nobody is perfect. He had his way of doing things, but he meant well.”
On an episode of Fox26’s “The Isiah Factor Uncensored,” McGee suggested a funeral ceremony at Yates to honor Monroe’s service to the school and community. When we asked Guillory whether a memorial service could be possible, she said they were working on something special.
“We’re trying to wait for his family to do their planning, but we are planning something special,” she said.
Monroe’s family is collecting donations for the homegoing service. The date has yet to be announced.