Ramiah Whiteside, associate director of the advocacy and service organization EXPO (Ex-Prisoners Organizing), died unexpectedly Sunday. He was 47. A cause of death has not been determined, said Jerome Dillard, EXPO executive director.
“He was a giant. Little guy, but a giant who everyone loves,” Dillard said. “I’m getting calls from leaders around the country who are just saddened by his loss. Some of the leaders in the movement have really expressed their sadness and sorrow on this unexpected loss.”
Dillard said he’s known Whiteside for nearly 15 years, more than 10 of which Whiteside was incarcerated.
“He really impacted how people view formerly incarcerated people,” Dillard said. “He’s done this inside the four walls for 15 years. I’ve known him for close to 15 years from going inside, doing restorative justice. He’s always been a leader in helping individuals retain hope in what was deemed to be a hopeless situation.”
Whiteside came out of incarceration in 2019 after 25 years in the system, at which time Dillard didn’t hesitate to hire him to do work supporting incarcerated people and formerly incarcerated people as they rejoin the community.
“I’m gonna miss him as a leader. He is who I chose – not only myself, but my board and others chose him to be my successor,” Dillard said. “I could see no one else really heading this organization, which is a statewide organization, and then keep it moving forward to service those who are incarcerated and those returning to the community.”
In 2021, Whiteside and fellow advocate Kevin Cook ran from Milwaukee to Madison to raise awareness of how COVID-19 affected people in the prison system. At the time he said he personally knew eight people who died of the disease.
“I stayed in the car,” Dillard said with a laugh.
Dillard said Whiteside is survived by his wife and stepchildren, as well as his mother, who is in an assisted living facility, and other relatives in Milwaukee “who are just devastated.”
Dillard said plans for a memorial or funeral have not been finalized. An online fundraiser has been established to benefit Whiteside’s family. You can donate here.