White Shirt Project founder from Parkchester passes away

The late Jose Ramon with his best friend Connie Pacheco.
Courtesy of Connie Pacheco

In 2017 Parkchester resident Jose Ramon created the White Shirt Project, which called attention to mental health issues. Ramon, who impacted many people, passed away March 14 at 54-years-old.

Ramon died of ALS on the exact one-year anniversary of his wedding.

Connie Pacheco was his best friend and knew him for 30 years. It was quite difficult for her to speak about Ramon in the past tense. While Ramon left behind his widow Albert Rodriquez, Pacheco and he were inseparable. In fact, he often called her “his sister.”

She met him in 1991 and instantly they became friends. He loved dancing, music and helping people.

“He was a great guy and an awesome guy,” she said. “Joey was a self giving person.”

Ramon was born in Puerto Rico, but spent most of his life in the Bronx. Pacheco explained that Ramon dealt with depression and PTSD from being molested at the hands of family members.

They bonded because she was assaulted as a child as well. Knowing there were many people out there often afraid to talk about these issues or other mental health problems, Ramon launched the White Shirt Project and it became quite popular.

A career photographer, he took pictures of models, in black and white, using only a white collar shirt covering the torsos against a black backdrop and a single overhead light source set up. He asked a series of questions to find out what wearing a white shirt evoked in a model’s mind and body. Ramon created a platform for individuals to come together and speak about mental illness.

“There was this therapy with the camera,” Pacheco said. “He was able to relate to people because he had gone through so much.”

In January 2020 everything changed when he was diagnosed with ALS. She pointed out that he had the worst kind, as it affected his speech and it became difficult for him to talk.

The disease hit him hard, she said. He was a “tall husky good looking man” and it caused him to lose a lot of weight. Even during that she was still his best man and saw him get married.

“He just deteriorated right in front of our eyes,” she stated. “I didn’t expect that to happen that fast.”

Another close friend of Ramon’s was Hector Santiago. He met the departed eight years ago while Ramon was taking photos at the beach.

He saw him again at an event in the city and somehow got invited to a party at Ramon’s house. From there they became good friends and hung out as couples often.

Santiago, a veteran and recovering alcoholic, bonded over addiction with Ramon.

“He trusted me with a lot of stuff,” he said. “He pushed me to open my own business. He was just a really giving person. He made it possible for us to speak freely and not be ashamed.”

Santiago who was writing a eulogy for the funeral, noted that Ramon suffered a lot of pain in his life, but always put other people first.

“He was a funny guy and a he brought a lot of laughter to people,” he said emotionally. “He never showed people he was depressed. He had no money, but he had a lot of intellect.”

A GoFundMe was started to help raise money for the White Shirt Project.