Kendal Wade has become known in the Washington, D.C., area as a candidate for political office and law enforcement officer but recently became a funeral home owner in the District.
Wade practices mortuary science at the Kendal Wade Funeral Home & Cremation Services LLC and says serving customers has become a ministry for him.
Wade’s business launch comes at a bumpy time for African Americans in the funeral industry. According to a Sept. 14 Black Enterprise website posting — “Black Morticians Dying at Record Numbers Because of COVID-19 Creating Voids in their Communities– about 130 morticians have died from the coronavirus.
Additionally, Black-owned funeral establishments in the District such as Hall Brothers Funeral Homes, Latney’s Funeral Home and Austin Royster Funeral Home have shut down. He said Black funeral home directors face problems similar to those confronting many African American entrepreneurs including access to capital and being affiliated with an unpopular industry “that no one wants to be seen with.”
“People need funeral homes but that doesn’t mean that they want to see one on their block,” he said. “They consider it an eyesore.”
Wade often encounters customers and competitors who cite his youth, 34, as a weakness in an industry where funeral home owners are often in their late 40s and older.
“I have had some people say to me you are too young to own a funeral home,” he said. “I will work to prove them wrong.”
Wade also has to compete against a national funeral home corporate entity, SCI Inc., that can offer their customers more. Wade said, when serving customers, he will focus on quality, not quantity.
“We look at our customers as people and not as numbers on a balance sheet,” he said.
Wade said despite the challenges, he will work hard to win the trust of his customers and “get more business the right way by being the best we can be.”
“At Kendal Wade Funeral Home, we promise to provide you with the highest level of compassionate care and respect,” Wade said on the company’s website. “Our very capable staff of professional personnel and specialized scientists hold advanced degrees and experience in mortuary science, psychology, theology, cremation operations and public service, to ensure that every single step of this process is handled by a knowledgeable and compassionate expert.”
Wade’s Journey as a Mortician
Wade said his family has been in the funeral industry for three generations. He said he has wanted to be in the mortuary business as a toddler and got the chance at the age of 17.
“I graduated from Largo High School in 2006 and went to work for Austin Royster shortly after that,” Wade said. “One of my duties was to bring dead bodies to the Howard University medical and dental schools for the professors and the students to work on.”
Wade said he attended the Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Services in Houston online and did his clinical work at B.K. Henry Funeral Chapel Inc. in the District. He received an associate’s degree in mortuary science from Commonwealth in 2020.
During the 2010s, Wade took some time off from the funeral business to work as a Prince George’s County Sheriff’s deputy. In 2018, he challenged his boss, Sheriff Melvin High, for re-election but lost in the Democratic Party primary.
After the campaign, he left the sheriff’s department and resumed working in the funeral business in the District with the Terry A. Austin Funeral Home and B.K. Henry.
Patronizing Wade Funeral Home
Wade operates out of a small office in Northwest. When people come to see him, he makes sure he knows what they want.
“I take the time to talk with the family or the person who is in charge of the burial,” Wade said. “I don’t do cookie-cutter funerals. Every funeral is individualized for the decedent and the family. Death is precious and the process should be conducted in decency and order.”
Wade said his business offers various services such as cremation, burial and cemetery services to his customers. Additionally, customers can buy a horse-drawn carriage for their services, as well as funeral programs, a white dove release and memorial blankets. He said payment for funerals must be upfront or at least 72 hours before the funeral begins.
“That’s how 99 percent of funeral homes operate,” Wade said.
Wade said the pandemic hasn’t been good for business because “conducting funerals is a personal business.”
“You have to reach out and touch people and you can’t do that at this time due to COVID restrictions,” he said. “We find ways to help people but we are in the people-helping business during one of the toughest times in their lives.”