This morning I gathered with many others to celebrate and reflect on the life of Sammie M. Dortch. Here I share my tribute to Sammie.
I still remember my first conversation with Sammie Dortch. I remember it like it was yesterday.
At that time, I was a recent transplant to Chicago. As I shared with an acquaintance some struggles I was facing with adjusting, they replied, I know someone that you need to talk to. Her name is Sammie Dortch. The very next day I was in conversation with Sammie, making plans to meet at her house for a one-on-one conversation.
A few days later, I was sitting in Sammie’s living room admiring her exquisite taste in art. After an hour of inquisitive conversation and a bit of ideating around our shared commitments to justice-making, Sammie without hesitation asked, “How can I support you?” In turn I replied, “Will you be my mentor?” Without hesitation Sammie replied, “Yes!” With a posture of gratitude, I asked Sammie how I could support her in return. Just like that, Sammie invited me to join her work with Off the Pews as one of the founding board members, and an offer to apply to Community Renewal Society’s Board of Directors.
Little did I know that Sammie would become so much more than a trusted mentor. Sammie was my spiritual mom, spiritual guide, grandmother, auntie, big sister, friend and comrade in the struggle for justice. But because Sammie’s incarnational ministry was her whole way of being, her presence was not just a gift to me but to so many.
Like all who have encountered Sammie, her commitments to healing our communities wounded by racism, classism and poverty where undeniable. Sammie’s charitable acts of service where directed towards holistic social transformation. Her audacious commitments to justice revealed how deeply she loved people and community. Her life and works call to mind Dr. Cornell West’s reflection: “Justice is what love looks like in public, just like tenderness is what love feels like in private.”
An encounter with Sammie in many ways revealed God’s giving heart. Sammie was a true and genuine giver from the heart! As we celebrate the life and legacy of Sammie Dortch, we are confident that on July 18, 2020 Creator God embraced her with motherly affection singing praises of “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”
Dr. Sammie Dortch will not only be missed, but her absence will be felt. There are many in Sammie’s village who are who they are because she chose to love us, see us, and be with us. She now takes her seat amongst the great cloud of witnesses, as an ancestor whose wisdom, strength, humor, and friendship guide us on our sojourn until we meet again.
While Sammie is absent from us in body, she will live on in our hearts and memories. Her commitments to creating beloved community with youth impacted by systemic racism and poverty will live on through the mission, vision and works of Off the Pews: Faith in Action. Her legacy will not only continue on through Off the Pews, but yesterday 400 books from Sammie’s personal library collection will be donated to Cook County Department of Corrections where an academic library will be established in the name of Sammie Dortch. The men and women detained at Cook County Jail who are part of educational program tiers will have regular access to intellectual resources to assist them as they pursue their personal commitments to educational enrichment. I am deeply grateful for the support of Julia and Carol for supporting this effort.
Beloved Sammie, I can hear you saying, “what’s all the fuss about…carry on, carry on, carry on…there are works of justice to be done.
In return, let us reach towards the heavens to grab hold of the baton that you are extending. May we carry on your legacy with the same tenacity, creativity and vision for justice that you embodied!
Rest in Power, beloved sister! You will be missed, my friend, but forever remembered!