Remembering Dr. Rita Samuels by Bobbie Paul (former Executive Director of Georgia WAND)

Georgia WAND mourns the passing of Dr. Rita Jackson Samuels, a partner of ours through her work at the Coalition for the People’s Agenda
I met Rita Samuels almost 20 years ago in the first floor board room of the old Atlanta Life Building in downtown Atlanta. It was there, on Tuesdays, that weekly meetings were held for the Georgia Coalition for the People’s Agenda (commonly referred to as “the Agenda”).
For about two hours, folks in leadership positions from about twenty-five non-profit organizations came together, sitting side by side at long rectangular tables, to share mutual concerns and give reports on their group’s activities.  National and local groups working for voting empowerment, justice, and human and civil rights were represented.
The Georgia Coalition for Black Women, Inc. was one of the founding members of the Agenda, and during my first meeting, its founder – Rita Jackson Samuels – sat next to me.  At one point during the meeting she turned to me and looked directly in my eyes and exclaimed:  “Bobbie, Black women need help!”
I’ll never forget her directness, her longing, and the helplessness I felt.  Guilty as charged, Rita.  I clearly was not woke and I certainly had not done enough to support my sister Black women.
Yes, I was selfishly present at the Agenda to have WAND’s anti-war actions included in the Agenda’s agenda.  Yes, I wanted everyone to declare that a war with Iraq was wrong-headed, immoral, and a cruel endeavor that would take many lives. And an ungodly amount of money and resources.  But little did I know that going to that first meeting and encountering Rita would expand the goals of (then) Atlanta WAND and deepen our partnerships with so many like-minded individuals and groups within the city.
At the end of that first Agenda meeting Dr. Lowery had us stand, grasp each others’ hands, sing together: “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around…”   Dr. Lowery gave me a few hard looks as we sang and swayed, and I savored it as a challenge.  Those kind of challenges – from Rita and Dr. Lowery – come into our lives too seldom, it seems.
So, thank you, Rita, for our first meeting, your charge, and many other projects we shared. The world needs more spit fires like you who cross all lines and speak truth to power.  You helped teach me what tough work it is to build a truly beloved community.
Today, at noon, there was a luncheon honoring Rita’s life at the Carter Center.  More info here.
Read Dr. Samuels’ obituary here.