BY CLYDE HUGHES, AC JosepH Media
For the longtime community leader Loretta Winters, giving back is not just a duty or the right thing to do, but a calling that goes back to her birth. Winters, who has won numerous awards for her service, said that she was born with nephritis, an inflammation of the kidney, which causes impaired kidney function.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, nephritis is the ninth most common cause of death among all U.S. women and fifth leading cause of death for African-American women.
“As a baby, I was given six months to live,” said Winters, the mother of four who is also chief executive of her husband’s construction company, Lorman Construction Solutions. “After that, I spent five years in the terminal ward of Jefferson Hospital hospital. As I got older, I was told I wouldn’t be able to do 75 percent of what normal people do, like having babies and whatever.
“I always said that God saved me for a reason. I don’t know why he saved me. I was supposed to have died. There was no reason for me to be here today. It’s a miracle. I’m still alive and well and healthy. I always seem to gravitate towards helping people and being involved in the community. I think I found my niche in the NAACP.”
The Gloucester County NAACP is arguably the most active branch of the venerable civil rights organization in all of South Jersey and rivals much larger chapters in the northern part of the state. Winters has been active in leading the branch’s success.
“Since taking over the helm of the once-dormant Gloucester County NAACP, in 2010, Loretta Winters has grown the civil rights organization into a diverse and inclusive instrument of change in South Jersey and beyond,” Wilfredo “Wil” Rojas, the first vice president of the Gloucester County NAACP said.
“Her natural respect and liking for people is commendable and has earned her the respect of policymakers and the diverse communities’ movers and shakers. Her common sense and her worldview prescriptive contribute greatly to our discussions on a variety of issues and need for diversity and inclusion of persons of diverse backgrounds,” he continued.
Along with her work with the NAACP, Winters is vice chair on the South Jersey Federal Credit Union board of directors and a board member with the Rowan College at Gloucester County Foundation. Along with her work at Lorman Construction Solutions, she is also the district registrar for the Deptford Township School District.
Winters said while she always finds time to fit it all in, her passion continued to be with her NAACP work and there have been some activities there that are near and dear to her heart. In May, the branch held a women’s conference, entitled “Heels in the Battlefield” at the Williamstown Library. There the group engaged women on a variety of topics, including economic empowerment, health, education, politics, criminal justice, and equality. The program also honored several women for their leadership roles in the community.
“Heels in the Battlefield is important to me because the workshops that it offers are important to me and other women,” Winters said. “One household at a time; that’s how you build a community. As a woman, I want to make sure we are empowered. It’s a healing process. I know other women going through the same things and we are there as a support system.”
Winters said the branch has been active in bringing attention to recent newsworthy topics, such as the reported breaking up of immigrant families crossing the U.S. southern border until detention hearings that have become a national political flashpoint.
The Gloucester County NAACP organized a news conference and rally on June 30 in support of those immigrant families but securing a venue – the Woodbury Courthouse – did not come until late.
“We didn’t get the okay to have it on the courtyard steps until Wednesday and the event was Saturday,” Winters said. “We could only advertise that Thursday and Friday. I said I don’t care if we only have 10 people, we’re going to do this. By Saturday, we had more than 150 show up. That was very gratifying.”
Winters also touted the branch’s annual golf tournament to raise money for scholarships which was held in June, a substance abuse and rehabilitation conference is held in April and two events this past March – an active shooter response training and a marijuana legalization forum.
In the fall, like many other local NAACP branches, Gloucester County holds its annual Freedom Fund banquet. Some 13 community members are honored during the annual banquet, called “Game Changer” awards. Honorees are recognized in the field of education, health, politics, community advocacy, etc.
“We try to do things monthly,” Winters said. “We have to be out there and be engaged, educating the community to make their quality of life better. In my younger years, I always would look for someone to mentor me, but if I found someone, they didn’t want to give me very much information. As long as I have information, it’s going to be out there. I will lead you to the water, I can’t make you drink it, but I can lead you there.”
As a founding member of the Gloucester County’s School Superintendent’s Equity committee
Winters said she has been proud of the work with the local school districts in an effort to increase their diversity workforce numbers. She said they have been successful enough with the Gloucester County schools that they hope to present what they have done to counties throughout New Jersey in an overall effort to bring in diverse educators. In some instances, they helped to get school districts to rewrite policies that banned the wearing of the Confederate flag – a symbol often used by white supremacists – by students.
For her work, Winters has been named by the South Jersey Journal as one of the 25 Most influential African-Americans in New Jersey in 2016 and 2017; and by the Gloucester County Times as one of the 10 Most Influential Minority Leaders. She received the Champion of Diversity Award from the South Jersey Courier-Post, and the Game Changer Award from KYW-TV, among other recognitions.
Winters said, though, she desires to help people more than any award or recognition because she knows that God saved her for a reason.
Photo courtesy of Loretta Winters.