Rev. Dr. John C. Dortch
Pastor John C. Dortch is man whose humble beginnings are deeply rooted in a childhood and young adult life that were punctuated with promises of extraordinary life-time achievements. He was born on July 19th, his mother's birthday, the youngest of four children, the son of a Baptist minister who only had the benefit of an eighth grade education. Despite being a scholar athlete, a Howard University graduate, U.S. Army officer and decorated Vietnam veteran, his life went spiraling out of control. He had lost his way.
John's mother, Julia, shared incredible experience that she had during her pregnancy with him. She recalled that one night as she laid awake, resting quietly in the dark, in the front bedroom of the family's home, a sphere of light, like a miniature moon, came orbiting through the window, revolving on its axis. Too frighten to move, she watched in awe as the light touched her stomach, and then, just as it had miraculously entered, it exited the window.
Being a devout Christian, Julia was convinced that her vision was a Divine omen that John would be graced with a very special mission in life, that he had been chosen to be a servant-leader. Twenty-nine years later, John would have the identical vision, as he laid awake in his bunk, in a solitary jail cell, awaiting transfer to a maximum security penitentiary to serve a life sentence for murder. John's revelation was the beginning of a spiritual odyssey that would, not only transform his life, but would have a profound impact on the lives of many others whom he would encounter along his life's journey. In fulfillment of his mother's prophecy, John has become a pastor and powerful witness of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ and the all-sufficiency of His redeeming grace.
After serving fifteen years in prison, he was paroled and returned to Washington, DC, where he went to work for Covenant Baptist Church as its business manager. A year and a half later, at age forty-six, he enrolled in the District of Columbia School of Law, presently the David A. Clarke School of Law.
After graduating law school, he passed bar examinations in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and West Virginia. Later he served as an adjunct professor of Juvenile Justice at the University of the District of Columbia; as Executive Director of the Time Dollar Youth Court Program, a diversion program for first-time juvenile offenders, and later as the Director of the Violence-Free Zone Demonstration Initiative at the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprises. During an interview on the Today Show with Katie Couric, he vowed to dedicate the rest of his life to serving and ministering to those in need.
After his mother's death, he returned to his hometown of Beaufort, SC to restore the family's residence, to reconnect with the community where he grew up and to complete his autobiography, Memoirs of the Prodigal Son: The Road to Redemption, subtitled "Fifteen Years In Prison and Beyond". He has since become and a licensed, ordained minister, a pastor and founder of the Circle of Hope Ministries, a church without walls.
On January 21, 2013, at its Gala and Presidential Inaugural Celebration, the Gullah Cultural Alliance presented Rev. Dortch with the Jean Steward Award for "Outstanding Service to the Community". The award was in recognition of the work being done by the Circle of Hope Ministries to improve the quality of life of residents of the community: mentoring at-risk youths, distributing groceries weekly to fifty needy families, preparing and delivering over forty hot lunches to the homeless and sick and shut-ins on Fridays, visiting residents in hospitals and nursing homes and ministering to those in prison. On February 26, 2013 during the Black History Month Celebration at the Federal Correctional Institution in Estill, SC, Rev. Dortch appeared as the guest speaker and was presented with the prestigious Nelson Mandela Lifetime Achievement Award.
Upon reflection, Rev. Dortch would later muse, that from a spiritual perspective, his time in prison has been, perhaps the most illuminating period of his life. Other than serving on the ministerial team with Pastor Donald Goodwine at St. Paul Baptist Church in Beaufort, his other competing passions are assisting the elderly, serving those who are destitute, and advocating for at-risk youths, ex-offenders, the homeless and disabled veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder.
"John Dortch is a man who was admired for his impeccable character and sterling reputation until his single act of moral lapse. Despite his spending fifteen years in federal prison, he has managed to rehabilitate his character and to restore his reputation on both the grass roots level and within professional circles. His life of dedicated community service and compassionate outreach to our at-risk youth and other socially and economically disadvantaged people speaks volumes about his genuine commitment to the betterment of humanity."
Ronald E. Hampton
Executive Director National Black Police Association
"Because John is an ex-offender, when he applied to Law School, he was subjected to a rigorous screening process before being admitted. In the end the Admissions Committee was swayed by his keen intellect, his impressive character references, and academic credentials, but of equal significance, the Committee was impressed by his candor, contrition and genuine remorse regarding his criminal past. The wisdom of the Committee's decision was validated by his law school peers who elected him as president of the Student Bar Association and class speaker for their 1994 Graduation Ceremony. John was truly a unifying force within our diverse student body. At graduation, he was awarded the Dean's Cup for his exemplary leadership and untiring devotion to community service. After graduating Law School, John exhibited his professional competence by passing Bar Examinations in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and West Virginia. And because of his character and commitment to service, he is destined to make a significant contribution to our society."
Katherine S. Broderick
Dean and Professor of Law University of District of Columbia
David A. Clarke School of Law
"1st Lt. John C. Dortch, U.S. Army Retired, was engaged in a successful career, when he suddenly hit a psychological wall that unleashed severe symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-symptoms that he had managed to suppress for years. After going through a period of deep depression and isolation, he reluctantly reached out for professional assistance. As group facilitator for combat veterans suffering with PTSD, my goal was to assist John in developing a set of life skills that would empower him to function within society. I am hopeful that John's candid and courageous revelations about his struggles with PTSD will help the public better understand the challenges facing our combat veterans and their families."
Ph. D. Savannah Veterans Center Staff Psychologist
"Deacon John Dortch is a man who is graced with multiple gifts and talents which he faithfully exercises to the glory of God. He is a gifted teacher, orator, and vocalist. Deacon Dortch has a solid reputation as a dedicated servant-leader, who ministers to the elderly who live alone in isolation and to those who are confined in nursing homes and hospitals, often bearing gifts of flowers, cards, and fresh fruits. He has earned the love and respect, not only of our church members, but of members of the community-at-large. Deacon Dortch's life is a living testimony of his Christian faith and obedience to serve God by serving others."
Rev. Alexander McBride
First African Baptist Church, Beaufort, SC