Atlantic City gambles on its first LGBTQ liaison

Judah-Abijah Dorrington
Judah-Abijah Dorrington

Judah-Abijah Dorrington is no stranger to leadership

Judah-Abijah Dorrington has been named as Atlantic City’s first Liaison and Coordinator of LGBTQ Programs and Services. In this new position, Dorrington has hit the ground running and is working under the Atlantic City’s Department of Health & Human Services under the direction of Wilson J. Washington, Jr., PhD.

Recently Dorrington hosted a talk with members of the LGBTQ community with Mayor Marty Small Sr. The meeting was held at a local restaurant where community members had a conversation to voice their concerns for Atlantic City.

Dorrington is no stranger to leadership as a member of a historic Atlantic City family. Judah’s father, Art Dorrington, was thrust into the spotlight of race relations due to his sports prowess. He was the first African American to sign a National Hockey League contract with the New York Rangers in 1950. “He’s known as the Jackie Robinson of hockey,” Judah said. Art later played for teams like the Atlantic City Seagulls.

Although Dorrington’s father excelled at practically all sports including baseball and golf, Dorrington is not interested in Athletics. “My male side came out in the drums.” Dorrington did take an interest in dad’s personality. “He had a strong character. He loved the game. He was not a hard man. He knew how to navigate people and situations in a way that people just loved him,” said Dorrington.

But Dorrington does not attribute a strong sense of civic duty to him as much as mom. “My father wasn’t an activist. It was my mother who was the activist,” Dorrington triumphantly said. “I grew up with her in the 60’s and 70’s here in Atlantic City.” Dorrington explained that Dorothie W. Dorrington’s biggest claim to fame was starting an organization called 101 Woman Plus. A group devoted to electing the first black mayor in Atlantic City.”

Judah-Abijah Dorrington
Judah-Abijah Dorrington

With two pairs of big shoes to fill, Dorrington went off to study music, get a master’s degree and compile a laundry list of skills in health and human services. Dorrington and La Verne Saunders have been together for four decades. they make up the firm of Dorrington & Saunders, LLC. The company is described as an education, training, organizational, strategic planning, and development group. The mantra of the company is “bringing vision to fruition.”

Dorrington says of Saunders, “it was love at first sight for me. I fell in love with her spirit. We are complimentary with the same passions for 40 years. A beautiful and brilliant mind, with spirit and wisdom.”

Dorrington has worked with companies like Boston Pride, Harvard University, the United States Air Force, the United States Army, the Multicultural AIDS Coalition, and The Theater Offensive to name a few. Dorrington attended Berklee College of Music. At Emerson College they earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and community education. Dorrington went on to earn a master’s degree in human services planning and development from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

At 65, when most people are thinking about slowing down, Dorrington took a position in an administration that governs an urban city in New Jersey where 40 percent of the population earns under the poverty line. Atlantic City residents battle crime, a state government takeover and a casino gambling industry that is seasonal, stressful, and constantly changing.

The mayor had reached out to Dorrington earlier in the year. He had a position in mind and hoped Dorrington would apply. Weeks later, on the 52nd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Dorrington orchestrated, for the first time in the city’s speckled history, a raising of the rainbow flag in the courtyard of city hall — the Progressive Pride Flag to be exact. Community leaders gathered and made a few speeches and the City Council read a proclamation officially making June Pride Month in Atlantic City.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of cutting-edge things. This thing that’s happening in Atlantic City is for me a cycle coming around again, because of where the world is at right now.” Dorrington said.

This year, Dorrington again held a NAACP event. But this time it was held at Pop Llyod Stadium in Atlantic City on July 8th and called the 2nd Annual Silver Linings Day in Atlantic City Pride With Purpose BBQ. Dorrington added games and entertainers for this year’s event.

What is on the bucket list of the new employee? First on the agenda according to Dorrington is “real diversity, not just diversity of colors, race and gender, but also diversity of opinion. Not having a bunch of like-minded people that all kind of walk-in lock step and believe the same type of stuff.”

“I’ve been doing this work before I had a job doing this work.”

How do you do that? “It’s not having the conversations that creates division,” said Dorrington. “It’s not having them. People being willing enough to listen. To be able to speak their truth, and people being able to accept people’s truth even though it may not be your truth. When people say, ‘this is something that is affecting me,’ believe them! Believe them.” Dorrington says that “all this frustration is because nobody wants to say ‘well, if that’s what people want, then I’m willing to support it.’ That means you don’t take your ball and go home.”

The next thing on the list is for people to have what Dorrington calls “access, opportunity and voice. Dorrington wants to address policy and have “inclusion in every aspect of life and government.”

“I don’t sleep,” is how Dorrington answered the question of how to manage a full-time government job and still fulfill the duties at Dorrington & Saunders. “I work 24/7. La Verne works 24/7. Because I’m passionate about it. This is all we talk about. I’ve been doing this work before I had a job doing this work.”

Dorrington identifies as queer or two-spirit, and looks forward to doing more training in Atlantic City. “Although it was exciting to have a Progressive Pride flag at City Hall, people didn’t even know what that flag was about. Most tourists are from New York, Miami, or around the world, and they don’t see the black or brown stripe, they know you are gay, but they think you are backwards. It’s a progression. We didn’t always have the same stars and stripes either.”

Dorrington’s point is that these symbols always evolve. “We didn’t just leave the same 13 stars,” said Dorrington. “This stuff is deep. There’s a lot of moving parts.”

Dorrington practices what is called “cultural humility. “I don’t know everything there is to know about LGBT-ness,” said Dorrington. “But I’m willing to listen to you.”

“I believe that I am responsible for community and the world that I live in.”

Dorrington told a story about a middle-aged trans woman who wanted to get involved and help. But they didn’t feel like they could because they are trans. “This is what equity is,” according to Dorrington. They told Dorrington they didn’t think they would ever see a trans flag with a black and brown line on it fly over City Hall in her lifetime. “For me. This is the vision that I have. When people have dignity, I know that I’m doing my job.”

Even though this is a new job. Dorrington is no stranger to the city. Years before when dad fell ill, Dorrington ran the Art Dorrington Ice Hockey Foundation. This organization teaches hockey to underprivileged youth. Dorrington also did work with former mayor Don Guardian who is currently running for the New Jersey State Assembly this November. Dorrington has many, many friends and with this new position it looks like more connections are on the horizon.

Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers? “Just that I believe that I am responsible for community and the world that I live in.”

Michelle Tomko is an award-wining stand-up comedian, arts fellow, freelance writer and arts commissioner in Atlantic City. @Tomkomedy