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Gift of Life Michigan’s education program director discusses the humbling experience of helping a donor family share their gift of love and life. By Robin Buckson, The Detroit News

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At a very young age, Remonia A. Chapman learned a lesson about the power of love that shaped her entire life.

"Love trumps everything," she said. Whatever the need, situation or challenge.

Love is the secret ingredient she brings to her work as program director for the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program at Gift of Life Michigan. 

She's spent more than 20 years dispelling myths and educating communities of color about the importance of organ and tissue donation by speaking at public events, networking with community leaders, supporting donor families and recipients, and rousting volunteers.  

"There’s an immediate level of connectivity that occurs that is something that is almost impossible to put into words, because there is an unspoken love that speaks in that particular moment," Chapman said of meeting with families in their time of grief to explain how organ and tissue donation can create a legacy of life for a lost loved one.

"Every time I see a donor family member in their most tragic time I look beyond that to love, the greatest gift, and share the greatest gift of love and life — that is just an amazing thing for me."

Chapman's efforts have made a difference. The multicultural donation rate has more than doubled, from 10 percent to 25 percent, with about 62 percent of the eligible Michigan population now signed up to donate.

"She saves lives every day by connecting all these people," said Patty Jo Herndon, president and CEO of the Michigan Donor Family Council. "She listens and then takes away what she learns and connects people.

"You fall in love with her, quite honestly.  It’s impossible not to."  

Chapman's first lessons in love were in Alabama, where she lived before her older-than-typical parents moved to Detroit.  After her father died when Chapman was 12, she learned that the elderly couple she called Mom and Dad weren't really her parents. For a time, she ended up in foster care.

Unsettled by still-unanswered questions about her origins and why her birth parents gave her up, Chapman found refuge in a teacher she met at Longfellow Junior High School, Lela Chapman-Cry. The teacher soon took Chapman into her home, and then became Chapman's adoptive mother. 

"I realize that there have been so many guardian angels along the way, and I am just so grateful and thankful," she said.

"Many times we go through life with all of these unanswered questions. I don’t have the concrete answers, but I do have a concrete answer, and that answer is always that love trumps everything."

At age 18, Chapman became the legal guardian of the woman she first called mother and cared for her until she died. She said she hoped to become a doctor.   After graduating from Wayne State University with a Bachelor's degree in psychology and biology, she attended the post-baccalaureate Health Enhancement program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

Chapman's dream of medical school didn't come true. Instead, she found her way to Gift of Life Michigan. And Chapman, who also is an associate minister at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church in Detroit, thinks that was all part of the plan. 

"This was definitely not only a mission," she said, "but a ministry that was an integral part of my life."

Remonia Chapman

Occupation: Program director, Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program at Gift of Life Michigan; associate minister, Hartford Memorial Baptist Church

Education: Bachelor's degree, Wayne State University; Urban Ministry diploma and Master of Divinity, Ecumenical Theological Seminary; Leadership Institute, Harvard Divinity School

Family: Single

Why honored: For increasing organ and tissue donation among multicultural populations in Michigan. 

2018 Michiganians of the Year: Cindy GarciaRachael Denhollander | Solomon Kinloch Jr. | Candice Miller | John Rakolta Jr. | Mike Duggan | Bryant George | Doug Stanton | Daniel Little | Aretha Franklin

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