JustLeadershipUSA mourns the untimely passing of Patty Katz, a member of the organization’s very first Leading with Conviction cohort in 2015. A native Oregonian, Patty was a consummate social justice organizer. Twenty years ago she founded Hands Across the Bridge, a historic gathering of thousands of people on the bridge connecting Oregon and Washington State. The event has taken place every September since then during National Recovery Month to celebrate recovery from substance use disorder and build solidarity and mutual support among families and communities.
Patty herself was a person in recovery whose repeated incarcerations opened her eyes to the inhumanity of the criminal legal system. “I was once a person who lived in prison,” she once said. “We are not just ‘inmates.’ We are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends and I want my fellow Oregonians to know that we are using the most expensive and least effective way of addressing drug addiction and mental illness.”
When Patty was released, her first act of advocacy was to persuade the Portland needle exchange program to give her 5,000 syringes and condoms to distribute to sex workers and active users. Patty went on to work tirelessly on many issues to bring about reform including successful local “Ban the Box” campaigns and the reform of the state’s parole board. Based on the breadth of her knowledge and experience, she was appointed to the Governor’s Reentry Council where she co-chaired the Committee on Family Issues.
“My heart is broken,” said JLUSA’s Director of Outreach and Alumni Engagement, Ronald Simpson Bey, “at the passing of one of the most wonderful people to have ever been on this planet, Patty Katz! We send our deepest condolences and sincerest sympathies to the family as we lift her up in light and prayer. Carry on ‘mom’ and may your soul be sailing on smoother seas. Rest in Peace Patty! You are forever loved and will be missed.”