Constituent Spotlight: Loxie Sanders
An Illinois hero proudly wears the heart of a servant
Each time fate has called on Kankakee native Loxie Sanders to risk his life to save others, he’s fearlessly answered the call.
Sanders, who was recently named Illinois Veteran of the Month, credits his great-great grandfather Joseph “Pap” Tetter, for inspiring his philosophy of compassion, self-sacrifice and service to others. Tetter, a former slave who founded the village of Hopkins Park on 42 acres, used proceeds from land sales to support the Underground Railroad.
Sanders acknowledged his family’s legacy during a ceremony recognizing his accomplishments as a veteran and a public servant.
“How could I receive any award without recognizing where I come from? Like the children of Israel, my forefathers had to wonder if future generations would be able to go forth into the Promised Land.”
A former police officer and Amtrak conductor, Sanders’s career choices have a common thread of helping others. He believes his life is an example of what can happen when you realize your purpose.
“I felt that I was created to serve in some capacity,” he said.
No stranger to headlines, Sanders made news in 2011 when he saved passengers during a fatal Amtrak crash. Traveling with his family to California, a truck plowed into the side of the train, causing an immediate explosion. Without regard for his personal safety, Sanders was able to rescue his family and other passengers and, tragically, to recover the body of friend and fellow Amtrak conductor Laurette Lee.
“A servant’s heart is always for the people and when there’s loss of life, it can be really troubling.”
His desire to help others was formed at an early age.
“I had a lot of responsibility. There were seven of us, and mom and dad struggled to take care of all of us, so having a job and being responsible really matured me a lot faster than other people.”
During high school, Sanders quickly realized that a traditional education was not for him.
“High school was really a struggle for me. I felt really disconnected from that. When I was young, I would say, ‘The first thing I’m going to do is join the military. The second thing I’m going to do is be a writer and travel the world.’ ”
At the age of 17, he followed his dream and entered a military training program. After passing his physical, he was off.
“I finished my basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, finished my GED and took some college courses while I was in the military. I really wanted to be a career military man. I was really looking forward to it “
Filled with hope and enthusiasm, Sanders had no idea that his dream would be cut short after only a year. While on patrol, he witnessed a car accident that caused a car to fall into a creek and become submerged. His instincts and compassion kicked in immediately.
“I had been trained and knew what to do. I was able to kick out the windows and save two small children. I went back in the water and was also able to save the father. Then I jumped back in to save the mother. I found her face-down. I did what I needed to do, but she didn’t make it.”
That harrowing experience left Sanders with chronic asthma. He also believes it triggered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“PTSD wasn’t really talked about then. For a 17 year old, that was a lot to take in.”
He was honorably discharged. Although the accident was traumatizing, he refused to let it stop him from helping people.
“I felt that I was created to serve others. I started taking classes in law and law enforcement. I graduated from the police academy and became a deputy sheriff. Then I moved to Atlanta and began working there.”
Afterward, Sanders moved to Cairo, Illinois, where he worked as a police officer and served as a community activist. Immediately, Sanders recognized the racial division within the community. Compelled to act, Sanders took it upon himself to start a group called the Community Policing Project. His goal was to resolve racial tensions by bringing African American ministers and community leaders together with the predominantly white police force to create an open dialogue.
Sanders felt he had a connection to this community. It was similar to his hometown: small, rural, and with many people of color.
“I am of mixed heritage—Cherokee, Mexican, and black. So I identify with people of color and their basic needs; they don’t see me as a threat. I really wanted to help.”
After a few job-related injuries, Sanders left the police force and began working for Amtrak in 2007.
Then in 2011, fate came calling again on that ill-fated Amtrak train. Like the previous accident, Sanders felt he could only react and help.
“There are times in life when people are ushered into situations and circumstances that they don’t have control over. But once it was placed upon me, I had to realize what I could do. Events like this help me realize how connected to humanity we really are.”
As a result of the accident, Sanders now suffers from the effects of smoke inhalation and must walk with a cane. Despite these injuries, Sanders’ spirit is unbreakable, and he knows that his work is not done yet.
It’s clear that all the accolades in the world have not hindered him from being a genuine, sincere and driven individual who remains connected to his family, his faith and his ancestors.
“I think that it came from great-great grandfather “Pap” Tetter. What strength and what tenacity he had. To take those proceeds from his land and use them for the Underground Railroad. How could I not learn from that?
“I also take strength from my mom’s cousin, who had to leave the country to play in the Negro Leagues. It gives me that same driving force. There are people in my ancestry who have done miraculous things. I refuse to let people tell me that because I suffered an injury or I walk with a cane that I can’t do anything. ”
Sanders said he stays true to himself by embracing a nonconformist attitude.
“If I just live the life that God has given me, I will be fine. I will not imitate anyone or anything who opposes my reality of the actualization of who I am.”