Awards and Speakers
The AFT honors outstanding democracy and human rights activists through two awards.
Bayard Rustin Human Rights Award
The Bayard Rustin Award is given biennially at each AFT national convention jointly with the human rights department. It honors activists who have distinguished themselves as exemplars of selfless commitment to promoting human rights and dignity and justice.
Rustin was an organizer and an intellectual and is remembered as a courageous leader in the fields of human rights, civil rights, labor and democracy. In the United States, he is especially well known as a principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. However, his interests and accomplishments reached beyond the United States. Throughout his life, he defended democracy and opposed authoritarianism wherever they existed, from South Africa to Poland.
Education International president Thulas Nxesi presented the Bayard Rustin Award to the teachers of Zimbabwe, who have stood up against tyranny and for democracy in the most trying of circumstances. General secretary Richard Gundane of the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA) and general secretary Raymond Majongwe of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) accepted the award on behalf of their colleagues.
The AFT has joined African trade unions in supporting the teachers of Zimbabwe and calling on the Zimbabwean government to cease its manipulation of the democratic process and reverse the destruction of the nation’s social and economic fabric. In addition, the AFT provides support for the legal defense of teachers who have been arrested and are awaiting trial in the Zimbabwe courts. Indeed, the 2008 Bayard Rustin Award was accompanied by an AFT donation to the legal defense fund of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. To learn more about the AFT’s work in Zimbabwe, please click here.
Past Winners of the Bayard Rustin Human Rights Award
2006 Amel Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture Nyala, Sudan
2004 Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.
2002 Szeto Wah, Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union
2000 Mayor Leoluca Orlando, Palermo, Italy
1998 The Hon. Alexis M. Herman, U.S. Department of Labor
1996 Rep. John Lewis, Atlanta, Ga.
1994 Cynthia Tucker, editor, Atlanta Constitution
1992 Dorothy Height, President of National Council of Negro Women
1990 Osvaldo Verdugo, President of the National Organization of Chilean Teachers
1988 Marian Wright Edelman, President of Children’s Defense Fund
1986 John Hume, Social Democratic and Labor Party of Northern Ireland
1984 Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., Washington Bureau NAACP (Accepted by his son)
1983 U.S. Ambassador Max M. Kampelman, Chairman of the American Delegation
reviewing the Helsinki Accords in Madrid
Ester Rolle, Actress
1982 The Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, Executive Director, Council of Churches in Greater Washington D.C.
1981 Bayard Rustin, Chairman, A. Philip Randolph Institute
1980 Liv Ullman, Actress
Benjamin Hooks, Executive Director, NAACP
1979 Rep. Shirley Chisholm, N.Y.
1978 South African Black Movement (Accepted by Cyprian Mahlaba)
1977 Leo Cherne, Chairman of the International Rescue Committee
Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, Minn. (posthumously)
1976 Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins, Calif.
1975 Rep. Patsy Mink, Hawaii
1974 Ernest Green, Civil Rights Activist (1st award)
Sen. Mervyn M. Dymally, Calif. (Speaker)
President’s International Democracy Award
This award was presented for the first time at the AFT’s 2008 national convention. It is given at the discretion of the AFT president to youth activists who have shown courageous resolve in struggles for human rights and democracy.
The inaugural award recognized the 88 Generation Students Group for its commitment to the struggle for democracy and freedom in Burma. Min Zin, a Burmese journalist and activist living in exile in the United States, accepted the award on behalf of activists still struggling to free their country.
The 88 Generation Students Group is composed of activists who, as students, led the demonstrations for which the organization is named on August 8, 1988. Min Zin led high school students in these demonstrations when he was only 14. Hundreds of thousands of citizens joined the students on the streets of Rangoon in the largest show of public dissent ever to challenge Burma’s military regime. The government responded by opening fire on the unarmed demonstrators. Thousands were killed, and many activists were arrested or forced into exile.
In the face of this violent repression, the group continued to recruit and organize demonstrations from underground. In August 2007, it began a series of demonstrations that were soon joined by thousands of highly revered Buddhist monks. The monks mobilized the population en masse, and, for two weeks, the street protests in Burma captivated the world. However, the peaceful civilians were violently suppressed by the government once again.To learn more about the AFT’s work in Burma, please click here.