Engaging with the Community Is a Priority, Johnson Says

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The AFT is committed to helping affiliates forge stronger ties with parents and the community. That was the essence of the message that national union executive vice president Lorretta Johnson delivered to the AFT leaders and activists attending the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI) conference in St. Louis, Aug. 18-22.

Parent and community allies can be powerful antidotes to the often negative messages people receive about public schools, educators and teachers unions. "We're saying to our locals that in order to change the [bad teacher] narrative" you have to have a good relationship with the community, Johnson said, also noting that these relationships should be ongoing—not just when the union has a crisis or problem.

Johnson told the group that the AFT has identified nine pilot states where the union will actively work with affiliates on community outreach. The AFT hopes these sites can serve as "models of how to engage with the community," she said.

The AFT officer's remarks resonated with the more than 30 AFT participants at the meeting, most of whom already work closely with community groups in their roles as APRI activists. Several said they were excited to hear that our union was making community outreach a priority. "This shows that we intend to be proactive rather than reactive," one of the attendees said.

Close to 500 people from across the country and a cross section of unions attended the annual APRI national education conference. Sessions included an address by Michael Blake, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, who urged attendees to spread the word about the good things the Obama administration has done in healthcare reform, public education and other areas—and to get involved in this fall's midterm elections.

The conference also heard a presentation on the One Nation march on Washington, D.C., slotted for Oct. 2. Backed by community and civil rights groups, faith leaders and labor unions, including the AFT, organizers hope the march will build support for an agenda promoting secure jobs, quality schools and equal opportunity.

Lorretta Johnson urged AFT participants to work with unions, churches and others in their communities to build coalitions and generate a large turnout for the Oct. 2 march.

Johnson is secretary-treasurer of APRI, and AFT secretary-treasurer emeritus Nat LaCour is the organization's vice president. [Roger Glass]

August 25, 2010