Labor Community Celebrates King's Legacy

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AFT leaders and members joined hundreds of other labor activists and community partners from around the country for the annual AFL-CIO Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance in Detroit—"Keeping the Dream and Movement Alive."

Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance in Detroit. Photo: Jim WestPhoto: Jim West

The observance kicked off with a day of service at several Detroit public schools organized by AFT Detroit. Volunteers from a cross section of unions read to elementary schoolchildren, helped with library makeovers, tutored students in math and science, and spoke to middle school classes about career opportunities.

"This is where I went to school," Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees president and AFT vice president Ruby Newbold said upon arrival at Sampson-Webber, a PK-8 school. "It brings back many memories to walk down the halls and help with the library makeover."

Other labor activists in town for the weekend event served food in soup kitchens, sorted donated items for families in need, and helped paint a shelter for abused and battered women.

The opening day ended with a lively town hall meeting moderated by national radio talk show host Joe Madison, where the speakers included AFT secretary-treasurer Lorretta Johnson. "Public education is a civil right," Johnson told a cheering audience. "If you destroy public education, you destroy democracy."

On Jan. 14, the AFT hosted a workshop on public education where labor activists heard from Keith Johnson, president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers and an AFT vice president; MALDEF regional counsel James Ferg-Cadima; and Cleveland Teachers Union trustee Meryl Johnson. The trio talked about some of the challenges facing public schools and stressed the need to form labor-community partnerships to ensure that all children have access to a high-quality public education and that teachers have the resources they need.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis, the keynote speaker at a Jan. 15 dinner, reminded the audience of the many important achievements made in the last four years to support working families.

In a speech to the Illinois AFL-CIO, Dr. King once said, "The two most dynamic movements that reshaped the nation during the past three decades are the labor and civil rights movements. Our combined strength is potentially enormous. …" The Detroit gathering showed that this still holds true today. When labor and community groups join forces, all working families win. [Delisa Saunders, Cesar Moreno]

January 19, 2012