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Institute honors African-American workers

Indiana University Northwest presents a tribute to African-American workers, a two-day institute, which will be held Feb. 6 and 7 in the Savannah Center Auditorium.

Two free, public ceremonies featuring nationally-recognized keynote speakers will highlight workers’ contributions to democracy and social justice and recognize the challenges ahead for workers in northwest Indiana communities. The first ceremony will take place on Friday, Feb. 6 at 5 p.m. featuring speaker William Fletcher, Jr., president and CEO of the Trans Africa Forum. The closing ceremony on Saturday at 6 p.m. will be lead by Elise Bryant, a nationally known African-American culture worker from the George Meany Center in Washington D.C.

According to Thandabantu Iverson, IU Northwest professor of Labor Studies, the purpose of the inaugural institute is to honor Gary and Northwest Indiana workers who have demonstrated their leadership and vision by helping to build the democracy and sense of community that can unite the diverse peoples of this region. In the midst of worsening conditions, intensifying fears, and widely accepted corporate agendas, many workers have stood up and fought back.

“Today, working people are experiencing a terrible assault on our human and civil rights. We need to build solid movements to defend and expand those rights. The workers we are honoring help point the way,” Iverson said.

For those interested in attending workshops during the institute, the fee is $3 in advance and $5 on Saturday with all registered participants receiving a box lunch. Sessions begin at 10 a.m. in the Savannah Center. Workshops include:

1. “How Black Steel Workers Helped Build Industrial Unionism,” with Fred Richmond, assistant to the director, USWA Dist. 7 and Ruth Needleman, professor and chair of the Division of Labor Studies.

2. “Building Successful Rank-and-File Struggles for Democratic Unions,” with Lorenzo Crowell, union rep. SEIU Local 73HC, Bryon Hobbs, president, SEIU Local 73HC and Jane Kiser, professor of labor studies.

3. “How We Organized at Wildwood and Methodist: Women Making a Better Day,” with Pat Thomas and Thandabantu Iverson, of the Division of Labor Studies.

Fletcher was formally the Vice President for International Trade Union Development Programs for the George Meany Center/National Labor College of the AFL-CIO. Prior to his service at the Meany Center, he served as Education Director, and later, as Assistant to the President of the AFL-CIO.

Fletcher’s union staff experience started in Boston, Mass. as an organizer for District 65-United Auto Workers. This was later followed by his role as the Organizational Secretary/Administrative Director for the National Postal Mail Handlers Union in Washington DC. He went on to work in the national office of the Service Employees International Union where he held various positions, the last one being Assistant to the President for the East and South. Fletcher is a graduate of Harvard University and has authored numerous articles published in a variety of books, newspapers and magazines. He is also the co-author of the pictorial booklet: The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1934-1941.

Prior to coming to the George Meany Center, Bryant was the program associate for the Union Minorities/Women Leadership Training Program at the University of Michigan’s Labor Studies Center from 1988 to 1998. She worked with Michigan’s trade union community to organize three annual conferences: the Latino Workers Leadership Institute, the Michigan Summer School for Women Workers and the Black Men in Unions Institute. Bryant served as Artistic/Director for both Common Ground Theatre Ensemble and Workers’ Lives/Workers’s Stories from 1982 to 1997.

Her most recent accomplishment is that her script for the PBS documentary, Porgy and Bess: An American Voice was aired last year. In addition, she was awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Michigan in Theatre with high honors. Elise received the Artistic Achievement Merit Award from Washtenaw Council for the Arts in 1986; the University of Michigan Women of Color Task Force’s Woman of the Year in Human Relations Award and the University of Michigan, Flint’s Black History Month Award, both in 1989; the Mother’s Peace Day Award from the Women’s Alliance for Nuclear Disarmament (WAND) in 1990 and is a recipient of the Ann Arbor-Washtenaw County NOW’s 1991 Feminist of the Year Award.

Bryant is a lifetime member of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World), a member of the Writers Guild (UAW Local 1981) and CWA/Newspaper Guild Local 35. Folk Legend Pete Seeger has said of Bryant, “You are doing some of the most exciting things in the whole labor movement these days! I hope you don’t mind the reins of leadership being put in your hands.”

For more information, please contact Pat Thomas at (219) 980-6825 or Judy Terek at (219) 981-4272, both from the IU Northwest Division of Labor Studies. This is event is sponsored by the IU Division of Labor Studies and the Center for Cultural Discovery and Learning Diversity Programming Group.



Media Contact:

Kim Kintz
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