By TIM ROWDEN
Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1 Vice President Nancy Cross and Jamala Rogers, author and president emeritus of the Organization for Black Struggle, were honored at the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists’ 30th Annual Ernest and De Verne Calloway Awards Banquet Oct. 22 at the Marriott Grand Hotel in St. Louis.
The annual awards are given in honor and memory of Ernest and De Verne Calloway, former director of education for Teamsters Local 688 and his wife De Verne Calloway, who was the first female African-American state representative elected to the Missouri Legislature.
Cross was honored for outstanding leadership in the St Louis Labor and political community and advocacy for racial and social justice issues.
Rogers was recognized for her lifelong support for local and national criminal justice reform and advocacy for labor, civil and human rights around the world.
Cross is vice president for SEIU Local 1 in Missouri, representing a diverse group of 8,000 workers in the region. A Massachusetts native, she has been working in Missouri for the past 12 years and has been instrumental in many legislative and ballot initiative fights and efforts to benefit low-wage workers. These include fighting so-called “right-to-work” and paycheck deception bills, improving access to public transit, raising the minimum wage and attempting to cap payday lending interest rates.
As a Labor leader, Cross has been key to building Labor community alliances.
Cross is a member of the National SEIU Racial Justice Task Force, a former member of Board of Eastern Legal Services and currently sits on the boards of United Way, Missouri Jobs with Justice Statewide Board, Citizens for Modern Transit and the St. Louis Labor Council.
The award recognizes her for her union leadership and her invaluable commitment to low-wage workers and the Fight for $15 and for building women, Labor, community and faith alliances to serve as a force against racism, repression and economic inequality.
Mike Murphy, a union representative and organizer for SEIU Local 1 noted that Cross was listed in the Missouri Times’ 2015 list of the 100+ List for public policy process as “One of the most powerful voices in Labor and Democratic politics,” quoting the Missouri Times.
“Nancy exemplifies what is good in the fight for those who are held down or oppressed,” Murphy said.
Ashli Bolden, Missouri statewide organizer for Jobs with Justice said, “Like the Calloways, Nancy fights for workers’ rights, women’s rights, civil rights and is very deserving of this award.”
Cross was humble in accepting the award.
“I’m not used to being recognized this way, and I don't’ do it to be recognized,” she said. “I really want to say that this is a different St. Louis when we all retire and leave and go our separate ways.”
Cross said the award was especially meaningful coming from CBTU.
“I especially like being in this room because I really believe that everybody in this room has similar values to me,” Cross said. “This is much more appreciated when I’m with my peers than when I'm with different type of people that are not all of you that have been fighting in the trenches with me since I came here in 2004. This award is really for all of you for all the help you’ve given me.”
Rogers is a long-time organizer with deep roots in the Black Liberation Movement. She has focused much of her work on addressing structural racism and economic injustices. She is a founding member of the Organization for Black Struggle, the Youth Council for Positive Development, the Coalition Against Police Crimes & Repression, the Justice Institute and the St. Louis Coalition for Human Rights.
She is also deeply involved in women’s rights and criminal justice reform, is a long-time champion of the rights of workers and an ardent supporter of the Fight for $15. She is a member of Jobs with Justice’s Workers Rights Board.
Rogers will be the first African American and female fellow in the Activist-in-Residence program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2017.
The award recognizes her for 50 years of front-line fighting against structural racism and economic injustices, criminal justice reform and her lifelong commitment to black liberation, peace, women’s rights and workers’ rights.
Rogers said she was deeply moved to receive the award named for two people she so admired.
Holly Roe, Organization for Black Struggle member and organizer for CWA 6355 spoke of joining the Organization for Black Struggle and going on a retreat where Rogers gave this advice “‘Be weary, but don’t give out.’
“Jamala’s passionate body of work and incessant activism is speaking truth to power under any circumstance serves as an exemplary blue print for becoming deeply powerful and living,” Roe said.
Nikia Paulette, of the Organization for Black Struggle, spoke of Rogers’ courageous leadership, saying, “If you know her then you know that she is an unapologetic and fearless leader. She leads by example and takes deep pride in her work. Jamala has touched many lives with her countless contributions to social justice and grass roots organizing…. She taught me that the fight for liberation is not a sprint but a marathon. You must be committed to the work if you want to see transformation in policy and the hearts and minds of the masses. She believes that we all have the power to create the change that we want to see.”