By SHERI GASSAWAY
Three local activists noted for being on the front lines for social and economic justice were honored at the 39th Annual Coalition of Black Trade Unionists Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Human Rights Awards Banquet.
The event was held on Jan. 16, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 36 Hall in St. Louis. The awards recognize individuals for keeping King’s dream alive in troubled times and for outstanding contributions to the struggle for human rights in the St. Louis area.
LABOR AND CIVIL RIGHTS
Prior to the awards presentations, Mike Louis, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO, shared his favorite King quote with the audience: “‘The civil rights movement and the Labor Movement are dependent upon each other. Without civil rights, there are no labor rights and without labor rights, there are no civil rights.’
“Donald Trump and the greed of corporate robber barons is nothing new,” Louis said. “Dr. King talked about this in the late 1950s and all through the 1960s and nothing has changed. They want control of our lives. They want to silence our voice in the workplace….
“They even want to tell us who we can and can’t marry, and folks that’s just wrong. Labor and civil rights movements have to maintain our unity.”
Tishaura Jones, St. Louis’ first female treasurer and one of several candidates for the St. Louis mayoral seat, served as the event’s keynote speaker. Jones said King was one of the most important members of the 20th century not only for African Americans, but for those seeking freedom, justice, equality and peace.
“Dr. King was known for his commitment non-violent activism and was a fierce supporter of the worker’s right to organize and join unions,” she said. “With the recent swearing in of new leadership at the state level, Dr. King’s legacy of supporting workers’ rights is more important than ever.”
After the keynote address, Jay Ozier, president of the St. Louis Chapter of CBTU, announced this year’s MLK Human Rights Award winners. They include the following:
Representative Bruce Franks, Jr. – Bruce Franks, Jr., a South St. Louis City native, is a community activist, a small business owner and a newly elected Missouri state representative.
After the events of August 2014, Franks got involved as a protestor/peacekeeper in Ferguson. His activism eventually led him to start “28 to Life,” a non-profit youth mentoring program, which gives guidance and support to youth in need.
In January 2015, St. Louis City Police Chief Sam Dodson appointed Franks as police community liaison. The role allowed him to facilitate crucial conversations between community members and the police department.
In 2016, Franks ran for the District 78 House seat and won in a special election. He is a ranking minority member of the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee and a member the Corrections and Public Institutions and Workforce Development committees.
Franks said 50 to 60 years ago black people were fighting for the right to vote, and today as a black elected official, he walks through the State Capitol – a building where blacks weren’t allowed 100 years ago – to go to work.
“This may not be big to you all, but I’m from the South Side,” Franks said. “Ain’t nobody from my hood ever been into politics. Nobody ever came into my hood to tell us how important local politics were, so this is big for me and those who look like me.”
St. Louis City Alderwoman Megan Green – Megan Green is the St. Louis City alderwomen in the 15th Ward. She was elected to the seat in an October 2014 special election and re-elected in April 2015. She is running for the position again in the 2017 municipal election.
Prior to running for office, Green worked with a variety of non-profit organizations including Shalom House, Lemay Child and Family Center and Childcare Aware of Missouri. She also spent a brief time teaching in St. Louis Public Schools.
Green has a master’s degree in educational leadership from St. Louis University and is currently working on her doctorate in education policy with a focus on the political feasibility of the socioeconomic integration of school districts in the St. Louis region. She also has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Penn State University.
Since becoming an alderwomen, Green has become a progressive champion of St. Louis, fighting for a $15 an hour minimum wage, civilian oversight of the city’s police department, reproductive rights for women and responsible development with community benefits. She also has been an outspoken supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“When I first found out I was selected to receive this award, I was pretty stunned,” she said. “The first thing I thought was, ‘How could I as a white women have done enough to forward racial and economic justice to be deserving of such an honor?’”
Green talked about King’s disappointment with the “white moderate” who is more devoted to “order” than to justice. She said, “Since the day Michael Brown was killed, it was Dr. King’s statement that has driven most of my activism and led me to continually ask, ‘How can I as a white person not be the white moderate Dr. King talked about?’”
Rasheen Aldridge, Jr. – Rasheen Aldridge, Jr., 22, is a community/labor organizer, an activist and a newly elected St. Louis City 5th Ward Democratic Committeeman.
As a result of his activism in Ferguson in 2014, Gov. Jay Nixon appointed him to serve on the Ferguson Commission as its youngest member. As a member of the commission, he had the opportunity to meet with President Obama in the White House to discuss racial and economic injustice issues and solutions.
Aldridge has been a key leader in the St. Louis Show Me $15 movement, which advocates for living wages and a right to unionize, and worked at one of the first local restaurants to go on strike as part of the effort.
Currently, he serves as director of the Young Activist United St. Louis and as a community co-chair on the Missouri Jobs with Justice leadership team. Additionally, he is a member of the Workers Education Society (WES) Executive Board.
Aldridge thanked Missouri Jobs with Justice, SEIU Local 1 and his Show Me $15 family for their support over the last few years. He said that when Show Me $15 first started in St. Louis, the group was called “crazy” and that “$15 an hour for flipping burgers was too high.”
“Now the idea is becoming popular, Aldridge said. “We’ve lifted that message up, and it’s not just fast food workers that deserve a living wage and a union, it’s childcare workers, janitors and homecare workers. It doesn’t matter where you work, you should have a livable wage and a union.”
ABOUT THE CBTU
The CBTU is the independent voice of black workers within the Labor Movement, challenging Organized Labor to be more relevant to the needs and aspirations of black and poor workers.
For more information on the St. Louis Chapter of the CBTU or to join, call Ozier at 314-435-1752 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.