Veteran union activist Joan Suarez retiring from Bread and Roses Missouri


Search is on for new executive director


LONGTIME UNION ACTIVIST Joan Suarez (with microphone), founder and first executive director of Bread and Roses Missouri, will step down from her position March 1. In this photo, Suarez and Bread and Roses Board President Shannon Duffy (second from left), present civil rights activists Jamala Rogers (third from left) and Percy Green (right) with special recognition awards at the organization’s “Art is Labor” exhibit on Dec. 7, 2019. At left is the show’s curator Dail Chambers. – Philip Deitch photo

Joan Suarez, founder and first executive director of Bread and Roses Missouri, will step down from her position this spring, following the selection of her successor.

The multi-talented, longtime union activist is set to retire March 1 with hopes of finishing a children’s book and continuing her work as a fledgling watercolor artist. However, she still plans on doing some consulting work for the organization.

“I look at Bread and Roses as my legacy,” Suarez said. “You just don’t walk away from something you love and have been active in for many years. I’m sure I’ll still have some level of involvement with the organization.”

Bread and Roses originally began as a project of Missouri Jobs with Justice to provide workers the chance to produce art. In 2003, the organization sponsored an art exhibit that spurred dialogue around social justice themes. Sixty artists – many who were union members and community activists who had never shared their artistic talents publicly – submitted work for the exhibit.

In 2010, Suarez learned that Missouri Jobs with Justice was planning to shut down the Bread and Roses project because it did not have anyone to staff the program. Suarez took over as bookkeeper, and in 2015, she established Bread and Roses as a 501c3 non-profit arts organization. Since then, the non-profit has grown its revenues from $40,000 a year to $100,000 a year in 2020.

“Establishing Bread and Roses Missouri has been a crowning achievement of Joan’s lifetime work on the side of those who fight for justice,” said Shannon Duffy, president of Bread and Roses’ Board and administrative officer of the United Media Guild. “Joan has built a strong foundation of community support and the creative force for meaningful change that will be her legacy as the organization moves forward.”

Each year, Bread and Roses has produced multiple performances, workshops and art exhibits on themes of social justice, workers’ rights, clean government and community action. The organization’s mission to fight for justice through art comes out of Suarez’s lifetime of working for those principles.

Starting in the early 1960s, Suarez worked as an educator, organizer and activist, and served as international vice-president for the Amalgamated Clothing & Textile Workers Union in Missouri, Texas and across the country. She retired from the successor union (UNITE HERE) in 2003.

As a resident of St. Louis, Joan has continued to apply her organizing skills with Missouri Jobs with Justice’s Workers Rights Board, Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA) and other activist organizations.

“Joan Suarez is one of the most dedicated, hardworking and fair minded supporters that I have come to know regarding the struggle for human rights, in general, and the working class, in particular,” said Percy Green, a lifelong social justice champion.

“Joan’s established credibility and work ethics in the Labor Movement will be forever noted. Her effective stick-to-it-ness will be highly missed. Joan is indeed a role model for all today’s progressive activists, young and old.”

The Bread and Roses board has adopted a succession plan and formed a search committee for the new executive director, who is anticipated to start by Feb. 1. Interested candidates should submit their resume, cover letter and three references by Jan. 4 by visiting



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