Four labor/community leaders were recently honored with the Hershel Walker Peace & Justice Award for their work in creating a more just and equitable society.
Walker was a St. Louis trade unionist and human and civil rights leader committed to the struggle for peace and justice. He devoted his life to movements for social transformation and joined workers across the world for jobs, peace and freedom.
The 24th annual awards ceremony was hosted by the Missouri/Kansas Chapter of The People’s World. The People’s World is a daily news website that covers movements for jobs, peace, equality, democracy, civil rights and liberties, labor, immigrants, LGBT and women’s rights.
This year’s awardees included: Steve Wayland, director of business development at Painters District Council 58; Al Neal, a coordinator at SEIU Healthcare; Megan Green, St. Louis City Alderwomen, Ward 15; and Christine Assefa, an organizer at the Organization for Black Struggle.
A diverse group of 150 people attended the ceremony, which was held May 14 at the Painters District Council 58 Union Hall in St. Louis. Tiffany Dena Loftin, racial justice program coordinator for the AFL-CIO’s Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department, served as the event’s keynote speaker.
In February 2015, the AFL-CIO formed the Racial and Economic Justice Commission in response to activism surrounding the Black Lives Matter Movement shortly after the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Loftin was hired to coordinate and manage the commission.
She organized a series of six nationwide, day-long meetings for the newly formed commission that brought together national and local labor leaders for frank, candid and honest discussions about race and the Labor Movement. One of the meetings was held in St. Louis.
“Because St. Louis had this hearing, other states and locals across the country are encouraged and inspired to have the exact same conversation,” Loftin said. “St. Louis, you are paving the way to the country.”
She applauded the ceremony’s four awardees for taking the next step to create a more just and equitable society. She said to them, “I want to pause to celebrate your hard work and achievements of leading by example and walking what you preach.”
Hershel Walker Peace and Justice Awardees:
• Steve Wayland is director of business development at Painters District Council 58 and chairman of the council’s Community Organizing for Real Economics (CORE) Program. Wayland led the effort to create the Advanced Skills Workforce Center (ASWC), which is committed to providing essential training and related support to disadvantaged youth, particularly youth of color.
First organized by District Council 58 under the auspices of a new national training effort of the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades (IUPAT), the St. Louis ASWC effort became the second such program in the nation in January 2015. So far, 90 percent of the program’s graduates have been placed with contractors.
• Al Neal is a coordinator for SEIU Healthcare representing Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas. He worked as the chief negotiator during the recent SSM-SLUH contract negotiations. He also serves as secretary-treasurer for the Mid-South Organizing Committee (Fight for $15). “As organizers, our real work is in the background,” he said. “I accept this award on behalf of healthcare workers and Black Lives Matter.”
• Megan Green is a St. Louis City alderwoman representing Ward 15, which is the Tower Grove South neighborhood. She is highly visible in her community and champions the Black Lives Matter, womens, workers, gay rights and economic justice movements. She is currently working on a People’s Agenda in St. Louis that emphasizes policies that support everyday working people over special interests and corporations.
• Christine Assefa is an organizer with the Organization for the Black Struggle. She is a Missouri born child of East African refugees and uses her upbringing in a predominately immigrant community as a foundation to educate and empower marginalized people on issues relating to racist and predatory policing. As an organizer, Assefa has facilitated anti-oppression workshops, house parties, political education sessions, people’s assemblies and direct actions.
Photo: Sheri Gassaway