By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
SSEU Local 371’s Black Heritage program ‘Be Counted, Be Heard’ on Feb. 7, examined the breadth and depth of Black excellence. The celebration featured the Noel Pointer Foundation youth string quintet; a dramatization of historic African royalty, and dynamic guest speakers U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes and Jennifer Jones Austin, a faith and social justice activist and CEO of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies.
“The Black experience is rich in contributions and pain,” said SSEU Local 371 President Anthony Wells. “Black history serves as a reminder and a path to progress. The paths we took are similar to the paths we chose to take in the union movement. Both are about dignity and respect.”
The local welcomed NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, DC 37 and Local 372 President Shawn D. Francois I and DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, union leaders and politicians along with hundreds of union members and retirees.
An educator who was named National Teacher of the Year in 2016, U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes beat the odds to represent Connecticut’s predominantly white 5th congressional district. She is the first African American woman and the first Black Democrat to do so.
Hayes sits on the congressional committees for Education and Labor, and Agriculture that oversee SNAP, school lunch programs, and more. She said, “I get a seat in the room and I ask the tough questions,” to protect students and people who are often marginalized. “Congress allocates $900 billion in funds and appropriations. This current administration can set us back two decades.”
“Being counted in the 2020 Census will impact us for the next decade,” Hayes explained. With a new box for counting race, Hayes urged people of color to “check Black” so communities aren’t underfunded.
“They are expecting us not to turn out… not to be counted,” Hayes added. “We have come too far for this. Our ancestors survived the Middle Passage and give us resounding hope. They set us up for success. Vote like your kids’ future depends on it.”