Women Moving Forward: Union’s Leadership Academy Class Graduates


The Lillian Roberts Women’s Leadership Academy graduated its third cohort on June 19.

The LRWLA, normally an in-person, six-month program that requires participants to dedicate a full Saturday, once a month for the duration of the program, was held virtually due to COVID. Claire Menelas, Assistant Director of the DC 37 Ed Fund, said that with an overwhelming response, the program was split into two cohorts, with the next program scheduled to begin this September.

The program, held in collaboration with the American Federation of State, City and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), District Council 37’s national union, the LRWLA is a leadership program designed to support and develop female workers to become leaders in their professions, their union, and in their communities.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was converted into a 14-week course, and the first fully only-online class. Participants dedicated three hours to the online class facilitated by Dr. Anika Daniels-Osaze. Menelas co-facilitated on DC 37-centered information, including a General Shop Steward course. Also participating was AFSCME’s Yolanda Medina, Director of Education and Leadership Training, and Tsika Paspanodya, Education Coordinator.

Named in honor of long-time DC 37 leader and former Executive Director Lillian Roberts, the Leadership Academy’s objective since its founding in 2019 is to help women understand the key elements in the relationship between gender and power dynamics. Engaging in leadership positions in their chosen fields, women are able to build on skill sets to become effective leaders.

The program’s strenuous workload included weekly homework assignments, intensive Saturday class sessions, along with participation in the LRWLA Facebook group. Students finished the course with a local-based project. After the last session ended, participants moved on to an informal graduation, with DC 37 and AFSCME leaders praising them for their hard work.

Stephen Johnson, Administrator of the DC 37 Education Fund, told the graduates, “Alumni have gone on to promotions as well as leadership positions in city and community offices. We have the same expectations for you. In fact, we look forward to seeing you exceed our expectations in becoming the future female union leaders of DC 37,” he said.

In her remarks, DC 37 Associate Director Jahmila Edwards, said, “You put in the work and today is about celebrating the time, energy, commitment, and love you put into empowering yourself and your community.”

Adding in her congratulations, Barbara Edmonds, DC 37 Director of Strategic Initiatives, told the group, “Continue your journey with the commitment to lifelong learning. This is not the end, but this is the next step of your journey. Continue to serve others, especially the union and the community that keeps the labor movement thriving in these challenging times.”

Carmen Charles, Local 420 President, said, “As we reflect on what you and team means to us, let us challenge ourselves as sisters to do our very best to honor our ancestors on whose shoulders we stand.”

“This is the heart and soul of the labor movement and the undisputed truth is that we still matter. It’s stories of women showing courage to move our country forward because we know when women win, America wins. In fact, the labor movement would not exist without women leading,” she said.

Elissa McBride, Secretary-Treasurer of AFSCME, pointed out that the class is graduating at a time of positive change and opportunity.

“This past year has made it crystal clear that having a union is the difference between life and death. The pandemic created huge fiscal challenges for the public workers who serve our communities every day and have had to fight for PPE, fight against layoffs, fight for funding for public services, and fight to fund the front lines,” she said.

“We got to remember that this is a lesson about how we win when we fight together. DC 37 women, that’s why we need your leadership in our unions,” McBride said.

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