The inaugural meeting of the NYSUT Members of Color Affinity and Action Project was held virtually on Sept. 20. The convening featured a diverse slate of nearly 200 NYSUT members and a keynote by Sheryl Lee Ralph, star of ABC’s comedy series “Abbott Elementary.”
“We gather to recognize the contributions and dedication of our members of color who bring their unique perspectives, experiences and talents to the work they do,” said J. Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary treasurer, in welcoming participants. His office coordinates social justice initiatives for the statewide union. The MoCAA Project is NYSUT’s latest initiative to prioritize racial equity and social justice in the union, workplaces and communities.
Abraham encouraged members to share their workplace experiences and as unionists of color in New York’s public schools, universities and hospitals. Organizers used four online polls to gauge participants’ views on diversity and equity; the findings will help shape the group’s future agenda. “My goal is to create a space where everyone feels seen, heard and valued,” Abraham said.
Idalia Torres, UUP Fredonia, thanked the union for providing professional support. “My experience has also been exhausting because we are the representatives,” she said. “Campuses do a lot of recruiting but don’t provide a lot of support [for people of color] … I probably wouldn’t have stayed in the profession this long without the help of my union.”
In an animated discussion, Ralph thanked educators for their support of SAG-AFTRA’s ongoing strike. “I am the newly re-elected first vice president of the Los Angeles local of SAG-AFTRA representing 80,000 members,” said Ralph. “Strikes are difficult … but it is always wonderful that there are other unions that have your back and support you.”
Ralph also praised the work of educators, citing her father, a former high school principal, as a key inspiration in her life. “My dad had a five-letter word ‘think’ sitting in front of his desk at home,” said Ralph noting that she’s carried the lesson throughout her life. “There is nothing that happens to me that I don’t take my time to stop and think my way through.”
The Emmy- winning actress also advised participants to show up, participate and get involved, explaining that owing to the lack of diversity in their profession, not doing so will lead to professionals of color being overlooked or forgotten. She cited her love for the character she portrays on “Abbott Elementary.” “I am forever grateful for being able to speak up, on behalf in my small way, of teachers and the sacrifices that so many of you continue to make,” she said. “I want to thank all of New York's teachers for their service … know that you are so important.”
NYSUT President Melinda Person and Second Vice President Ron Gross saluted Abraham for highlighting social justice issues for the union. “Our team has vowed to make social justice a priority and to celebrate and recognize the value of our members of color,” said Person. “Your unique perspectives can shed a light on inequities that persist in our society … together we will create a stronger union that will advocate for the needs of all educators and students.”
Gross agreed, noting that “It's our obligation to embrace our diversity and our unity.”
In closing the program, Abraham invited participants to apply for the NYSUT Pathways to Leadership project, which aims to support members interested in taking on greater leadership roles within the union, or on school boards, or other entities within their community.
Pathways to Leadership
We are now accepting applications for the NYSUT Pathways to Leadership, a project to support NYSUT BIPOC members who strive to own their power and strengthen their skills to take on leadership roles within their union, workplace, or community. Throughout the year, participants will learn new skills, create community and experience mentorship to achieve their personal leadership goals. LEARN MORE AND APPLY.