NYSUT’s Black History Month celebration kicked off in February with a rousing drum circle by The Washington Park Rumberos and performances of the “Star Spangled Banner,” sung by Savannah Gordon, and the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” performed by United Federation of Teachers member Sonja Hill.
The virtual event highlighted the unique struggles underrepresented groups face with regard to mental health and wellness in our nation.
“The health and wellness of individuals within the Black community is a conversation that’s long overdue,” said J. Philippe Abraham, NYSUT secretary-treasurer, in welcoming remarks. Abraham, who hosted the event, noted that the issue is especially timely since communities of color are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Lisa Good, founder and director of Urban Grief, discussed the lasting impact of trauma on the overall health and well-being of Black citizens — both from the pandemic and from historic hardships such as unfair policing, Jim Crow laws and slavery. Experiences like these, coming without break, can overwhelm an individual’s normal ability to cope, she explained.
“We have to comfort one another and collaborate with each other as we work toward a healthier community,” said Good. “We must be bold and lift up conversations about health equity and learn how to better navigate our health systems.”
Leven “Chuck” Wilson, assistant director of health issues for the American Federation of Teachers, encouraged participants to foster well-being within themselves, and others in their community, by promoting good communication. “Having courageous conversations is key to achieving wellness,” he said. “A lifetime of disparity and unfair treatment has created an inability to talk, ask for help or seek support. Our wellness is our responsibility.”
Members of the Federation of Nurses/UFT and NYSUT’s Health Care Professionals Council were recognized for their dedicated work throughout the pandemic. Anne Goldman, FON/UFT special representative, accepted on behalf of members, noting that “we’re proud of the work we do, and blessed to be part of a powerful union.”
Accepting on behalf of NYSUT’s HCPC, Karen Griffin, BOCES United Professionals, thanked nurses and health aides “for your compassion and resilience. Be encouraged; your ongoing work has not gone unnoticed.”
Other event highlights included performances by HerTempleMonologues, singer Tamara Horn and poet LeDerick Horne. Rev. Marc E. Thompson, pastor of the New Day Christian Empowerment Center in Schenectady, delivered an opening invocation and closing benediction.
To learn more about NYSUT’s Many Threads One Fabric initiative exploring racial justice, diversity and equity issues, visit nysut.org/manythreads.
Social Justice in Tri-Valley
NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer J. Philippe Abraham traveled to Tri-Valley Secondary School in Sullivan County in late January to meet with Matt Haynes’ Civics and Social Justice students and discuss the work of the NYSUT Social Justice Committee. Haynes, a NYSUT Board member and vice president of the Tri-Valley Teachers Association, presented Abraham with a “Partners in Education” certificate in recognition of his advocacy on behalf of Tri-Valley members and NYSUT members statewide.