Black Labor Week celebrates 10 years of action, community in Indiana

USW members from all across the country convened in Gary, Ind., last week for the 10th Annual Black Labor Week, led by District 7 Next Generation Sub-Coordinator E.J. Jenkins. From volunteering at the NWI Veterans Village to visiting and talking with students about labor at local area schools, this year’s event was bigger, better, and safer than ever.

“We’ve faced some challenges this year because of COVID-19, which our community knows too well,” said Jenkins, who is a member and leader of Local 1014. “We need each other now like never before, and I’m glad we were able to connect and show solidarity at such a trying time.” 

Jenkins, who works at Gary Works U.S. Steel plant, founded the event a decade ago to bring people together from different communities, especially those from outside the immediate area who aren’t familiar with the struggles the city has faced due to white flight and attacks on its education system.

“This week helps bridge that gap and opens a lot of people’s eyes,” said Jenkins.

To expand on this sense of community, this year’s event consisted of a drive-thru breakfast held at the Trinity United Church of Christ for everyone in the community.

The week also included a Black women’s empowerment seminar featuring Torre "Tor" White and Sheria Smith from AFGE, actress Bern Nadette Stanis, Renaye Manley from SEIU, Erica Clemmons-Dean from United for Respect, and Cherika Carter from the AFL-CIO, as well as a Black men’s panel led by USW paper sector member Alonzo Scott. 

“Having tough, courageous conversations is a necessary part of social justice and community work,” said Jenkins. “If we aren’t talking to each other, then we won’t move forward.”

Black Labor Week 2021 ended with a civil rights awards program, honoring those who have gone above and beyond for their community, including Local 12-775 member Herm Santana, who serves on the Black Labor Week organizing committee.

“This is a team effort,” said Jenkins. “Everything we do, we do together. That’s what this week and this movement are all about.”

Click here to view photos and videos from this year’s event.

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