Despite the challenges of the pandemic, eleven CWA leaders participated in the 2020 Minority Leadership Institute (MLI), held virtually this year. The two-week program provided training on leadership development, health and safety, organizing, mobilizing, collective bargaining, handling grievances, legislative advocacy, honing social justice and political advocacy skills, building worker power in the 2020 elections, and much more. A day was devoted to examining the relationship between racism and the exploitation of workers. A section called "The River of Life" taught participants how to use storytelling as a tool for effective organizing. CWA President Chris Shelton and CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens held a discussion session with the participants on union activism.
The MLI program was established 30 years ago as CWA's internal training program designed to promote the involvement of members of color, women, LGBTQ, and other underrepresented members within CWA at every level of our union. One representative from each District and Sector is invited to attend each year. The program has been instrumental in developing incredible CWA leaders.
President Shelton, Secretary-Treasurer Steffens, and members of CWA's Executive Board attended the virtual MLI graduation ceremony, where the participants shared their thoughts about the training program, with many pointing to the "River of Life" and the lifelong bonds they built with their fellow participants as the highlights of the program.
Here's what they had to say about their experiences:
The MLI Class of 2020!
Kimberly Johnson, President, CWA Local 1087
"The most memorable experience for me in this time was listening to everyone open up. You guys rejuvenated me and gave me more courage to keep pushing forward."
Terry Garner, President, CWA Local 2336
"It was a great experience, I'll never forget it. One thing is for sure: they are lifelong friends."
Timmia McIlWaine, Area Vice President, CWA Local 3640
"Some of the stories that my classmates shared with me made it easier for me to be able to take my walls down, and see what we have in common."
DeAndre (Dre) Davis, Executive Board Member, CWA Local 4100
"I heard the exact same story from every MLI graduate – they all loved it and it's easy to see why. Even though we're virtual, I definitely know we will keep in contact, get together, and meet in person someday."
Edward Williams, Chief Steward, CWA Local 6215
"Congratulations to my classmates. I look forward to seeing you guys down the road. I love you all."
Angel Wells, Chief Steward & Human Rights Committee Chair, CWA Local 7050
"These two weeks were nothing short of amazing. I want to thank the Class of 2020 for sharing their knowledge. I look forward to working with you and continuing our work as a family."
Pamela Bill, Executive Board Member, CWA Local 9003
"My most memorable moment was the 'River of Life.' It allowed us to be so vulnerable and open, and to share. The MLI Class of 2020 is going down in the books."
Chip Hestle II, MEC Chair of Alaska Airlines Human Rights Committee, AFA-CWA Local 27019
"To my fellow 2020 classmates, what a journey. I'm encouraged; you gave me the strength and the wisdom that I need to continue on."
CJ Jones, Vice President, IUE-CWA Local 86787
"This really helped me understand my role as a leader. I thank CWA for having such programs available."
Myra Cates, President, NABET-CWA Local 54044
"I loved the MLI conference. This was amazing. I loved all the people, and I loved learning more of how the union works."
Steven Simmons, Secretary, CWA Local 9110 (PHEW)
"The most memorable moment to me during MLI was the 'River of Life' stories. It showed me that it's ok to open up. We have a strong mindset in the MLI as well as the CWA."
Barbara Tolbert, President, CWA Local 3250 (T&T)
"At this year's MLI, I was moved by everyone in my MLI class with their 'River of Life' stories. It motivated me so much to open up and share my story. I want to thank everyone for their story because it empowered me."
Congratulations to the MLI Class of 2020!