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Empowered Educators Attend NEA’s Conference of Minorities and Women

Donna Brazile addresses the 2012 NEA Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women

Photo by Kevin Lock/NEA

Response to the Supreme Court’s decision upholding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act was greeted with hoots and hollers Thursday morning at the 2012 NEA Joint Conference on Concerns of Minorities and Women. While some attendees could be heard shouting with joy in the halls and lobby of the Hilton Washington and Towers Hotel, others temporarily interrupted workshops they were attending by getting out of their chairs and spontaneously applauding the landmark law championed and signed by President Obama.

“Yes we can! Yes we can! Yes we can,” was the rallying cry emanating from the Crystal Ballroom where NEA Vice President Lily Eskelsen was moderator of “Power Panel: NEA Members Taking Action for Social Justice.”

“I want you to remember where you were when you heard this historic news,” she told the audience. “This country now has a national health care program!”

After audience members re-gained their composure, Eskelsen resumed the discussion, which featured five NEA members who represented elementary, middle and high school teachers, education support professionals (ESPs), and higher education faculty. The specially-selected panelists also served to kick-start discussions in five issue areas: school reform, student success, union rights, poverty and economic justice, and voter rights and engagement. As a follow-up to the power panel, most of the 600-plus conferees participated in an afternoon session centered on five “action groups” which delved further into the designated issues while providing strategies on how to overcome barriers once participants return home.

“The conference is designed to help you reflect, then take action,” said Rocio Inclan, director of NEA Human and Civil Rights, during the opening session. We hope that “you in turn will empower our members who are not here to become activists.”

Inclan’s call for social justice activism was echoed by the conference’s opening keynote speaker, Donna Brazile, the author and political commentator who has worked on every presidential campaign from 1976 through 2000, when she served as campaign manager for former Vice President Al Gore.

“When you leave here … when you leave Washington, go out and urge others to vote,” said Brazile.

Luncheon keynote speaker, Willie Hensley, who has battled for the rights of Alaska Natives for more than 40 years, said public schools play a pivotal role in educating Native Americans and other minorities despite tight budgets.

“You are on the front lines of this battle (for funding),” said Hensley, who served in the Alaska State Senate and was instrumental in framing the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, which awarded 44 million acres of land and nearly $1 billion to Alaska Natives.


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