The Black Worker Initiative was proud to host along with the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, the Discount Foundation, and Neighborhood Funders Group, the State of Black Workers in America conference at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism on May 1, 2015.

IPS Associate Fellow Marc Bayard with Melissa Harris-Perry and other leaders at the Black Worker Conference

Our keynote speaker was MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry.  A frequent commentator on race, politics, and gender, Perry shared an array of insights on the importance of black worker organizing for all Americans and the essential role that black women have played and continue to play in this economy and as the most progressive force in this nation.

Other prominent speakers at the event included Dorian Warren of Columbia University and MSNBC, Teresa Younger, president and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women, Luz Vega-Marquis, president and CEO of the Marguerite Casey Foundation, Deepak Bhargava, executive director at the Center for Community Change and Peter Williams, the executive vice president of Programs for the NAACP.

This day-long event attended by nearly two hundred labor, civil rights, women’s and community activists as well as a number of foundations and academics, saw the release of two new ground breaking reports, #BlackWorkersMatter and And Still I Rise, on the impacts of black people (especially women) in the U.S. economy and in pushing the progressive debate on race and power.

#BlackWorkersMatter offers a comprehensive picture of the status of both black workers and the struggle for economic opportunity for African Americans. The first and longest section of the report focuses on black worker organizing, its history, and the challenges it faces, relying heavily on interviews with activists and leaders prominent in the worker organizing field. It is followed by four sections that address various aspects of the black jobs crisis, its causes, its effects, and the potential for black worker organizing to provide a path to its resolution. The final section of #BlackWorkersMatter provides recommendations to expand black worker power and opportunity.

And Still I Rise: Black Women Labor Leaders’ Voices, Power and Promise is the flagship report of the IPS Black Worker Initiative. The report profiles 27 amazing black women activists from across the country who are in different stages of their careers and work in a range of different sectors. The report also features the results of a national survey of over 450 black women in the labor movement about their experiences. The main purpose of the report is two-fold:

– to stimulate investment in organizing black women because they are the most receptive group of workers to forming unions and have the highest union election win rate of any other group (nearly 90 percent when organized by other women of color);

– to bring the expertise of black women more fully to bear in strategies to advance economic justice within organized labor and the broader progressive movement.

View the conference program.


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