Statement by SEIU 503 Executive Director Melissa Unger and President Mike Powers:
We celebrate Black History Month in recognition of contributions past and continuing to today of Black, African, and African American people, towards gaining a deeper understanding of our fellow Oregonians. Black History Month began in 1915 when thousands of African Americans convened in Chicago, and then historian Carter G. Woodson declared in February 1926 a week devoted to Black history, and finally Black History Month as we know it today was established under President Gerald Ford in 1976. As we continue to honor Black History Month, we commit to strive to recognize the contributions of Black, African, and African American people every day, week, and month.
SEIU International created a voice and presence for Black, African, and African American members by establishing the first Caucus in our union which is known today as National African American Caucus (AFRAM). AFRAM continues to unite members and staff of African descent as activists in the labor movement. SEIU 503 AFRAM is leading our local’s Black History Month celebration once again in 2022. Please monitor our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts and check your email to join us as we learn, grow, and celebrate the contributions of our members of African descent.
As we begin our observance of Black History Month, we the senior leaders within SEIU503 want to redouble our commitment to supporting our Black, African, and African American members in leading this work. We recognize the power that we share as elected senior leaders of our union with you the members and staff to help SEIU 503 become an anti-racist organization so that we are a welcoming place for all members.
What we know and understand about Black History Month is the result of our lived experiences and the lens with which we view the world, and likely differs widely from our Black, African, and African American members. Black History Month for me, Mike Powers, is the opportunity to learn about the breadth of experiences, contributions, sacrifices, suffering, and celebrations of the black brothers and sisters that have been suppressed, hidden, and lost by our dominant society. It’s a chance to stand together and see a more honest view of American history. Black History Month for me, Melissa Unger, is a time to reflect on Oregon’s history, which is one of exclusion and racist laws. As I take time to reflect, that time must also lead us to action to make sure our systems and laws in Oregon reflect our values as SEIU 503 members and we together must account for that history as we work to create and promote systems to lift up Black families.