Gwen Washington of Milwaukee wins WEAC’s top activist award for 2015

GwenWashington2_350pxMilwaukee Public Schools paraprofessional and Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association Organizer Gwen Washington is the 2015 recipient of WEAC’s 2015 Tenia Jenkins Activist Award.

“Gwen’s work with students and MTEA has won her to a special place in our hearts,” WEAC President Betsy Kippers said in presenting the award Wednesday evening at the MTEA Representative Assembly in Milwaukee. “Gwen gets it done. Plain and simple. As an education support professional, she inspires, counsels and expects the best from students – and herself. As an organizer, she brings the same skills to the table. When you see Gwen, always with membership form in hand, you know she is ready to do something positive.”

Kippers quoted MTEA Vice President Kim Schroeder as saying: “Gwen is known by all for her willingness to fight for member rights and for student rights. If it will create a stronger, better environment for children and the professionals who teach them – you’ll find Gwen positioned as a champion of it.

“She has an extraordinary ability in outreach and organizing, starting with her role as a parent coordinator. As an organizer, early every Monday morning at MPS she’s greeting potential members at the New Hire Orientation. She makes them feel welcome and lets them know they can be part of something great.”

“She’s not about pressure – she’s about opening doors of support and belonging through union,” Kippers said. “As her colleague Chris Perillo says: If you are not already a member, once Gwen finds you, you will be soon. Indeed, she routinely helps over 70 percent of these new hires to join the MTEA and WEAC!”

Kippers said Gwen has trained other member organizers across the state. “I’ve seen her in action. She knows membership growth is possible. It’s exciting. And it’s good.

“Last summer, Gwen worked tirelessly to recruit over 200 new ESP members for the MTEA, WEAC and the NEA. She is a driving force behind impressive 45 percent ESP membership rate at MTEA, along with successful re-certification votes.

“Gwen believes in the promise of public education and the role of unions in building the best schools. She is a fine representative of our union, our profession, and of the community and children she serves.

“Gwen, thank you for your commitment to students and for your work with the MTEA. Educators are living and working in uncertain times, to be sure. But with involved activists like you, I am confident in the future of our union.”

Washington thanked MTEA leadership and her colleagues for supporting her work, and said “her beginning” started with her parents, “who entrusted me to the teachers in the public school system, MPS, that I am a proud graduate of.” She said she in turn entrusted her eight children to the wonderful teachers of Milwaukee Public Schools, from which they all graduated.

“I couldn’t be who I am without the teachers that we had in my life,” she said.

Activist Award 2015 from WEAC on Vimeo.