The Amsterdam News and Bill Lynch Associates hosted the second “Tying Communities Together: A Celebration of New York’s Labor Movement” at the Alhambra Ballroom in Harlem.
The breakfast event brought together political and labor leaders from across the city to pay homage to three giants of our community, Hazel Dukes, NAACP New York state president; George Gresham, 1199 SEIU president; and Lillian Roberts, DC37 executive director.
Last year’s recipient, Basil Paterson, delivered the keynote address.
About the Honorees
Dukes is the president of the NAACP New York State Conference with a long history of unwavering service and dedication to civil and human rights and for improving the quality of life in New York state.
Dukes holds a number of degrees, including a bachelor’s in business administration from Adelphi University, an honorary doctor of law from the City University of New York Law School in Queens and an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. In 2012, she was awarded the honorary doctorate in humane letters from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, Harlem.
She has received a host of awards for her outstanding leadership, including the Ellis Island Medal of Honor; YWCA City of New York John La Farge Memorial Award for Interracial Justice; Guy R. Brewer Humanitarian Award; and the Network Journal’s 25 Most Influential Black Women in Business Award. She is a member of the Ford Motor Company Funds Committee of Honor for Freedom’s Sisters and received a proclamation at the New York City Council’s third annual Martin Luther King Jr. Awards.
On receiving this year’s Tying Communities Together Labor Award, Dukes said, “I’m honored and pleased to have been selected as a recipient of the labor award. I am a product from the labor movement. My father was a Pullman porter. I had the pleasure of meeting A. Philip Randolph. I’ve endeavored to see that that relationship between the labor movement and the working class continues. The work of the labor movement and the Civil Rights Movement has been a force in ensuring that there will be a middle class. My work has been to see that this coalition continues to grow stronger.”
Gresham is the president of 1199 SEIU. The grandson of a Virginia sharecropper, he spent his early childhood in the segregated school system of the state. When his parents got jobs as live-in domestic help for a wealthy Long Island family, Gresham was left with his grandparents until his parents could afford to bring him north. Eventually his father became a trucker and a member and activist in the Teamsters Union. The economic impact of a good union job on the family’s living standards was not lost on him.
Gresham was elected 1199 SEIU president in April 2007. He is the fifth president in the union’s 75-year history. Gresham also serves as a vice president of the Executive Board of Service Employees Internal Union with 2.1 million working members in locals throughout the nation, and co-chairs the 1199 SEIU National Benefit Fund, the largest self-insured union health care plan in the nation.
Additionally, he currently serves as a board member of the Children’s Defense Fund, Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and the A. Philip Randolph Institute. Along with Kathleen Sebelius, United States secretary of Health & Human Services, Gresham serves as a member of the Partnership for Quality Care. In 2010, he was appointed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to the Medicaid Redesign Team.
“The members of 1199 know President Barack Obama is the leader we need standing with us for the next four years,” Gresham said. “That’s why the union is working hard on his re-election. With President Obama’s continued leadership, we know that America is moving forward, that we are on the right path and that our country’s best days are still to come.”
Roberts is the executive director of District Council 37, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, and has a long, proud history as a unionist.
She grew up in the tenements of Chicago’s South Side and became a nurse’s aide. In 1959, she joined the hospital local of AFSCME’s District Council 34, becoming a shop steward and officer. She was hired as a staff rep by AFSCME District Council 19 in Chicago, spearheaded the creation of five locals and led an organizing drive in four Chicago mental hospitals. In 1965, Roberts moved to New York from Chicago to build up DC 37’s Hospitals Division. She led the union’s campaign to organize thousands of city hospital workers in 1966.
Roberts was associate director of DC 37 from 1967 to 1981 under Victor Gotbaum. She played a major role in organizing new members and establishing an array of benefits, including the largest union-based adult education program in the U.S. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Roberts brought thousands of workers in federally funded jobs into the union. During her 17-year tenure with DC 37, the union’s ranks skyrocketed from 30,000 to 120,000.
Roberts was first elected DC 37 executive director in 2002. She was the union’s first female executive director. She was re-elected in 2004 and 2007.
On Jan. 26, 2010, Roberts was overwhelmingly re-elected for a fourth term as executive director. She was named one of the 25 most influential Black women in business by the Network Journal in 2010.
This former New York state commissioner of labor was called “probably the most powerful Black person in American labor” by Essence magazine, and in 2007 was named by the New York Post as one of the 30 Most Influential Black New Yorkers.
Roberts holds a doctorate in humane letters from the College of New Rochelle.