Missouri NEA receives national human, civil rights award

NEA honors its Missouri affiliate with the Rosena J. Willis Memorial Award at the NEA Convention in July in Houston, TX.

Missouri NEA leaders have established values that center in democracy, professionalism, partnerships, collective action and advocacy, fairness, a just society, equity, dignity and respect for all. MNEA’s work toward living those values and to its mission “to serve as the united voice to promote, advance and protect public education and to advocate for the rights and interests of students and our members” has earned the association the esteemed NEA Rosena J. Willis Memorial Award.

Defining core beliefs

Using these principles as a foundation, the MNEA Board of Directors revisited the association’s belief statements and legislative platform to find ways to align their mission and core beliefs into actions. The board began to create policies focused on racial justice and eliminating educational disparities that have historically placed people of color at a disadvantage in the educational system. Starting in 2016 and continuing to the present day, MNEA’s legislative and resolutions committees conducted a comprehensive review to identify policies in MNEA’s platform that prop up institutional racism and rewrites or eliminates the resolutions or legislative planks.

Inspiring minority leaders

Consistently striving to meet and exceed the 3-1(g) policy bylaw, a universal governing policy to increase racially diverse leadership within the association, MNEA celebrates the involvement of members and communities of color at its fall and spring Representative Assemblies. Members of color are recognized at the fall R.A. luncheon for their involvement at the national and state levels. In addition, MNEA met its ethnic minority membership goals for 2018-2019 Board of Directors and PAC Executive Council.

MNEA has successfully involved more minority members in its work and leadership with 29.79 percent of the membership comprising people of color.

Encouraging minority future educators

Through its growing Educators Rising Program, MNEA encourages high school students of color to consider education as their profession. With a focus on future diversity within the state’s educational system, the program assists students through support and scholarship.

In addition, MNEA annually awards its Gilbert Balderrama Minority Scholarship to a Missouri public high school senior of color who has been accepted to a college or university and is pursuing a college degree.

Forging cooperative relationships

MNEA works with other groups within Missouri to advance its core values of equal opportunity and a just society for all. Among those groups are BIG-MO-Ballot Issue Group of Missouri, Coalition for Missouri’s Future, Education Round Table, Jobs with Justice, Missourians to End Poverty, Missouri School College Relations Commission, Public Pension Coalition—Public Unions with Public Pensions, and Unity Table—Coalition of Missouri Unions.

Promoting social justice education

Over the last three years, MNEA has developed a social and racial justice training program through its MNEA Board of Directors Social and Racial Justice Cadre. MNEA has held conferences focusing on social and racial justice issues and has offered training throughout the state.

Since 2014, MNEA has organized the Martin Luther King Day of Service, an annual event in St. Louis at the Clayton Missionary Baptist Church, where MNEA members and community members participate in a celebration service and donate canned goods, socks and underwear to local food and clothing banks.

About the Rosena J. Willis Memorial Award

The annual NEA Human and Civil Rights Awards is inextricably linked to the 1966 merger of the National Education Association and the American Teachers Association. ATA, which represented Black teachers in segregated schools in the South, traditionally honored leaders in the justice and civil rights movement at an annual awards dinner.

Rosena J. Willis (1926-1970), a displaced Black teacher, lost her job when her school district in Virginia closed all public schools rather than desegregate. Joining the NEA staff, Willis worked diligently to implement the NEA merger with the American Teachers Association. A superb facilitator and organizer, Willis helped the NEA as well as its state and local affiliates bring minority members into the work and leadership of the association. NEA presents two Rosena J. Willis Memorial Awards to affiliates that involve NEA members in advocacy for minority students and families, minority parent involvement in schools, and minority community outreach. The state affiliate award is presented in odd-numbered years, and the local affiliate award is presented in even-numbered years.


Posted Date: 8/6/2019
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