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CWA Leaders Build Power at the 2021 Minority Leadership Institute

Last Friday, CWA leaders from across the union graduated from the 2021 CWA Minority Leadership Institute (MLI), held virtually for the second year in a row. The MLI program was established 30 years ago to promote the involvement of members of color and women at every level of our union. Despite the challenges of the pandemic, eleven CWA leaders came together for a two-week program to sharpen their skills in public speaking, organizing, mobilizing, collective bargaining, handling grievances, legislative advocacy, and building solidarity. Participants engaged in intensive dialogue about race, racism, and fighting against systemic injustices. Participants also spent time discussing and sharing experiences about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on workers.

Past MLI graduates, CWA staff, and guest speakers led training sessions. CWA President Chris Shelton and CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens held a discussion session with the participants on union activism. Members of CWA's Executive Board attended the virtual MLI graduation ceremony, where the participants shared their thoughts about the training program and their plans for the future.

Here's what they had to say about their experiences:

The CWA MLI Class of 2021.

Teesha Foreman, CWA Local 1180

“The experiences learned and shared through the River of Life still resonate in my spirit. The techniques learned in the power of storytelling will carry through my graduation speech as well as the many speeches I plan to give throughout my union career. A Call To Action For Every Union Activist reawakened my soul for organizing and mobilizing and I can’t wait to get back to my local to share all the wonderful lessons, invaluable materials, and powerful quotes we reviewed each day.”

Nikki Robinson, CWA Local 2201

“It was so complimenting to see minorities in leadership positions and those that want to grow and enhance their leadership skills. The fact that a group of people from different parts of the U.S can join and realize that we have more in common than differences is amazing to me. This 2-week session has fueled a fire under me that I didn’t know needed re-lighting.”

Yolanda Cunningham, CWA Local 3808

“MLI was a true experience I will never forget. This was without a doubt the best training I’ve received as a member of CWA. This training really made me think about my role as a leader within CWA. It provided me with the tools necessary to achieve my full potential. The resources and relationships gained for me are priceless. Every aspect of our responsibilities as CWA leaders were addressed.”

Sylvia Chapman, CWA Local 4250

“The one thing that I will most remember is the unity I felt during our group conversations and while listening to everyone’s River of Life presentations. MLI is a much-needed forum to discuss and seek remedies to the biases and pitfalls that affect minorities not only in CWA but our communities and the country. Being able to speak openly, share our experiences, concerns and build alliances that will last beyond these two weeks is refreshing.”

Shawanda Rankin, CWA Local 6016

“I tremendously enjoyed every single presenter, presentation, and activity that I struggled to pick a favorite. Each person who spoke during our 10 days together helped me grow in so many aspects but most of all nourished my mind on how to be not just a better union member and all my other titles, not just a better leader but a better person within my community and my family by being able to share what I learned to help others grow.”

William Lykes, CWA Local 7050

“I enjoyed the ultra lounge, the activities during class, and being able to share our experiences or feelings about our time with CWA. Overall it has been a great experience for me and my growth within the CWA organization. Thank you again for the opportunity to be a part of something so special; I know after this I will definitely have the tools I need to succeed and contribute to our great union.”

Jason Montgomery, CWA Local 9415

“I felt the love from my classmates and had a chance to reach out to all of them individually. The information that was provided these last 2 weeks will definitely improve my leadership skills moving forward. I plan to use all of the wide range of topics and advice throughout my CWA career.”

Folafolaga Avei, AFA-CWA Local 29043

“I am more educated and feel I have a new network to turn to for support and resources to help me with our local. My classmates are amazing individuals. I’m inspired by them. Their involvement in their unions, their communities, and confronting the grass roots issues. So articulate and intelligent. Another source of knowledge and resources to use.”

Marilyn Hickland, IUE-CWA Local 84775

“MLI training has helped me to understand how important it is to have activists such as myself and all my classmates in this union movement! As well as to motivate and empower me to be an even better leader than I was before invited to this training.”

Paola Torres-Rivas, NABET-CWA Local 51011

“From the presenters with their guidance and teachings, with their experience and wisdom, make me realize that I can implement those learnings not only to help as a shop steward but as an individual as well.”

Daniel DeOsio, CWA Local 6143

“We had several great presentations. I have several takeaways, but most memorable are the relationships I have built with my class members. This training class has prepared me with the necessary knowledge and leadership skills to move CWA and our locals in the right direction.”