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AFL-CIO and King Center Symposium Links Dr. King's Legacy to Modern-Day Struggles Around Economic and Social Justice

Civil rights activists, worker activists, elected leaders, academics and young people discuss Dr. King's vision of a just America and the need for a comprehensive jobs agenda

WASHINGTON - The AFL-CIO and the King Center hosted a national symposium on jobs, justice and the American Dream on Friday around the unveiling of the historic memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The symposium featured notable civil rights activists, modern day worker activists, elected leaders, academics and young people.

The first panel on Jobs and The American Dream was moderated by Bob Herbert, former New York Times columnist and Distinguished Senior Fellow from Demos.  Georgia Congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis spoke about his work in the civil rights movement and the parallels to today's fight for jobs and justice.  Bruce Western, professor of sociology at Harvard University, discussed the growing inequality in our country and its impact on communities.  Sarita Gupta, executive director of Jobs with Justice, talked about the jobs crisis and mobilizing around a strong jobs agenda.  Davon Lomax and Kathleen Hofman, workers from New York and Ohio respectively, told their stories of what working people face in today's economy as well as  the recent attacks on public service employees and middle class workers.

The second panel on Justice and The American Dream was moderated by Univision anchor Maria Elena Salinas.   Dr. Mary Frances Berry spoke of where the country is thanks to the legacy and energy of the civil rights movement.  Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Wisconsin Firefighters, talked about the modern day struggle to protect working people's voices.  Isabel Castillo, a DREAM activist, told her story of what new young immigrants face today.  Kurston Cook, AFL-CIO young worker coordinator, discussed the challenges facing young workers as the new "lost generation."  And Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, spoke of the struggle for equality around LGBTQ rights.

"One of the last acts of my father's life was advocating for the sanitation workers in Memphis," said Martin Luther King III. "He firmly believed that workers' rights were an essential element of civil rights.  Moreover, unions and their members were steadfast allies in the movement for human dignity that my father championed. Following his death, my mother remained deeply engaged with labor struggles as a realization of my father's legacy. I am honored and humbled by labor's continued support to realize the dream."

"Martin Luther King Jr. often said that it wasn't just African Americans that needed to be freed from the burden of racism," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.  "The labor movement is rightfully proud of all that working people did to help the civil rights movement.  But we do not often enough acknowledge what the civil rights movement did to free the labor movement.  Because, as we learned in the United Mine Workers long before I was born, if workers let racism divide us, we will always be weak."

"When Martin Luther King, III and the AFL-CIO began talking about co-hosting a Jobs and Justice Symposium during this historic weekend we knew that we wanted to highlight the needs of America's struggling families – the families that Dr. King devoted his life to fighting for," said AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker.  "For months, the lives of millions of Americans have been shaken up by economic uncertainty.  We hope that discussions like the one we are having will move our elected officials to act with boldness and a fierce urgency of now."


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The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) works tirelessly to improve the lives of working people. We are the democratic, voluntary federation of 56 national and international labor unions that represent 12.5 million working men and women.

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