Huge Turnout at AFSCME’s 45th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner

Huge Turnout at AFSCME’s 45th Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dinner

Hundreds of AFSCME members, community leaders, and allies gathered to honor and celebrate the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“No other event compares to this very special evening which showcases what AFSCME and the civil rights movement mean to all workers and our families throughout the world” said President Lawrence Roehrig. The event highlighted the intricate link between the struggles of the labor movement and the civil rights movement.

Randy Wimbley of the FOX2 News team served as Master of Ceremonies alongside MLK Dinner Chairperson June Clark, a 25-year member of AFSCME Local 214. The special keynote speaker this year was Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist who gave an impassioned speech about the need to do everything in our power to create the space and opportunity for others to make history.

Several awards were presented to distinguished AFSCME members that have gone above and beyond to fight for fairness and equity in the workplace and in their communities.

The Distinguished Union Service Award went to Donald Brown of Local 542. Donald has always stood for the Union first no matter how big the adversities were that politicians brought forth to attack our Union. He has been a part of many big fights across the state including Right-To-Work and the Flint Water Crisis that continues to this day. Donald is not only a hero, but a statue of all fighters and dues payers. 

The Gloria C. Cobbin PEOPLE Award went to Laura Williams from Local 214. She has been a member since 2001 and has served as Recording Secretary for the local since 2011. Laura can often be found uplifting local members and keeping them abreast on AFSCME rallies, urging calls to legislators, and sharing pertinent AFSCME information. She is a PEOPLE contributor and has volunteered on many political campaigns and gathered signatures to stop Emergency Manager laws in Michigan. Laura is a mother of two daughters and loves spending time with her family.

The Community Services Award went to Francis Smellie of Local 3309. In his 29 years of employment with the Third Circuit Court, he has been an active member of Local 3309. He has served in almost every capacity with the local as Steward, Committee Person, Executive Board member, Vice President, and President. No matter what position he has held, he has never wavered. He is loyal, stands up for his convictions, is willing to listen, and never backs down or quits. He speaks his mind, tells you when you’ve gone too far, but is always there to catch you when you fall. He is a true force to be reckoned with. Joe is an advisor, leader, support system, protector of honor, and a conscience. In his mind, he’s always just doing what must be done, but to others he always goes above and beyond.

This year’s Young Orator Award went to three fantastic individuals. Ilana Spencer is a 4.0 student at the University High School in Ferndale where she aspires to be a lawyer. She appeared on The Ellen Show with her choir, was on the Jr. Honor Society and Captain of the Safety Patrol. She was voted to have the best smile and best dressed in her class and loves helping young children learn. Marcellus Edwards is the son of Local 3309 President Malene’ Edwards and is a 2016 graduate of Cass Tech High School and attends Oakland Community College where he is pursuing an Associates in Business Management. Since middle school he has helped his family volunteer at non-profits and was an Honor Caddy at the Country Club of Detroit and has been active at Local 409 and 3309 events. Finally, George Talley III is a soon to be graduate of Center Line High School where he is on the honor roll and a 3-year starter on Varsity Football, Wrestling, and Track. He will continue his football career at Sienna Heights after receiving both athletic and academic scholarships. 

Council 25 President Lawrence Roehrig honored Nick Ciaramitaro with the President’s Special Never Quit Award. Nick spent 15 years as AFSCME Council 25’s legislative director, where he was instrumental in maintaining and pursuing AFSCME interests at the Capitol. Nick led the charge against some of the worst attacks on public employees and union members across Michigan and displayed an exemplary “Never Quit” attitude throughout his entire career.

Finally, the Posthumous Award was given in honor of former Council 25 President Flora Walker at this year’s dinner. Flora worked as a typist for the City of Detroit in the 1960s, where she organized 1,200 municipal workers to join AFSCME for better working conditions. She became the first African-American female Staff Representative in 1966.

Long before the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, and at a point in history when women leaders were extremely uncommon and unwelcome, Flora’s dedication, tenacity, intellect, perseverance and passion enabled her to break through many barriers. Ultimately, she became a highly regarded labor and Democratic Party leader whose persistence and unabashed ability to speak truth to power enabled her to join the ranks of the male labor leaders as an equal and to earn their respect and admiration.

From 1992 to 1998, Flora served as the first female President of Michigan AFSCME. Flunking retirement, she happily rejoined her AFSCME family in 2003 and led 17 states until again retiring in 2013. She also served as a senior adviser to AFSCME International President Gerald McEntee and Lee Saunders.

In Flora’s retirement farewell message on January 29, 1999, she wrote, “Our Union is all of us, and it is far greater and more important than any one or any group of us. We need to continue forward, united, with a single agenda. I wish to say to all of you who have supported me and been with me that I love you and care about you. I thank you. I love you, and God bless you.”

Congratulations to all AFSCME award winners on embodying the spirit of Dr. King in your commitment to good jobs, strong communities, and a fair and just society for all.