United Church of Christ presents the “Movement Maker” Award to CIW!

Rev. Traci Blackmon, UCC Associate Minister of Justice and Local Ministries: The CIW “has embodied [the UCC ethos] with clarity, determination, resilience and strength on behalf of farmworkers whose holy work of planting and harvesting benefits us all.”

Last week, on June 22nd, thousands of church leaders rose to their feet in a rousing ovation as the United Church of Christ named the Coalition of Immokalee Workers the recipients of their prestigious Movement Maker Award as the General Synod met in Milwaukee.

The Rev. Traci Blackmon, Associate Minister of Justice and Local Ministries who hails from the frontlines of Ferguson, explained that this biennial award is given to an external organization that “embodies the ethos that United Church of Christ holds dear as followers of the Way.” Rev. Blackmon continued, “This organization has embodied this ethos with clarity, determination, resilience and strength on behalf of farmworkers whose holy work of planting and harvesting benefits us all.” 

From left to right: John Dorhauer, General Minister and President; Bernice Powell Jackson, Pastor First United Church Tampa; Gerardo Reyes Chavez, CIW; and Traci Blackmon, Associate Minister Justice and Local Witness Ministries of the UCC

Her powerful remarks were followed by those of Florida Conference Minister, the Rev. John Vertigan, who introduced CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez (who accepted the award on behalf of the Coalition) by expressing the Florida Conference’s support for the Wendy’s Boycott, which the 1-million-member-strong UCC has also endorsed.

As Gerardo Reyes Chavez took the stage to receive the award for CIW, the joy and determination that had grown from the partnership across eighteen years between CIW and the UCC electrified the room, spilling over into cheers and shouts of acclamation.

In his brief remarks, Gerardo expressed CIW’s profound thanks to the church and remembered how eighteen years ago the dream of bringing corporations to the table to realize farmworkers’ rights was still very far away. But with the support of the UCC and consumers across the nation, today fourteen corporations are using their buying power to guarantee workers’ human rights through the Fair Food Program. He encouraged the church in its support of the Wendy’s boycott in what was surely the most tweeted and retweeted phrase at the gathering saying, “suffering doesn’t need to be a part of the food we eat.” Referring to the power of the Fair Food Program’s model that has eradicated modern slavery, sexual assault and other abuses, Gerardo concluded, “We have the key to open the door to a world without victims. Let’s open it together.”

In 2001, the United Church of Christ was the first denomination to show its support for the Campaign for Fair Food when it voted to endorse the Taco Bell boycott. At that time, Immokalee, was little known except to the migrant workers who streamed there to harvest tomatoes. And the idea that corporate retailers should be held accountable for ending exploitation of farmworkers in their supply chains was only starting to take root in the public’s imagination. Yet when CIW approached UCC leaders, like the Rev. Jim Boler (then Associate Conference Minister of the Florida Conference), and UCC congregations across the state, farmworkers discovered people who shared their values and were prepared to marshal their power and go the distance with CIW to see the dream of human rights become a reality.

Among the denomination’s earliest supporters and champions was the Rev. Dr. Bernice Powell Jackson, now Pastor of First United Church of Tampa, and former national executive for the UCC, who was on hand to celebrate this moment. Following the ceremony, Dr. Powell Jackson reminisced and the UCC’s current President, the Rev. John Dorhauer, enthusiastically remembered his visit to Immokalee two years ago with Rev. Blackmon and dozens of UCC leaders from across Florida.

As the plenary ended, hundreds upon hundreds of delegates thronged the Wendy’s Boycott information table to express their support and enlist their congregations. Gerardo went on to speak later in the day on a panel about modern-day slavery and to converse with hundreds of pastors, conference leaders, youth, and seminary representatives who each brought energy and ideas for accelerating the Wendy’s Boycott.

The UCC has played a critical role over the course of the Campaign for Fair Food, supporting CIW’s truth tours and major actions, connecting with its denominational counterparts, and mobilizing its members to full-throated support of the Fair Food Program and ongoing campaigns to bring corporations like Wendy’s onboard. Thank you, UCC, for this gracious recognition! We look forward to charting the future of human rights together! Read UCCNews coverage of the award.