Each year, the Forest Hills-based Berger-Marks Foundation honors a young woman (35 or younger) who has distinguished herself as a leader in the social justice movement. The Edna Award, which includes a $10,000 prize, is named after Edna Berger, the first woman to be a lead union organizer at The Newspaper Guild-CWA and the inspiration for the foundation, which is located at 4301 Connecticut Avenue.
The Berger-Marks foundation created the Edna Award four years ago, and is seeking nominations for the 2014 honoree. Last year’s Edna winner, Jennifer Epps-Addison, is typical of the young woman the foundation’s trustees are looking to honor. She is the executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now and vice president of the Milwaukee Workers Organizing Committee (MWOC).
With nearly 15 years of organizing experience, Epps-Addison has played an integral role in winning campaigns on a variety of progressive issues, such as community economic development policy, paid sick days, and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants.
She was the lead organizer behind Milwaukee’s historic MORE Ordinance, which established community benefit standards for economic development projects using public funds. In 2010, the MORE Ordinance won the city of Milwaukee the top prize in the National League of Cities’ Cultural Diversity Awards.
In addition to the $10,000 award, the foundation holds a reception at the National Press Club in the fall to honor the Edna winner, two “Women of Note” runners-up who receive $1,000 awards, and six other young women who are recognized for their social justice work.
And this year for the first time, there is a new annual award, the Kate Mullany Courageous Worker Award, which is described as “a $1,000 prize to a young working woman who has stood up for workers’ rights and been a voice in the workplace in the face of overwhelming opposition.” Mullany herself organized a union of laundry workers in 1864, when she was just 19 years old.
Deadlines for both awards are this Thursday, August 28th. Anyone can nominate someone, and I encourage you to share information about these awards with people who might know potential nominees.
Berger-Marks Foundation President Linda Foley says the award was created to recognize young women who are doing outstanding work in social justice, but are rarely acknowledged at this stage of their lives.
“It is so important,” says Foley, “not only to recognize them and give them credit for their work, which helps keep them going, but they also serve a role models for those who will come after them.”
The foundation began in 1996 as a small union women-focused scholarship fund, which three DC union women created in memory of Edna Berger, a pioneer for women’s rights. The founders are myself – who then was a union public relations director; Louise Walsh, a long-time friend of Edna’s and a member of the Newspaper Guild; and Linda Foley, then president of the Newspaper Guild.
Berger’s widower, Gerald Marks, the Tin Pan Alley lyricist whose songs include the famous, “All of Me,” had supported his wife’s activities and invited the scholarship fund founders to tell him about our ideas and plans – which we did. When he died shortly thereafter, he left three-quarters of his estate and the rights to his songs to the group, and the Berger-Marks Foundation was created “to bring the benefits of unionization to working women and to assist organizations committed to those principles.”
It started by providing financial assistance to women engaged in union organizing and to provide training, research and other resources to women seeking to organize. Since then – in response to the changing workplace and changes in the economy – the foundation’s agenda has expanded to include assisting social justice organizations that focus on working women, with a special interest in worker centers.
The foundation operates primarily by awarding grants, which fall into two categories:
- Union Grants – which fund union programs, projects & organizing that benefit, promote & develop women in the labor movement – especially younger women & paid internships.
- Organization Grants – focused on organizations that are not unions but promote workers’ rights and have an impact on social justice. Of particular interest are programs aimed at younger women workers and paid internships.he Foundation is committed to assisting such organizations with training, conferences and educational materials for women.
The foundation also self-initiates programs. For example, the foundation has held retreats that have resulted in reports, such as:
- Women Organizing Women, an overview of the experiences and insights of a group of highly skilled union organizers during a retreat in November 2004. “The 19 participants explored the best ways to increase the ranks of women organizers and support them in their work. The report includes participants’ recommendations for improving the position of union organizer and sets a roadmap for the Foundation as it looks ahead.”
- Stepping Up, Stepping Back: Women Activists ‘Talk Union’ Across Generations – “The foundation brought together 30 women activists – half of them younger than 35, the other half older than 35 – to New Orleans for an intergenerational conversation about the labor movement, we found out a lot about what it is about unions that turns younger women on and what turns them off…. Their observations and recommendations present an honest and complete reflection of how these women view social justice, the American labor movement and the role of younger women in unions, and it pulls no punches in its critique of today’s unions. Its prescription for change includes practical, yet bold, steps to help make the labor movement a “safe space” for tomorrow’s women workers and activists.”
- The foundation updates its news section monthly and offers the opportunity for the public to sign up – at no cost – to receive e-news alerts (an notice that says the news is posted) on the homepage.
- To view additional reports: bergermarks.org/resources/reports.html
- Hear the song that made it happen : “All of me.” This version was sung by Gerald Marks himself, and includes all of the verses – a rarity.
Carolyn J. Jacobson, who lives in Forest Hills, is the Berger-Marks Foundation’s secretary-treasurer.