JESSE EPPS FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT OF NEIGHBORS UNITING AMERICAN FAMILIES
born in the farming community of Dublin during the heart of the depression and the segregation of Jim Crow Mississippi, Jesse made an early acquaintance with the struggles of individuals and their families. He is the second youngest of 15 children whose father was a graduate of Alcorn University, owned a small farm, and was the first black man registered to vote in their poll taxed, racially discriminating county.
Jesse is formerly educated in labor relations at Syracuse, Rutgers, and Cornell Universities and has spent the last 40 years fighting for and defending the rights and conditions of all working men and women. Jesse began his professional labor experience working for the International Union of Electrical Workers at Local 320 in Syracuse, New York. He served as Chief Steward, and as an Executive Board member on the Educational and Civil Rights Committees.
From 1960-1972 he served as the Assistant to the International President of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). In that capacity he assisted in the oversight and direction of an international field staff of officers and volunteers which numbered more than 18,000 staffers. He personally directed field operations in Atlanta, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Memphis, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, as well as, directing state-wide operations in Ohio and New York.
It was in the performance of his position as Assistant to the International President of AFSCME that Jesse was sent to Memphis in the spring of 1968 to assist in settling the sanitation workers strike against that city. Suffering with greatly lower wages than their white counterparts, practically non-existent benefits, and inhuman working conditions, the battle cry authored by these men was simply, "I AM A MAN". In the waning days of this monumental struggle for simple human dignity and compensation Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. agreed to the request of AFSCME officials for the inspiration and exposure that his involvement would lend in the struggle. The strike ended with the tragic assassination of Dr. King. In spite of this tragedy, or perhaps as a result of it, Jesse and AFSCME successfully negotiated a contract for the 1,300 striking sanitation workers.
From 1964-1968 Jesse was an advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson s White House with regard to the participation of young people, students, and minorities specifically in the Democratic Party and Government in general. With Vice-President Hubert H. Humphrey serving as co-chairperson, this team of advisors assisted President Johnson in navigating and productively involving students and minorities in the governmental process during those turbulent and struggling social and political times.
In the kinship of labor relations and social activism, Jesse also serves and champions equality, fair treatment, and justice outside the workplace. He is a lifetime member of the NAACP, reorganizing its local chapter of Central New York at Syracuse in 1958 and subsequently serving as its President, as well as, on the New York state board of the NAACP. Most recently Jesse has served as Co-Chairperson on the Labor and Industry Committee of the Philadelphia Branch, where he currently serves a post on their Executive Board. Also in New York, Jesse assisted in the organization of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), of Central New York, where, in addition, he served as a co-chairperson. While continuing his involvement with the mission of the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, and other local, national, and international labor entities, Jesse has also been involved in the organization or operation of various other social bodies. Over his lifetime he has served the Mississippi Voters League, the Congress of Racial Equality (C.O.R.E.), and the National Housing Committee of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Likewise, as an appointee of President Johnson, Jesse served on a task force that led to the legislation that established the Office of Economic Opportunity which is responsible for such current programs as Head Start.
To be an effective advocate for the people there is no greater attribute than to have connectivity to the avenues of power. As a reward for his many years of activity in labor and social causes Jesse has such connectivity. Over the years, Jesse has developed a reputation of tirelessness, and has been given access to influential people of power in the arenas of government, politics, labor, and religion. A lifetime participant, witness and true believer in collective bargaining as a tool for working people and their families, as well as, a citizen activist and advocate, in recent years Jesse has focused his energies in establishing NEIGHBORS UNITING AMERICAN FAMILIES (NUAF). The NUAF is essentially a marriage between the two philosophies. The vision Jesse has received is one which would institute that system of collective bargaining as a tool of the community, giving working families of all races, colors, creeds control to improve the quality of life both in the workplace and out."
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There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?" -- Robert Francis Kennedy
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