Honoring The Dream

Claudine Wilkins-Chambers, 2nd from left, at the 2011 "We Are One" Rally in New Haven.

Monday, Jan. 21 will be a special day for Claudine Wilkins-Chambers, president of Local 3429 (New Haven School Paras).

It’s the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and Wilkins-Chambers will be in Washington, DC to witness the inauguration of President Obama.

“Part of Dr. King’s dream was that a black man would someday be elected. We’re living out his dream,” she reflected.

A school paraprofessional for more than 40 years, Wilkins-Chambers embodies the historic bond between the labor and civil rights movements.

Growing up in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, she remembers the pain and absurdity of racial segregation.

Once, she broke free from her mother’s hand to sip water from a “whites only” fountain. “I was maybe five years old. I remember the water tasted the same as ours. It was nasty. So I couldn’t understand why we had separate facilities.”

Those memories inspired Wilkins-Chambers to make a difference in her community, as did the legacy of Dr. King, who was murdered in 1968 in Memphis trying to help AFSCME sanitation workers.

Dr. King fought and died for AFSCME workers and all of society.

Wilkins-Chambers knows the struggle for labor and civil rights is not over, but this weekend is a time for joyfulness and celebration.

“To live through an era like we did, and get to where we are now, is amazing,” she said. “We have a black president. We have children of every color attending school together.”