My Sister and Brother members of the International Longshoremen’s Association; our ILA Civil Rights Chairman Jerry Owens; members of the Civil Rights committee; ladies and gentlemen; I am honored to welcome you to our Sixth Annual ILA Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Committee Awards Dinner.
To those ILA members present here this evening and the tens of thousands of others at all our ports area who are with us in spirit, we thank you for your support.
I am proud to address this gathering as your International President but also still honored to have been recognized by this important ILA organization at your first dinner six years ago in Virginia.
With our current United States President saying some Klan members are “good people”; with a Supreme Court threatening women’s rights and labor rights and with a Congress hungry to destroy unions, this ILA Civil Rights Committee is the best defense we could have to fight back.
Our trio of ILA honored guests all have a proven track record fighting for justice, equality and respect for all people.
The same for Griff Lynch, our one-time New York son, who also is well known at ports in Virginia, and well respected here in Savannah, is also a most worthy honoree tonight.
To my Texas brother, Andrew Lee Laws, your amazing ILA career spans 70 years and you have met all challenges in life with toughness, with fairness, and with a faith in our Lord that we would all do well to copy.
To my Sister, Yvette Flowers.
Women in the ILA have become a powerful new voice for all of us to hear. A collective voice that shouts for equal pay; equal opportunity; respect and dignity.
Yvette you have been a labor leader and I think I know where you get your skills and your voice from.
As the proud father myself, I am certain Ben Flowers is smiling down from heaven tonight, equally proud of the accomplishments of his daughter.
Ben Flowers was my friend and colleague.
He was a powerful voice for the ILA in the Port of Charleston and everywhere. Yvette you honor his memory and speak his voice by your continuing to fight for our ILA members. Thank you for that.
I had to save Willie for last.
Willie Seymore, our Martin Luther King, Jr., Award Winner.
Willie and I share a long and successful ILA career – though I enjoy a decade more seniority than him. We’ve been friends throughout.
Willie has been blessed with a loving wife, a strong family and a successful career with the ILA.
He has taken those blessings and shared them with so many.
He’ll always reach out his hand to you, offer you that wide, wonderful smile and make certain you know you have a trusted friend.
Willie is a product of Savannah and I grew up on the Streets of New York, and we both spent a good deal of our youth on the basketball courts.
We’ve debated who might have taken the other in a one on one game when we both were in our playing prime.
I think a lot of our success as ILA officers can be traced to those lessons we learned under the basket.
It’s been reported that Willie Seymore once made 57 free throws in a row. I’m not sure I could equal that, but I can’t imagine having a better teammate on my ILA squad than Willie Seymore.
I appreciate the compliments I have received serving as Chief negotiator and recently bringing home the greatest Six-year Contract for our ILA members.
Willie was instrumental in helping our ILA team negotiate that agreement.
Willie, I appreciate that you were 100% behind the ILA the whole time.
You did everything you could do to explain to your membership that it was the greatest contract ever.
Willie has ability to see the future and understand the impact of our contract – to understand what we need; to know what will work and not work and the ability to convince our membership.
Willie, I know you and Griff Lynch meet a couple of times a month to explore ways to grow the Port of Savannah and make things better for ILA members working here.
You have always been the champion of Civil Rights; of teamwork and unity.
Coming from the first honored guest of the ILA’s Civil Rights Committee, I can say you are a most deserving recipient of this award from your fellow ILA Sisters and Brothers.
How do we in the ILA bring this unity that we are all experiencing tonight to the ports we work in; the cities we live in and to our nation?
We can all take a giant step in less than two weeks on Election Day.
So I am going to close my remarks with two important endorsements.
Long before anyone really knew her, Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for Georgia Governor, addressed the ILA’s Dock and Marine Council meeting. How great it will be for Georgia to elect an African-American woman as Governor.
Willie Seymore, I understand Ms. Abrams spoke to you just last week thanking you and the ILA for being early supporters of hers.
The ILA is proud to formally endorse Stacey Abrams for Georgia Governor and we publicly condemn her opponent Brian Kemp for his disgraceful campaign to suppress votes, especially African-American voters, here in Georgia.
And to our South, the ILA is proud to officially endorse Andrew Gillum for Governor of Florida.
Willie, as an International Vice President from Georgia, I am directing you to fire up our ILA membership here and make sure they and their families get out and vote on November 6th. The same directive goes out to my ILA officers in Florida.
What a great message for advancing Civil Rights, Human Rights and Women’s Rights if Ms. Abrams and Mr. Gillum win their respective races.
May God Bless us all as we go forth on this mission; God Bless the ILA and God Bless America.