Awards gala honors Jealous, Walmart activists, lawmakers

1/29/2014, 11:47 a.m.
Other honorees included two labor activists and former Walmart employees, who were wrongfully fired for their efforts to organize for ...
Onstage at Progressive Maryland's Awards Gala Jan. 28 were Executive Director Kate Planco Waybright, emcee/radio host Marc Steiner, Board President Elbridge James, and keynote honoree Ben Jealous, retiring NAACP President and CEO.

Silver Spring, MD - "We have the most diverse contest for governor that we’ve ever seen," said Benjamin Jealous, retiring President and CEO of the NAACP. "Every demographic trend for the next 30 years is in favor of our movement."

Jealous gave Tuesday night's keynote address on receiving highest honors at Progressive Maryland's 12th Annual Awards Gala at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt, Md. The Gala is Maryland's largest annual event for its progressive advocacy community. Marc Steiner, host of WEAA FM Baltimore's popular daily "Marc Steiner Show," emceed the event attended by 300 community activists, candidates, lawmakers, and other officials at all levels.

Among prominent lawmakers and candidates on hand were Attorney General Doug Gansler running for governor, Rev. Delman Coates running for lt. governor, and Sen. Brian Frosh running for attorney general. Not attending, but represented by staff members were Del. Aisha Braveboy also running for attorney general, and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, who's running for governor and had been confirmed to attend, but was called out of state due to his father's illness.

Jealous was a particularly fitting choice for this year's theme, "celebrating the past and motivating for the future." The Baltimore Sun named him 2013 "Marylander of the Year" for leading NAACP, America's oldest and best known civil rights group, from a state of disarray to renewed stability. During his five-year tenure, the youthful Jealous doubled the organization's budget and voter registrations, and increased its donor base eight-fold, ensuring NAACP will remain an effective force fighting for civil rights for the next generation.

Other honorees included two labor activists and former Walmart employees, who were wrongfully fired for their efforts to organize for better conditions and livable wages for retail workers. The two were part of a workers' rights campaign called OUR Walmart, Organization United for Respect at Walmart, fighting such retaliation and seeking reinstatement for its victims through protests, strikes and civil disobedience. Lana Stewart told the roomful of supporters, "I am grateful to UFCW Local 400, and other unions and allies, for their help to me, and fighting to improve the lives of workers and their families. Keep up the good work!"

"Over the years, Progressive Maryland has led the fight that has won better protections and conditions for workers," said Progressive Maryland Executive Director Kate Planco Waybright. "We passed a bill to raise the minimum wage in 2005, overrode a veto in 2006, and in 2007 our efforts culminated in Maryland enacting the nation’s first statewide Living Wage law... But many more victories are needed. That’s why we are working so hard to give the nearly 300,000 minimum wage workers in Maryland a much deserved pay raise."

Emcee and WEAA radio host, Marc Steiner said, "It’s been a pleasure observing Progressive Maryland’s pioneering efforts, campaigns and achievements over its 12 years organizing to 'Improve the lives of Working Families,' and interviewing its leaders and allies on my radio program."

Waybright urged attendees in her closing remarks, "Stay engaged as we make more gains in the 2014 General Assembly. What we do now and in the elections to follow will determine our success for years to come. And there's no substitute for winning - for working families."