USW Cares: 2017 District 7 USW Jefferson Award Winner, Ephrin Jenkins

D7 Jefferson Awards Winner Ephrin Jenkins

Free haircuts for the needy at the union hall. Youth versus adult basketball games. Sending union activists into middle and high schools to teach our kids the true meaning of unions. Educating all about the contributions of black workers to the labor movement. These are just a few of the things Ephrin Jenkins — known to his friends as E.J. — has done for his community, and why he is District 7’s 2017 USW Cares Jefferson Awards winner.

For the last 17 years that E.J. has worked in pit utility at US Steel’s Gary Works, and has been a leader in the union. 

During Black History Month in 2012, E.J. started an annual event called Black Labor Week as a time for members of Local Union 1014 to connect with the community through activities that help retirees, veterans, seniors, homeless and children.

“Black Labor Week is a week where we as Steelworkers have a chance to give everything we have back to a community that really needs it,” said E.J. The event also helps educate everyone about the often overlooked contributions of black leaders to the labor movement.

Events for all ages and races are geared towards uplifting the black community and fill every day of Black Labor Week. One day there are free haircuts for retirees and senior citizens and a free movie showing at the local theater. Another day, volunteers head to the local Veterans Affairs facility to provide breakfast and give a donation.

Educational panels on women’s and civils rights issues are scheduled throughout the week, as well as a seminar for black women where women from the black community share their stories to motivate and support each other. The seminar is one of Black Labor Week’s most successful events, with more women attending every year.

E.J. arranges school assemblies for at least eight schools where volunteer speakers educate youth about black labor history and offer mentorship.

He also leads volunteers in visiting the local homeless shelter to serve breakfast and drop off a donation. During the week Steelworkers and activists raise money for local causes, donate to the foodbank and attend each other’s volunteer events.

 “I want to create more activists. I want people to be a part of something they can be proud of,” said E.J. “I’m looking to pass this event on to other young activists who really believe in this event the same way I do.”

Black Labor Week began with E.J. and six other volunteers, but it has grown to have well over 100 participants in 2017. Due to independent donations, support from the district and other locals' involvement, E.J. projects that 2018 will be another successful year.

Ephrin Jenkins is one of the many Steelworkers making a difference in the lives of others. If you know a Steelworker who deserves recognition for commendable community service, tell us! Use the #USWCares hashtag when you post about it on social media, tag @Steelworkers, and nominate for the 2018 USW Jefferson Awards by clicking here.


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