Vida Neil, 2017 Revolutionary of the Year Honoree
You will never meet anyone like the incomparable and irrepressible Vida Neil. Vida was one of the very first members of NJ Communities United from Camden, joining even before we opened our South Jersey office. Since that time, she has volunteered an endless amount of time to the mission of NJ Communities United, not only organizing around the fight to protect public schools in Camden, but also working diligently to build the organization, signing up new members and making the organization known where ever she goes. Vida’s reputation as an outspoken community leader pre-dates her time as an NJCU member leader.
Vida – also known as "Momma Dukes" and "Vida, the Daughter of Ida" – was born in Pennsauken, NJ to an equally vivacious mother named Ida who dedicated her free time cooking and feeding children in need through a lunch program in their church. Vida continues her late mother's tradition, cooking almost every day and delivering food to families in need throughout Camden. Through her community service, Vida met – and ended up becoming a “mother” to 8 children who had lost their families and were scraping by on their own. As a single mother of 4 children of her own, Vida didn't need a big bank account, she simply had a big heart and a strong work ethic.
Vida's career is equally impressive. As a proud member of AFSCME Council 10, Vida was dedicated to the City of Camden for more than two decades, shattering glass ceilings everywhere she went. Vida was the first African-American woman to work at the Water Department. She was the first African-American woman to work at the Sewer Department. She was the first African-American woman to work at the Electrical Department. And she was the first African-American woman to work at the Public Works Department.
It is our deepest honor to recognize Vida Neil as a 2017 Revolutionary of the Year.
Anderu Inweh, 2017 Revolutionary of the Year Honoree
Anderu Inweh was born in Lagos, Nigeria. He moved to the Weeqhaic neighborhood in the South Ward of Newark in 1993, to be closer to many of his relatives who live here. He owns and runs a Limousine/Party Bus Service in the area, but also dedicates much of his time to building NJ Communities United. Anderu was motivated to organize with NJ Communities United after battling foreclosure. For years he fought his battle on his own. But then he happened upon NJ Communities United and started attending meetings. Then he attended trainings. Before he knew it, he found himself at the center of direct actions which brought him face-to-face with elected decision makers. After that, there was no turning back. Anderu was convinced that collective action is the only way for the people to reclaim power. Since that time, Anderu has embraced his role as a member leader of NJCU. He has delivered heartfelt testimony at Newark City Council meetings on behalf of homeowners in Newark fighting foreclosure, displacement, and the impacts of gentrification. He has spent time knocking on doors, phone banking and recruiting other Newarkers into our movement. He has even opened his home to host community meetings. For these reasons and many more, we are honored to acknowledge Anderu Inweh as a 2017 Revolutionary of the Year!
The Movement of Child Care Workers, 2017 Solidarity Award Movement of the Year Honorees
Child care workers perform one of the most important roles in our communities – raising, caring for, and educating our children during their most formative years. Despite these tremendous responsibilities, and the advanced education & training required, many professional child care workers struggle to get by on low-incomes and poverty wages. Despite the situation, you will never find a more compassionate, dedicated and caring group of workers.
Five years ago, NJ Communities United partnered with CWA Local 1037 and launched a campaign to organize thousands of in-home child care providers across the state to build and grow their union. Five years later, dozens of in-home child care providers have stepped into leadership roles and assumed the responsibilities of becoming Shop Stewards in their union, and Stewards in their communities. This powerful, organized base of workers led a campaign that forced the Department of Human Services back to the table to negotiate a fair contract that provided for wage increases and increased subsidies for families of children with special needs. From there, in-home child care providers became outspoken advocates in our campaigns to protect our public schools, fight the foreclosure crisis, and demand economic development policies that meet the needs of long-term residents.
These incredible women have also dedicated their time and effort to grow the movement of child care workers. Over the last year, in-home providers stood in solidarity with center-based child care workers at three child care operators in Newark – ultimately welcoming 500 new union Brothers & Sisters into CWA Local 1037.
We are honored to recognize the Movement of New Jersey’s Child Care Workers as the 2017 Movement of the Year!
Bridget DeVane, 2017 Comrade of the Year Honoree
Bridget Devane is the Public Policy Director for the Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE) NJ’s largest health care union representing registered nurses and health care professionals in acute-care, long term care, psychiatric, blood bank and medical laboratory facilities.
Bridget began working in the Organizing Department of HPAE before moving into the Public Policy Department, where she oversaw the union’s Strategic Research and Financial Analysis work and led policy campaigns demanding legislative and regulatory reforms to improve the quality of patient care and expand access to care for every New Jersey family.
Prior to her work at HPAE Bridget led efforts at New Jersey Citizen Action, fighting for affordable health care and demanding the freedom for state and federal agencies to negotiate lower prescription drug costs from the pharmaceutical industry. Bridget’s belief that everyone should have access to quality, affordable health care, also inspired her academic pursuits, earning her a Bachelors of Social Work from Ramapo College of NJ and a Masters of Social Work from Hunter College School of Social Work in NYC.
Bridget’s thoughtful, honest and soft-spoken approach to her work masks her fierce and tireless dedication to the issue of health care for all, and her bold and courageous pursuit to hold the powerful health care industry accountable to people of New Jersey.
As part of her personal and professional mission to prioritize our health over corporate profits, Bridget spearheaded a partnership with the members of NJ Communities United to launch a campaign that builds solidarity between health care workers and the communities they serve.
Bridget’s deep dedication and her vision for leveraging collective worker-community power to transform the health care industry, has earned her the 2017 Comrade of the Year Award.
Councilman Chris James, East Orange, The 2017 Solidarity Award of the Year Honoree
Chris James, who currently serves on the East Orange City Council, has been involved in government, policy making and community organizing for nearly two decades. His late mother was Chief of Staff to the late Congressman Donald M. Payne, Sr., and he credits her as his mentor and the inspiration for his career. Chris James currently serves as the Executive Director of the NJ Democratic State Committee, previously worked as the Deputy Executive Director of the New Jersey Assembly Democratic Office and as Chief of Staff for the Honorable Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver.
During his career, Councilman James has built a solid reputation as an honest, caring and well-respected leader, always advancing and speaking out on behalf of working families across the State. Despite his high profile, he shies away from the spotlight, preferring instead to manage the fine details and negotiate the political relationships to ensure that his policy efforts improve and uplift working families.
Councilman James has been a strong supporter of NJ Communities United, our members and our campaigns. He has worked diligently to dig into the causes and effects of the foreclosure crisis, lead efforts to implement effective – and often times controversial - solutions fight Wall Street’s predatory lending and aggressive foreclosure actions against the residents of East Orange and across New Jersey. He has championed local efforts to change federal housing policy to favor working families over private equity funds. He has been an outspoken advocate for Essex County’s Responsible Banking Ordinance. And he led the recent City Council action calling on the full divestment of East Orange’s public funds from Wells Fargo, for the multitude of moral, ethical and legal violations they perpetuated against workers, homeowners, consumers, and the environment in their pursuit for profit.
Beyond his impressive career as a political leader in New Jersey, Chris James is an all-around great guy with a heart-warming smile, an infectious laugh and a heart of gold.
The members of NJ Communities United are privileged to honor Councilman Chris James and his dedication to the working families of New Jersey by presenting him with the 2017 Solidarity Award!