Nation’s educators to honor Ah Quon McElrath
WASHINGTON - June 23, 2009 -
The National Education Association will posthumously present the Association’s César Chávez Acción y Compromiso Human and Civil Rights Award to Ah Quon McElrath of Hawaii. The award ceremony will be a part of the NEA’s anual Human and Civil Rights Awards Dinner being held this year in San Diego, Calif., on July 2, 2009.
McElrath was born the sixth of seven children of Chinese immigrant parents in Iwilei, Hawaii, on December 15, 1915. From her childhood years until her death 93 years later in 2008, McElrath was always interested in the welfare of others. Much of her adult life was spent as a social worker for the International Longshoremen’s and Warehouse Union (ILWU).
McElrath was also a social worker for the recently created U.S. Department of Social Security when Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japan and took the United States into the Second World War.
Unemployed when a massive tidal wave hit the islands in April of 1946, McElrath offered her professional skills in a volunteer capacity to the ILWU. She conducted house-to-house investigations of needs as the union collected and distributed money to families that suffered a death or the loss of a home or personal belongings.
Her volunteer work for the union continued during a long strike of workers in the sugar industry in 1946. She helped set up and supervise soup kitchens, encouraged families to continue sending their children to school despite the hardships resulting from the strike, and made arrangements to protect union workers from collection agencies and creditors.
McElrath was then hired as a full-time employee by the ILWU. Her work included running an educational program for union members. She also lobbied the state Legislature to increase public services for citizens. She helped win legislative battles to increase unemployment benefits for workers, improve workers compensation and disability insurance, and secured federal funds to build homes for low-income workers.
“Ah Quon McElrath’s life was a testament to the belief that we all have a responsibility to be our brother’s keeper,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Beyond her decades of service, her personal story gave her a rare insight into the lives of people who get up and go to work each day to make a better life for their families.
The NEA César Chávez Acción y Compromiso Award is presented each year to someone who follows in the exemplary footsteps of César Chávez in philosophy, work and leadership.
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The National Education Association is the nation’s largest professional organization, representing 3.2 million Elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.
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