Andrea Beeman, NEA’s 2020 ESP of the Year, told delegates to NEA’s virtual Representative Assembly on July 3 how the selfless acts of others inspired her to devote a career of service to students with intellectual disabilities.
“I am committed every day to giving my students three things: Love, laughter, and learning,” Beeman, a paraeducator from Maple Heights, Ohio, said.
It’s what she was surrounded by as she grew up being nurtured by a family who valued service to others, especially her grandparents and mother.
“They provided me with solid examples of how selfless acts can change lives and shape a community,” she says.
In the years before Cleveland started to gentrify, when food deserts extended throughout the city leaving many people without access to fresh, healthy produce, Beeman’s grandmother grew vegetables. Not just for herself or her family, but for others.
“She gave them out to neighbors, family, and friends, and, in doing so, gave me a lesson about supporting my community.”
Her grandfather was a racial and social justice activist in Detroit who helped Beeman understand the effect of systemic racism on her own children. He warned her about the school-to-prison pipeline and taught her the power of activism.
Her mother, a divorced mom of three, was a proud member of the Teamsters union. From her, Beeman learned the power of collective bargaining—how it could save her job, her family, and her newly purchased home.
“That’s the power of unions. And as an ESP leader, I hope to help everyone remember that when COVID-19 shut our country down, education support professionals worked tirelessly through it all. When our students needed us most, we were there,” she said.
She told delegates that we live in a world where COVID-19 and the murder of George Floyd have become windows through which we’ve clearly seen how our leaders respond to crisis.
“We’ve seen who truly has the backs of America’s families and children. We’ve seen that we can no longer avoid the difficult conversations about the racial and economic disparities of this nation,” she said. “We must be in the room where decisions are made. And we must provide educators with the professional supports they need to be culturally competent and active leaders in their communities.”
As ESP of the Year, Beeman says her first priority is organizing NEA members to elect a president who understands the needs of this nation.
NEA helped Beeman find her voice, she told the delegates. She learned through her union how to turn pain into protest, anger into advocacy, and commitment to students into organizing other educators, particularly her fellow ESPs who this year celebrate 40 years of NEA membership.
As our nation finally begins to face the past, and come to terms with how it remains with us today, there is a new movement for racial and social justice, and it calls on all of us “to go all in,” she said. “It’s time to use the power of our 3 million voices to create change!”