We Cannot Do It Alone: Vonda McDaniel – Vanderbilt Divinity School

Vonda McDaniel is the president of the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle TN, AFL-CIO and a lifelong member of the First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill. The following are her edited remarks at the opening of the inaugural event on April 10, 2019:

As a labor activist, I simply refuse to accept the reality of struggling to make ends meet in the richest country in the world at the richest point in history. Aligned with the mission of Wendland Cook Program in Religion and Justice, I wanted to come this evening to support and organize more just relationships, as is reflected in the room already.

As I reflected on what inspired me to do the work that I do – my mother calls me a professional troublemaker – I cannot help but think about what brought our family to Nashville in 1968. At that time, Kelly Miller Smith, Sr. was the board chair of an organization called OIC (Opportunities Industrial Center, Incorporated). My father was the first executive director hired here, and Reverend Smith (and a few other names that may be familiar to you, like the Reverend Bill Barnes, Bernard Worthing and Laura McRae) worked in the community with individuals who had little hope and few prospects, offering them job training and life skills, and helped place them into jobs. That was my start: watching that happen in my church.

When I think about what the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) states and its Bill of Rights:

  • A good job with fair wages, where everybody who wants to work has the right to a good job, where they earn a fair return on their work and receive wages that allow them to support themselves with dignity and respect.

  • Quality health care regardless of their income job or pre-existing condition

  • A safe job free from harassment and violence.

  • Paid time off and a flexible schedule so that they can go to their child's play or to carry them to the doctor.

  • Freedom from discrimination in hiring firing and promotions

  • A retirement with dignity and respect and financial security, and education, which is under attack even in our own state at this very moment.

  • Higher education, career training that advances our knowledge and skills without leaving us in debt

  • And the freedom to join together to form a union. A union – that's not a dirty word.

  • A voice in democracy to freely exercise our democratic voice through voting and civic participation.

These are the reasons that I'm excited to be here tonight with all of you. Because I know what is possible, and we cannot do it alone. It will take everyone in this room and all the organizing we can muster.

So on behalf of the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, A. Philip Randolph Institute, First Baptist Church, Capitol Hill, and all of the other community partners that drive justice work in our community, we welcome the opportunity to find new ways to broaden our connections to one another.

Click here to read a recap of the event and see photos.