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Chavez banquet features farm worker advocate

March 18, 2009

KALAMAZOO--Southwest Michigan will celebrate the life and work of civil rights leader Cesar E. Chavez with a scholarship fund-raising dinner and program beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, March 28, in the Fetzer Center on the Western Michigan University campus.

The event costs $40, and reservations are required by Monday, March 23. The keynote speaker will be Baldemar Velasquez, president and founder of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO.

Velasquez has worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders and continues to advocate for farm workers. He also speaks out on such timely issues as immigration, guest workers, the NAFTA trade agreement, the immigrant rights movement, and the interrelation of family farmers, farm workers and agricultural corporations.

This is the third year that WMU's Division of Multicultural Affairs has teamed with the Southwest Michigan Cesar E. Chavez Day Committee and area businesses to sponsor a banquet on or around Chavez' March 31 birthday.

Chavez was a leader for more than 30 years in the nonviolent struggle to improve civil rights and working conditions for migrant farm laborers and co-founded what is now the United Farm Workers of America, the nation's first successful farm workers union.

The 2009 Chavez event will begin at 6:30 with entertainment and a reception. The dinner and program will follow at 7 p.m. In addition to the talk by Velasquez, it will include remarks by area dignitaries and announcement of this year's recipients of the Tri-Community Award and the new Southwest Michigan Cesar E. Chavez Day Committee Scholarship.

The Chavez Day committee named the Tri-Community Award in honor of Chavez, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. It recognizes individuals in Southwest Michigan who make an outstanding contribution to bringing together all segments of the regional community.

The committee's new $1,000, need-based scholarship is available to college or college-bound students living in Kalamazoo or Van Buren counties. To be eligible, recipients must attend college full time during the 2009-10 school year and have exemplified the life of Chavez through demonstrated academic success and civic responsibility in their communities."

Velasquez, raised as a migrant farm worker, founded the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in 1967 at age 20.

The organization, which is a social movement as well as a labor union, emphasizes human rights and self-determination for those it believes have been marginalized and exploited. It is primarily focused on migrant workers in the agricultural industry, but also is involved with immigrant workers, Latinos, local communities, and national and international coalitions concerned with social justice.

In 1978, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee conducted the largest agricultural strike in the Midwest. This eight-year walk-out led to the formation of independent commissions in the United States and Mexico to negotiate and oversee collective bargaining rights for farm workers. The strike culminated in migrant workers negotiating the nation's first three-party labor contracts, bringing together farm workers, farmers and industrial produce corporations.

Those agreements classified thousands of farm workers as employees. As a result, many farm workers began receiving regular wages for the first time and became eligible for workers' compensation, minimum wage and Social Security benefits.

To register to attend the 2009 Chavez dinner program, call (269) 539-5189. For more information, contact Miguel Ramirez in WMU's Division of Multicultural Affairs at miguel.ramirez@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3329.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400