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Awards and Speakers

The AFT honors outstanding democracy and human rights activists through two awards.

Bayard Rustin Human Rights Award

The Bayard Rustin Award is given biennially at each AFT national convention jointly with the human rights department. It honors activists who have distinguished themselves as exemplars of selfless commitment to promoting human rights and dignity and justice.

Rustin was an organizer and an intellectual and is remembered as a courageous leader in the fields of human rights, civil rights, labor and democracy. In the United States, he is especially well known as a principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. However, his interests and accomplishments reached beyond the United States. Throughout his life, he defended democracy and opposed authoritarianism wherever they existed, from South Africa to Poland.


Education International president Thulas Nxesi presented the Bayard Rustin Award to the teachers of Zimbabwe, who have stood up against tyranny and for democracy in the most trying of circumstances. General secretary Richard Gundane of the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA) and general secretary Raymond Majongwe of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) accepted the award on behalf of their colleagues.

The AFT has joined African trade unions in supporting the teachers of Zimbabwe and calling on the Zimbabwean government to cease its manipulation of the democratic process and reverse the destruction of the nation’s social and economic fabric. In addition, the AFT provides support for the legal defense of teachers who have been arrested and are awaiting trial in the Zimbabwe courts. Indeed, the 2008 Bayard Rustin Award was accompanied by an AFT donation to the legal defense fund of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. To learn more about the AFT’s work in Zimbabwe, please click here.

Past Winners of the Bayard Rustin Human Rights Award

2006  Amel Centre for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture Nyala, Sudan

2004  Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.

2002  Szeto Wah, Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union

2000  Mayor Leoluca Orlando, Palermo, Italy

1998  The Hon. Alexis M. Herman, U.S. Department of Labor

1996  Rep. John Lewis, Atlanta, Ga.

1994  Cynthia Tucker, editor, Atlanta Constitution

1992  Dorothy Height, President of National Council of Negro Women

1990  Osvaldo Verdugo, President of the National Organization of Chilean Teachers

1988  Marian Wright Edelman, President of Children’s Defense Fund

1986  John Hume, Social Democratic and Labor Party of Northern Ireland

1984  Clarence M. Mitchell Jr., Washington Bureau NAACP (Accepted by his son)

1983  U.S. Ambassador Max M. Kampelman, Chairman of the American Delegation
           reviewing the Helsinki Accords in Madrid
           Ester Rolle, Actress

1982  The Rev. Ernest R. Gibson, Executive Director, Council of Churches in Greater  Washington D.C.

1981  Bayard Rustin, Chairman, A. Philip Randolph Institute

1980  Liv Ullman, Actress
           Benjamin Hooks, Executive Director, NAACP

1979  Rep. Shirley Chisholm, N.Y.

1978  South African Black Movement (Accepted by Cyprian Mahlaba)

1977  Leo Cherne, Chairman of the International Rescue Committee
           Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey, Minn. (posthumously)

1976  Rep. Augustus F. Hawkins, Calif.

1975  Rep. Patsy Mink, Hawaii

1974  Ernest Green, Civil Rights Activist (1st award)
           Sen. Mervyn M. Dymally, Calif. (Speaker)

President’s International Democracy Award

 This award was presented for the first time at the AFT’s 2008 national convention. It is given at the discretion of the AFT president to youth activists who have shown courageous resolve in struggles for human rights and democracy.

The inaugural award recognized the 88 Generation Students Group for its commitment to the struggle for democracy and freedom in Burma. Min Zin, a Burmese journalist and activist living in exile in the United States, accepted the award on behalf of activists still struggling to free their country.

The 88 Generation Students Group is composed of activists who, as students, led the demonstrations for which the organization is named on August 8, 1988. Min Zin led high school students in these demonstrations when he was only 14. Hundreds of thousands of citizens joined the students on the streets of Rangoon in the largest show of public dissent ever to challenge Burma’s military regime. The government responded by opening fire on the unarmed demonstrators. Thousands were killed, and many activists were arrested or forced into exile.

In the face of this violent repression, the group continued to recruit and organize demonstrations from underground. In August 2007, it began a series of demonstrations that were soon joined by thousands of highly revered Buddhist monks. The monks mobilized the population en masse, and, for two weeks, the street protests in Burma captivated the world. However, the peaceful civilians were violently suppressed by the government once again.

To learn more about the AFT’s work in Burma, please click here.