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Rev. Otis Moss III at Trinity United Church of Christ

Rev. Otis Moss III poses for a portrait on April 13 at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He recently spoke at the AFT convention in Boston. Source: The Washington Post / Getty

The recent American Federation of Teachers (AFT) convention provided space for broad-ranging community conversations. In addition to reaffirming its commitment to supporting teachers, students and families, the union made space to address pressing issues such as the fights for reproductive rights and Democracy.

As a part of a session called “Making a Difference by Protecting Our Democracy and Freedom,” Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, the senior pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, gave one of the most engaging speeches of the entire convention. In his closing summation, Moss tackled several points touching the heart of critical battles across the country.

It seems as if the sun has set and darkness has come upon the land. But I’m here to let you know that with all of the changes that have happened in this nation, now a Court seems to have a confederate or antebellum framework in terms of how they even look at legislation. The fact that voter suppression is still rampant in our nation and the attack upon education and upon educators seems to be continual. You can’t even talk about Black history nowadays.

Otherwise, someone will say that it’s destructive and not patriotic. The true patriot is one who wants education for everybody. The true patriot is the one who simply wants to teach the truth of American history, slavery and abolition, the women’s suffrage movement and the labor movement and the civil rights movement. This is Democracy.

Before taking the stage, Moss shared his grandfather’s journey and fight for voting rights in the short film “Otis’ Dream.” During his remarks, Moss stressed teachers’ important role in protecting and expanding Democracy.

“Democracy is held in the hands of mothers, teachers and artists, prophets, first responders and poets,” Moss told attendees. “You are the forgers of a moral imagination for this democracy.”

Preceding Moss, Rep. Ayanna Pressley provided the day’s opening remarks encouraging everyone in attendance and watching along at home to remember that they deserve a life free from fear.

I want you all to walk away from today with one message in your heart. 2ell if there’s only one that you remember, you deserve a life free from fear, where you are defined by potential and possibility—defined by your joys and not your traumas, where you are able to live and thrive. 

Pressley’s remarks took a personal turn, thanking the educators for all they do.

I’m deeply grateful for the role that you’ve played in my own life. I’m deeply grateful for the role that you play in our community and in our Democracy. And I truly believe that together we can overcome the challenges we face and work towards shaping a beautiful, compassionate, inclusive future. But only if we center the voices of those in this room our best days are yet to come.

The 2022 convening was the first for the organization since 2018. During the four-day convention, AFT unveiled a new campaign called What Kids and Communities Need, which included expanding the number of community schools and addressing the national teacher shortage.

“It is way overdue to focus on equity, providing children what they need to reach their full potential,” said Journey for Justice Alliance National Director Jitu Brown. He also called the campaign an important step in the fight for educational equity for all students. “We cannot get there if we are not honest about our failures. We will not take our eyes off the prize; equity or else.”

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