AFSCME member leads PA Department of Agriculture in racial justice initiative

The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, rocked our nation to its core and left many wondering what we can do to achieve racial justice in our streets, in our legal system, and in our workplaces.

Both the workers and the management at Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture felt compelled to take action.

After reading a blog post that Pennsylvania Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding wrote about agriculture’s role in combating racism following the murder of George Floyd, Michele Brookins reached out to his office to thank him for addressing this issue and to discuss the topic further. Redding called her back the same day and told her he wanted to work together on an initiative to take this issue head on.

Michele is a 32-year employee of the Department of Agriculture and a member of AFSCME Local 2456 (State Professional – District 8). She is also a woman of color and an activist in every sense of the word.

32-year employee of the PA Department of Agriculture and member of AFSCME Local 2456 (State Professional – District 8) Michele Brookins.

When presented with this opportunity, Michele ran with it. She came up with the Project JUST (Justice, Unity, Solidarity, and Tolerance) Committee, which now includes a diverse group of department employees form each bureau and region. Secretary Redding named Michele the first Chair of the committee, which includes Michele’s fellow AFSCME members Kelly Atchamou (Local 2456), Lisa Anderson (Local 2518), Anita Ashe (Local 2518), Marsha Miller (Local 2518), and Cade Holden (Local 2528), along with 12 other department employees.

The Project JUST Committee will work to achieve equity, racial justice, and positive transformational change in the department and in the agricultural industry. The committee’s mission is to achieve and maintain a working environment that opposes discrimination and endorses respect, professionalism, diversity, and inclusion.

“I am over the moon with the conversations that are finally being had in Department of Agriculture about race, diversity and equality,” Michele said.

“In my 32 years, I never thought I would have seen this day. We now have a seat at the table to discuss something that was taboo for way too long.”

The committee is currently working on multiple initiatives for Black History Month and is developing best practices for office culture to create a more just and equitable work environment.

Click here to read Secretary Redding’s email acknowledging Michele’s role, listing all the committee members, and further explaining the mission, vision, values, and goals of the Project JUST Committee. See below for links to learn more about how Black Americans have contributed to agriculture and how you can support Black-owned bakeries and restaurants in central Pennsylvania.

AFSCME Council 13 applauds our sister Michele, her fellow union members on the committee, Secretary Redding and everyone at the Department of Agriculture who is working toward a more JUST future.

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