I drive or walk around my neighborhood, and I remember the current political climate. Our Black children see everything that is happening, and we’re teaching them how to prepare for what is coming and get them ready to fight back against the system. I bring my son, Justice, to marches and actions, so he sees what his Black mother must do for her child and what he must later do for himself.
When I started working at KFC, I saw the parents working alongside me, and I knew that if I couldn’t make it on my paycheck, there was no way that they could make it with theirs. I’ve always lived in poverty, but living in poverty and having someone depend on me is a completely different story. So one day, I stood up and I said something. And I haven’t looked back.
“We are fast food workers who deserve more money and a union. I’m from Brooklyn and I’m making $7.25, and rent is $1300. They need to raise the wage,” I nervously told a reporter standing outside of a McDoanld’s on 42nd Street in New York. That was four years ago. I had no idea that my personal fight for myself and for my son would grow into a movement challenging economic inequality and poor working conditions for thousands of workers.
Later, I sat in the very first meeting for the Fight for 15 with some of my coworkers. We wanted better pay, and we wanted a lot more fixed in our workplace. People were getting burned at work and their hours were cut without reason or warning. We’d been letting these corporations give us the bare minimum for too long. It was time to stop letting them tell us what we should have, and start speaking out for what we need. Only we can decide that. In that first meeting we agreed that we had to declare what we wanted – a $15 wage and union rights.
There are 64 million workers paid less than $15 an hour in the United States. That’s nearly half of the American workforce that is paid less than $15. These low-wage jobs are some of the fastest growing jobs in our economy, whether fast food, child care, home care, retail, airports, etc. These jobs do not pay enough for people to provide for themselves and their families without some kind of public assistance.
People have asked me if I feel like I have nothing to lose. They’re often referring to my job, as though a low-wage job is nothing to lose. They often don’t understand that I do still have bills to pay and a family to provide for. I work for these companies that make millions and I can barely afford a place to live, but I have to do something to survive. At the same time, if i don’t fight for this, I’m going to wind up losing myself. If I don’t fight, I see myself as they see me, expendable, and nothing ever gets better for anyone, including my son. No, I don’t feel like I have nothing to lose. But more importantly, I feel like there is no alternative but to fight and win – for myself, for my family, for all of us.
And sometimes this fight has felt like losing. There have been times when I have talked to workers who were “good with $8/hr.” Those moments felt like a nail in my heart. Some people outside of fast food said that $15 is too much, that it is crazy. Yet they complained about not being able to make ends meet. But I keep going. And those harder moments feel farther away.
Now, people are seeing that we can win, because it is happening. I wonder what the people who didn’t believe in this change think now, now that we are a movement.
We’ve won raises for 22 million people – $62 billion in increases. We’ve been waiting for elected officials to change laws and create policies for us for decades. What we’ve seen in this fight is that we can stop waiting and start leading – and the politicians and the corporations will follow. Unlikely politicians, like Governor Cuomo and Rahm Emanuel, supported increases in the minimum wage because they saw people taking action.
But there are still 44 million people who haven’t gotten raises. Even with a $15 wage, we still need union rights.
The Fight for 15 has brought together tens of thousands of workers under the same umbrella for better wages and improved working conditions. We got in the streets, we went on strike, we’ve been arrested, and we’ve connected with other workers from different industries, because we believe that this is bigger than wages – this is our lives and our children’s lives.
This movement has changed me into an entirely different person than I was when we started, and it’s changed the conversation about workers’ rights and wages in this country. We must show the world that we can keep changing ourselves and changing the system for Black futures.
This post is part of the Black Futures Month blog series brought to you by The Huffington Post and the Black Lives Matter Network. Each day in February, look for a new post exploring cultural and political issues affecting the Black community and examining the impact it will have going forward. For more Black History Month content, check out Black Voices’ ‘We, Too, Are America’ coverage.