The History of AFRAM

The creation of the African American Caucus within SEIU evolved over several decades via several internal structures, all having root in concerns about full participation in all levels of SEIU’s structure and resource allocations. 

Prior to Caucuses, In the 70’s and 80’s, Black SEIU leaders led the struggle to create a functional Civil & Human Rights Department within SEIU, and a Civil & Human Rights Committee of the International EBoard. This struggle was led in part by Ophelia McFadden, Peter Otley, Will Smith, and Herman Lewis, with the assistance & support of several others. The SEIU Civil & Human Rights Department laid the foundation for SEIU Regional Civil & Human Rights Conferences, which in turn created SEIU Regional Civil & Human Rights Committees 

In the early 1990’s, The Western Region Civil & Human Rights Committee, under the leadership of Patricia A. Ford, with support and assistance by numerous others, crafted a resolution creating Caucuses within SEIU. This resolution was adopted by the full Western Regional Conference and referred to the 1992 SEIU International Convention. Speaking on behalf of the resolution were Patricia A. Ford, Marchel Smiley, and Marshall Walker, III. After debate and amendment, the resolution authorizing regional caucuses within SEIU was adopted by convention delegates. 

Between 1992-96, The Western Conference African American Caucus (WCAAC), was the only caucus created in SEIU. The WCAAC adopted a constitution, elected officers, established a dues structure, and begin functioning as a coordinated body. African American Leaders in the East and Central Regions encountered opposition and indifference to forming caucuses in those regions. 

This uneven regional development and lack of enforcement of the 1992 Convention resolution, sparked the effort to create a National African American Caucus. In addition, the departure of John J. Sweeney, created a competitive political environment, as Richard Cordtz and Andrew Stern campaigned for International President. Several African American Leaders, meeting in Denver, Colo., agreed to convene a national meeting of African American leaders and activists, to develop a national agenda. 

The original conference call was signed by all nine (9) African American members of the International EBoard: Ophelia McFadden, Fay Childs, William Stodghill, Jarvis Williams, Mary Martin, Pat Ford, Marjorie Taylor, Janett Humphries and Bob Moore. An African American Leadership Conference Coordinating Committee was formed which consisted of: Tyrone Freeman, Pat Ford, Marchel Smiley, Bob Moore, John Johnson, Bill Lloyd, Janett Humphries, Jarvis Williams and Willie Hampton. 

The first SEIU African American Leadership Conference was held in Atlanta, Ga., during Black History Month (Feb. 16-18) 1996. Over three hundred (300) SEIU members were in attendance. The Conference was hosted by Tyrone Freeman with logistical support from Valerie Hairston. The African American agenda was adopted and several resolutions were passed. Resolution 1: Creating a National SEIU African-American Caucus, included the establishment of a twenty-four (24) person Constitution Draft Committee and the requirement to set a date within six (6) months to convene a Constitutional Convention. The Conference also featured workshops on “Leadership Development”, “Internal Organizing/Community Organizing”, “Power Through Labor/Management Partnerships”, Political Empowerment and Involvement” and others. Invited speakers included SEIU President Richard Cordtz, SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Betty Bednarcyzk, Georgia Congress Persons, Cynthia McKinney and John Lewis, and community activist Rev. James Organge. 

The African American agenda was presented to both Andrew Stern and Richard Cordtz, for comment and response. Based on their response and plans for SEIU, the African American Steering Committee voted on March 9, 1996, to endorse the New Voices Slate headed by Andy Stern. A list of recommendations for EVP, International Vice President, International Executive Board, and other leadership positions were submitted to Andy Stern. The African American Steering Committee unanimously elected Marchel Smiley, as Interim Chairperson. He was charged with producing the National AFRAM Constitution, arranging the first AFRAM Constitutional Convention, coordinating AFRAM’s fundraising for the New Voices Slate, and to be intermediary between the Steering Committee and the New Voices Slate. 

A follow up resolution was submitted at the 1996 International Convention, which was identical to the resolution adopted in Atlanta, Ga. It called for the authority to create National Caucuses in SEIU. To demonstrate support for this resolution and the names previously submitted for SEIU leadership positions, the African American Steering Committee called an AFRAM Caucus meeting during the 1996 International Convention. The meeting was held away from the Convention Hotel, at the South Shore Culture Center, on April 21st. Eighty percent (80%) of African American convention delegates boarded buses to attend the AFRAM meeting. The logistics of this historic meeting was coordinated by Jarvis Williams, Pia Davis and John Johnson. 

A record number of African Americans were elected or appointed to leadership positions at the 1996 Convention. Chief among them was the election of Patricia Ann Ford as Executive Vice President. In addition, a resolution was adopted authorizing National Caucuses. 

The National SEIU African American Caucus Founding Convention and Election of Officers was held March 14-16, 1997, at the Fairmont Hotel, in New Orleans, LA. Three Hundred and Forty-five (345) SEIU members representing Twenty-nine (29) Local unions were in attendance. The Draft Constitution presented by the Constitution Draft Committee was reviewed, debated, amended, and adopted. A major change was to name the organization, The International Caucus for People of African Descent (AFRAM) SEIU. 

The first election of officers were overseen by the Election Committee composed of Ophelia McFadden, Rosemary Trump, Robert Moore and Jarvis Williams. The first elected National officers were: 

Marchel Smiley—President 

Valerie Hairston—Treasurer 

Annette Jefferies—Secretary 

Central Region 
Chair/AFRAM Vice President-Pia Davis 
Executive Board 
Al Washington, Leonard Simpson, Roderick Bashir 

Southern Region 
Chair/AFRAM Vice President-Tyrone Freeman 
Executive Board 
Deronia Thompson, Thomas Coleman 

Eastern Region 

Chair/AFRAM Vice President-Fred Mason 
Executive Board 
Furaha Mbele, Rahaman Muhammad, Cornell Reed 

Western Region Southern Region
Chair/AFRAM Vice President Chair/AFRAM Vice President
Marshall Walker, III Tyrone Freeman
Executive Board Executive Board
Khalid Salaam Deronia Thompson
Shirley Ware Thomas Coleman
Jesse Taylor

AFRAM is in essence a federation of Regional Caucuses. There are twenty-two (22) National officers. Five (5) officers (President, Treasurer, Secretary, Retiree Board Member and Women’s Committee Board member) are elected every four (4) years at the national conference. Each Chairperson of the four (4) regions are automatic AFRAM Vice Presidents. In addition, each region elects three (3) members to serve as National AFRAM Executive Board members. 
Each Region has elected officers who are elected every two (2) years at the Regional Civil & Human Rights/SEJ Conference. The structure of regional caucuses are determined by each region. 

Local union chapters are formed in individual local unions. Most local chapters function in conjunction with the local union Civil & Human Rights Committee, although many function separately. Terms of office for local chapters are determined by each local chapter. 

Geographic Chapters are formed in locations with multi SEIU locals. Geographic chapters give SEIU African American members the opportunity to participate across local union boundaries. In addition, in locals where there is not an AFRAM chapter, Geographic chapters give local union members the opportunity to participate.