NEW YORK, August 6 ---- District Council 1707 announced the passing of Betty Powell, one of the original organizers and members of the nation’s first Head Start local in the nation. She was respected throughout the union movement and by child care advocates alike as a pioneer for child care workers’ rights at a time when child care workers were seen by many as babysitters and not educators.
After Head Start Employees Local 95 became chartered by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in 1976, it became a leader in striving for wages and expanded benefits for members. Local 95 still has the highest wages of Head Start workers in the nation with health care and pension benefits. Powell fought for and won tuition reimbursement for Local 95 employees and she assisted in the creation of the Head Start Local 95 Welfare Fund.
She worked for Bedford-Stuyvesant Head Start since 1966 where she remained until her retirement in 2013. Her leadership capabilities were noted by her peers who first elected her in 1978 as a Member-At-Large of the Head Start Local 95 Executive Board. She had been reelected President of the local since 1994 where she retired from that position in 2014 and was replaced as president by Carolyn Cox.
Cox, a former Head Start parent became active with her local Head Start center and soon became a Head Start worker, earning her bachelors and Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education thanks to the tuition reimbursement fund started by Powell.
“In sorrow we have lost a true sister of the labor movement. We will forever embrace her legacy. I am so grateful that I knew Betty Powell,” said Cox. “She was my best friend and a mentor to me and so many others. “It was her strength and her wisdom that kept our local stable over the years. Our members loved Betty and she loved them.”
Betty first started her Head Start career in 1966 when she became a Head Start Family Worker. She moved up the ladder and her last position was as an Adult Education Coordinator.
She attended elementary and high school in New York City and later attended the School of Continuing Education at New York University. She obtained an AA degree in Social Work at City College and furthered her education at Empire State College.
Betty raised her two daughters, Cheryl and Tina, as a single parent and considered herself the CEO of her household. She was a very strong advocate for early childhood education for working women and men. She was resolute in providing invaluable services to Head Start families.
She traveled the nation as a delegate to AFSCME International conventions, New York State AFL-CIO COPE Conventions, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the Coalition of Labor Union Women and other national organizations as a dynamic spokesperson for the Head Start program and the families the program services. She was an inspiration to many parents encouraging them to become active with the program and attend school to advance their education and work lives.
Betty was popular with her members and the families she serviced. She believed that her basic core beliefs provided her guidance through the good times and the rough patches.
DC 1707 Executive Director Victoria Mitchell said that Betty Powell had been an inspiration to her and so many others.
“Betty never stopped championing for the rights of child care workers and all workers to have basic dignity and respect. She will be missed and she can never be replaced. She was regal in her stature and she was always a lady, but she was always a fighter for just causes,” said Mitchell.
District Council 1707 will hold a memorial service for Betty Powell in the near future.