Civil and Human Rights Awards

Each year the AFL-CIO Executive Committee on Civil and Human Rights honors labor and community leaders who exemplify what it truly means to serve our people. These honorees answered Dr. King’s call to live a life filled with justice and love. We were proud to honor leaders who dared to dream for a better today and tomorrow.

Award Recipients

Justice Freedom and Peace Awards

The Justice, Peace and Freedom Award is presented to a national leader or leaders in recognition of their dedication to advancing justice, peace and freedom for workers and community members in their daily work. Their commitment to justice and peace has brought about great change in society and their commitment to freedom exemplifies the vision needed to advance the rights for all working people.

2017 Awardees
Mike de la Rocha, Revolve Impact
Carmen Perez, The Gathering for Justice
Jussie Smollett, Actor

2016 Awardees
Rachel Bryan, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
Dorsey Nunn, All of Us or None, and Legal Support for Prisoners with Children
Eddy Zheng, Asian Prisoner Support Group

Defender of the Dream Award

The Defender of the Dream Award is presented to a national leader or leaders in recognition of their dedication to advancing social and economic justice for workers and community members. The recipient of this award has continued to dream in spite of adversity. Their commitment to social change is best represented through the words of Dr. King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech where he states, “I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.”

2017 Awardee
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

2016 Awardees
#BlackLivesMatter Co-Founders
Patrisse Cullors-Brignac, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Alicia Garza, National Domestic Workers Alliance
Opal Tometi, Black Alliance for Just Immigration

At the River I Stand Award

At the River I Stand is a national award presented to a leader who has demonstrated an unyielding commitment to civil rights and workers’ rights. The name of the award comes from the historic descriptive words used to capture the spirit of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers during  their courageous struggle for workers’ and civil rights. They stood at their “river” and made the decision to take a stand against degrading and unsafe working conditions, and racial discrimination. Their struggle demonstrated the inextricable link between the two movements. Those who receive the At the River I Stand Award exemplify the spirit of the Memphis sanitation workers in their lives and work. The AFL-CIO Executive Council Committee on Civil and Human Rights chose the recipient of this award.

2017 Awardees
Marc Perrone, United Food and Commercial Workers
Fred Redmond, United Steelworkers

2016 Awardee: Esther Lopez, United Food and Commercial Workers

Drum Major for Justice Lifetime Achievement Award

The Drum Major for Justice Lifetime Achievement Award is given to the national leader who has dedicated their life to advancing civil and workplace rights.

In a sermon delivered nearly 55 years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. described what he called the “Drum Major Instinct” to the congregation in Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. The words he spoke that day were the inspiration for a national service award that recognizes leaders who give their time serving others but seldom seek the spotlight. The sermon includes the following passage from Dr. King that acknowledged the desire to lead but emphasizes selfless motives: “Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice; say that I was a drum major for peace; I was a drum major for righteousness… We all have the drum major instinct.” This award is in deep appreciation for decades of struggle and success for civil rights and workers’ rights.

2017 Awardee: Petee Talley, Ohio Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO

2016 Awardee: Dr. Lorretta Johnson, American Federation of Teachers

UnSung Hero Award

The UnSung Hero Award is presented to a leader or leaders who have worked to make substantive yet unrecognized contribution to advancing social justice in society. This award is in honor of their bravery, which is often unknown or goes unacknowledged, but through humility and activism, their work made institutional change in society.

2017 Honorees
People United for Justice for the Bazta Arpaio Campaign
Carlos Garcia, Puente Human Rights Movement
Alejandra Gomez, LUCHA
Viri Hernandez, Center for Neighborhood Leadership

Eyes on the Prize Awards

The Eyes on the Prize Awards are presented to government, labor, community and faith leaders who exemplify an unyielding commitment to social justice, civil rights and workers’ rights. The leadership of the Metro Washington Labor Council chose the recipients of these awards.

2016 Awardees
Government Award: Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.)
Labor Award: Jaime Contreras, SEIU 32BJ
Religion Award: Rev. Lionel Edmonds, Washington Interfaith Network
Community Service Award: Jews United for Justice
Eyes on the Prize Special Award – Washington, D.C.