The Coalition of Racialized Workers held a Black History Month Celebration that paid tribute to former OPSEU President Fred Upshaw.
Attendees at the February 21 event included past and current OPSEU members and allies from the community. The group watched a recording from 1998, in which Upshaw explained why it was important for OPSEU to continue observing Black History Month.
The Coalition honored Upshaw’s memory with music, food, and personal stories from those who knew him and those who simply knew of him. Upshaw had three children and his daughter Charlotte was present for the event on Friday evening. Upshaw was the first black man elected as president of OPSEU, a job he held from 1990 to 1995.
Secretary/Treasurer of the Canadian Labour Congress Marie Clarke-Walker called Upshaw a trailblazer.
“One of the reasons why I felt comfortable to run and seek positions in the labour movement was because of his encouragement,” Clarke-Walker said.
Peter Thompson chair of the Provincial Coalition of Racialized Workers, called Upshaw an inspiration.
“Prior to joining OPSEU I saw this man speaking and was inspired to be a part of this great union. Fred was a great mentor, leader, and a great friend,” Thompson told the gathering.
OPSEU President Warren “Smokey” Thomas served on OPSEU’s Executive Board during Upshaw’s presidency.
“I’m proud to say Fred and I were friends, he was one of my greatest mentors in the labor movement,” said Thomas.
“Fred took the reins of our union at a critical point of our history, his leadership laid the foundation for the powerful outward looking progressive union we are today.”
The evening was not only a celebration in honour of the life of Fred Upshaw, it was also a time to celebrate black men and women who are positive forces in the labour movement today.