Freedom Fellow shares insights on Black labor movement

Ilu Tefera discusses her time as a We Gon’ Be Alright student and shares her experience as a Freedom Fellow below.

Simone Frank | January 23rd, 2023

Hailing from Santa Maria, California, meet Ilu Tefera, a fourth-year student at UCLA majoring in political science and minoring in African American Studies and English. Ilu brings her passion for serving her community to the field of organizing by staying involved and becoming an organizer. 

For students in the Center for Advancement of Racial Equity (CARE) at Work’s Freedom Fellowship 2022, learning about Black worker justice is just the beginning for a lifetime of empowerment.

Launched in the summer of 2021, the Freedom Fellowship offers an experiential learning opportunity that aims to build a bridge between students, labor leaders, union members, and field organizers in partnership with the Southern California Black Worker Hub and CARE at Work’s regional Black Worker Center (BWC) allies.

Ilu shares her valuable experience participating in the Freedom Fellowship and CARE at Work’s cross-campus course, We Gon’ Be Alright: Developing the Next Generation of Black Organizers.

What are you passionate about and how does it connect to the Black Worker Justice space?

My passion has always rested with my people. Growing up, I saw what it was like to work hard yet still be undervalued and underappreciated. Now as an organizer, I want to see labor justice reach the Black Community. I hope to be a part of a change, where our Black folks, no longer have to say, “I need this check to pay on my bills,” but are able to stand up stronger with the security of livable and better labor standards. I’m definitely interested in learning more about the different aspects of Black Worker Justice. I feel like this summer gave me a greater glimpse of the work that goes into this movement, and I hope to be more involved going forward. 

As a student in the We Gon’ Be Alright Class, what was it like participating in a course with students from across Los Angeles County?

It was definitely a great experience. With this only being the second time the class was taught, I was so appreciative to be given a chance to be a part of this movement. There were a few kinks here and there because we’re completely online for the class in the Spring but there were a few instances where we got to meet in person. The class was really diverse with students from UCLA, Cal State Dominguez Hills, LA Trade Tech, and some other colleges in Los Angeles County. Overall, it was an incredible experience being able to see and interact with students from a variety of different backgrounds and campuses. Working and learning together, I feel like I really got to expand my network in the LA area.

What did you enjoy most about the We Gon’ Be Alright class?

I definitely appreciated the flexibility to learn without the confinement of weekly, rigorous testing which I feel is pretty commonplace at UCLA. There [are] always classes that teach you something but then expect you to regurgitate the information within the week or within the quarter with no real interest in whether or not you’ve truly absorbed the information. The We Gon’ Be Alright class was definitely about learning by doing–hence the fellowship–so I really appreciated the time and the space we were given to absorb and utilize the information we were taught. 

I also appreciated the space to talk about our own experiences being Black in different spaces: at work, in school, in our relationships, and–just in general–society. It was refreshing to share my experience and realize I wasn’t alone in the way I felt and reacted; my classmates and professors understood what I’d been through because they’d dealt with very similar situations.

What was your experience like as a participant in the Freedom Fellowship?

During the fellowship, I worked with another fellow who also took the class with me, and I truly enjoyed the work I did and my overall time and training in the program. Under the guidance of my supervisor, Deja Thomas, I got to contribute to the planning of the Black Worker Summit, a conference hosted by the Center for the Advancement of Racial Equity (CARE) at Work and its Black Worker Center partners. Supporting with planning and strategic outreach, we got to be really hands on building out outreach messaging, handling attendee engagement, and other program logistics. I think I got a pretty good feel of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into organizing and the different aspects that I didn’t consider until I was doing the work myself. I was more involved with the recruiting and coordinating side of the event, and I had a great experience working in the Freedom Fellowship this summer.

What was it like participating in the U.S. Born Black and Black Immigrant New Power Seminar Series? What insights did you gather from the Dream Summer Fellows who also participated?

Connecting with the Dream Summer Fellows in the New Power Seminars was definitely the best experience in the fellowship for me because we were able to get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a young Black immigrant in this country. Having grown up in a family where I was raised by Black immigrants, I’d always heard about the experiences of the older generation but I didn’t know very much about the Black immigrant experience among my peers. It was a very different to see it from the point of view of my peers, and see how it impacted their worldview and their perception of the American Dream. I truly enjoyed the New Power Seminars and I hope the seminars continue to be implemented into the program so the two student cohorts can work together in the following Freedom Fellowship summers.

How has the Freedom Fellowship helped you grow? 

The Freedom Fellowship program, helped me realize how invested I am in giving back to the communities that raised me, and really gave me the opportunity to do that while still spending time with my family and traveling throughout the summer. 

I’ve learned that impacting one person makes a real difference, especially once they go on to impact others and the domino effect continues. This summer the Freedom Fellowship cemented my passion for this work and has given me a taste of what I hope to spend the rest of my life doing.

The 2023 Freedom Fellowship beginning in July 2023 will be offered exclusively to students who have taken We Gone Be Alright: Developing the Next Generation of Black Worker Organizers. We Gon’ Be Alright is a joint UCLA Labor Studies and LACCD Course (UC Transferable) that will focus on the tenets of hands-on community organizing and aims to give students an in-depth look at the historical and modern efforts of the Black Worker Justice Movement.

If you are interested in learning more information about UCLA CARE at Work, “We Gone Be Alright: Developing the Next Generation of Black Organizers”, or the Freedom Fellowship, please sign up for the Virtual Open House on Thursday, February 2nd, 6:00pm (virtual) through the registration link

Enrollment for this course will be through the instructor’s consent. Please complete the interest form to be considered for this course.

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