[ 2023 NYSUT Representative Assembly]
NYSUT RA Awards typography and seal

“Not for Ourselves Alone:” The Sandy Feldman Outstanding Leadership Award

headshot of Rowena Blackman-Stroud
Rowena Blackman-Stroud
A tenacious fighter with a heart of gold, Rowena Blackman-Stroud protected workers, preserved careers and literally saved lives.

Blackman-Stroud first arrived at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University in 1979, working in the nuclear medicine department. She joined UUP in 1982 and was elected Downstate chapter president in 1991.

“(Rowena) provided unparalleled leadership in the face of nearly constant efforts to privatize or close that institution, which was central to the health and well-being of the Central Brooklyn community, and the education of a diverse, highly skilled workforce of health care professionals,” said UUP President Fred Kowal.

She is widely credited for organizing and spearheading a union-backed fight from 2012 through 2015 to block planned layoffs and retrenchments at the Brooklyn public teaching hospital. Blackman-Stroud served as Downstate president until 2022.

Blackman-Stroud served for 23 years as statewide UUP treasurer and under her guidance, UUP remained a stable, financially strong organization. She also held leadership roles on NYSUT’s Board of Directors and the New York AFL-CIO’s Executive Council. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she was the driving force in securing personal protective equipment desperately needed by members at SUNY Downstate.

“Rowena was one of the kindest, most caring people you’d ever be lucky enough to meet, but when she felt that action needed to be taken, she was bold, determined and tenacious,” Kowal said.

Blackman-Stroud died Dec. 3, 2022, after a brief illness.

headshot of Marilyn Manley
Marilyn Manley
Marilyn Manley has held several titles. She started her education career as a paraprofessional in Queens District 28. After obtaining her degree in elementary education, she went on to teach sixth grade in neighboring District 27. The United Federation of Teachers member taught for 13 years before becoming a librarian.

Never one to back down from a challenge, Manley started her education career with students who faced their own difficulties. As a para, she worked with students classified as NIEH, neurologically impaired, emotionally handicapped.

“It took patience. It took guidance. I was being a mom, a dad, a doctor — all of those things to children who really needed it,” Manley recalled. The lessons she learned aided her throughout her career in the classroom — and in the union.

Manley climbed the union ranks from rank and file to chapter leader. In 2002, she was the first person of color to be elected district representative for Queens District 27. That position, like much of her union work, came with its own challenges. As a union leader for more than two decades, Manley helped navigate her fellow members through turbulent times including the aftermath of the terror attacks on 9/11; the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy in 2012; and the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.

“Life has totally changed since I began my career in public education, but one thing remains the same: The union is here for you. We are all in this together.”

School-Related Professionals Members of the Year

headshot of Renee Freeman
Renee Freeman
Few things excite Renee Freeman more than talking about her job as a paraprofessional.

“I love my job and being able to help children reach their full potential. You could be the difference for them between a good day and a bad day.”

For the past few years, Freeman has worked one-to-one with the same student. “When I arrived, his notebook was empty. I came to the school in November. I read his IEP, and then I spoke with the teachers.” Freeman met with the student’s mom and worked out a plan to catch him up.

“We worked every day and when we finished sixth grade, he didn’t need summer school because the kid had 80s in his classes.” Now, as a ninth-grader, her student helps another child study. “That’s what it’s all about.”

She applies the same level of dedication and perseverence to her union work. Freeman is the interim acting first vice chairperson for the paraprofessional chapter of the United Federation of Teachers. She advocates for more professional development opportunities and helps train new paras, stressing the importance of connecting with others in the field, union organizing and self-care. “It’s so important that those of us who are older help those who are just joining this profession.”

headshot of Stacy Stoliker
Stacy Stoliker
One half of the two-person Pupil Personnel Services department for Rhinebeck Central Schools, Stacy Stoliker wears many hats. She provides districtwide administrative services for families of students receiving special education, English language learners, and those students receiving support under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

“I also do all of the Medicaid rebilling for the district,” Stoliker added. Service to others is just part of her DNA — that includes helping parents navigate the system to better serve their children.

With everything else on her plate, Stoliker still finds the time to support her colleagues. She has held several roles in the union, with the last seven years serving as president of the Rhinebeck Association of Non-Instructional Employees, a unit representing a wide range of SRP job titles. A passionate union advocate, she works hard to get, and keep, members active and involved in their union.

“The ANIE unit is a team. Our main premise of everything we do is that we are the core of the district, and we operate that way: You may be an aide. You may be a custodial staff member. I may be a clerical staff. But we all work together.”

Retiree Members of the Year

headshot of Howard Kasen

Howard Kasen
With a career dating back to NYSUT’s founding year, Howard Kasen has seen a lot.

Kasen was on the front lines with the Nyack Teachers Association during a 28-day strike in 1975. When he learned he was going to be served with papers ordering him to return to work or face contempt of court charges, he had to get creative.

“If they can’t find you, they can’t get you. I wanted to walk with my union brothers and sisters. When I heard he was coming to the junior high, I went over to the high school. And when I heard that the process server was coming over to the high school, I went to one of the elementary schools. I just kept moving. And this is how I never got served. The lesson I learned was, I will play by the rules, and I will win.”

In the years following that job action, Kasen rose through the ranks of his local, serving the union in numerous positions, including as president, and laying the foundation for an improved teacher-district relationship.

Kasen has continued his service to the union in retirement. He currently serves as president of Retiree Council 14 where he works to support NYSUT retirees in Rockland and Orange counties and keep them involved and informed.

Prior to the pandemic, Kasen was planning to vacate but decided to remain in the position to guide retiree members through this unprecedented time.

headshot of Nina Tribble
Nina Tribble
For the bulk of her 32 years of service in public education, Tribble taught physical education and health at Forest Hills High School in Queens.

It was a fitting career choice for Tribble, a United Federation of Teachers member. Even now in retirement she stays on the move.

This past September, Tribble was in Washington, D.C., to hear President Joe Biden talk about the progress his administration has made to bring down health care costs and strengthen Medicare. In October she was in Albany completing NYSUT’s Implicit Bias training before heading off to North Carolina to support get-out-the-vote efforts.

Tribble broke barriers as the first Black woman elected UFT chapter leader in her district. “I wanted to make sure they knew … what their rights were and what their responsibilities were.”

Tribble regularly attends the UFT’s monthly Delegate Assembly. As their front-line representative, she leads GOTV efforts and educates retirees on the valuable services that are available to them through the union.

“Retirees need to belong to something,” Tribble said. “They need to know there is strength in numbers and that they are not alone. For me, the union has always been a place where I made friends and important relationships. My union is my family.”

Health Care Professional Members of the Yearr

headshot of Mindy Heath

Mindy Heath
Coming from a large union family, Mindy Heath always knew the value of being a member. And with her no-nonsense approach, she’s an ideal advocate for those who may be afraid to speak truth to power.

“I grew up knowing I wanted to work in a place that had good benefits and security, for myself and my kids,“ Heath said. When she began her career as a physical therapist at SUNY Upstate Medical University, Heath quickly rose through the ranks from serving as a United University Professions delegate to being elected vice president of her chapter.Her knowledge of issues affecting SUNY hospital employees earned her a position on the UUP Negotiations Team.

Through an unprecedented global pandemic; a personal battle with breast cancer; and raising three children, Heath has continually proved her steadfast support for her union and unwavering dedication to providing high-quality care for her patients. On top of it all, Heath uses her medical background to go above and beyond, serving her community as a volunteer EMT.

While day-to-day advocacy is important, Heath is also passionate about education. “We have to really take the time to educate people that the rights we have are a result of a hard-fought battle by the unions.”

headshot of Elvie Smith
Elvie Smith
A chance encounter years ago in her native Jamaica started Elvie Smith on what would become a lifetime of making a difference.

“I’m the first of four children, and I was afraid that if I went to medical school, my parents wouldn’t be able to afford to send my siblings to high school.” Smith’s local postmistress encouraged her to apply to nursing school and covered the postage for her application. “She helped me find my way to nursing. She made the difference.”

Now, looking back on a more than 30-year nursing career at NYU Langone Health–Brooklyn, Smith has provided high-quality, compassionate care to countless patients. For nearly two-thirds of that time, she has also served as a dedicated union leader. A representative and delegate for the Federation of Nurses/United Federation of Teachers, Smith is a nurse educator, providing mentorship and training in the field, teaching the importance of union membership, and reminding too often overworked health care professionals about the importance of compassion.

“Nursing is not just handing out medications or giving an injection or documenting in the computer. It’s all about compassion, and compassion cannot be taught from a textbook.”

Higher Education Member of the Year

headshot of Dante Morelli
Dante Morelli
Activism and advocacy are not just buzz words for Dante Morelli. President of the Faculty Association of Suffolk Community College since 2019, he is a tireless advocate for higher ed members, his students and his community.

Growing up in Pittsburgh, arguably a blue-collar stronghold with a long labor history, Morelli did not come from a union family. That all changed when he moved to Long Island and started working at Suffolk CC.

“I learned about the union through my job. I started to realize in talking to colleagues across the country who are not part of unions, how much more they suffer and the lack of resources and benefits,” Morelli said. He started out as a building rep then moved on to FASCC grievance officer and executive vice president.

Morelli is a member of the Brookhaven Town Democratic Labor Committee, and he serves on NYSUT’s Human and Civil Rights Committee and the LGBTQ Committee. Morelli is a member of the NYSUT Community College Planning Committee and is the architect behind “Union Speed Dating,” the plenary session that ends the conference and has leaders and members exchanging best practices.

NYSUT Representative Assembly 2023 seal