April 3, 2012
By Tam H. Phan, Director of Community Affairs, LaborPress
Carolyn Cox always understood education was important. But as life went on around her, as it does for all of us, pursuing a degree can be difficult. But Carolyn knew that for her career to advance, obtaining an education was key. And with tenacity, she plunged right in. Carolyn now holds a Master’s of Science in Education. DC1707 was a big part of making that happen.
In 1972, Carolyn enrolled her son in Head Start and saw the impact it had on his development. So much so that in 1975 she enrolled her daughter into the same program. An active parent, she participated in DAPC, the body of parents that made decisions regarding how their children were taught. Engaging academics in this way led to her becoming an assistant teacher at very center where she had enrolled her children.
Teaching made her want to learn, so it wasn’t surprising that Carolyn decided to pursue her first degree—an Associate in Arts from Empire State College, which she obtained in 1987. However, learning is nothing if it isn’t accompanied by practical application.
While studying for her first degree, she became increasing involved in DC1707. Initially, she just wanted to know where her dues went, but as she attended meetings she started to see the power behind a united workforce. The film Norma Rae about factory workers who refused to work until they got a union had her enamored. She understood then the strength of organizing and how workers can benefit from such solidarity.
Her thirst for deeper involvement with the union and education made her enroll in the College of New Rochelle for her bachelor’s. When a position opened up on the board of Local 95, she gladly accepted the offer. Carolyn went from being a member-at-large to running for Secretary, a position she held for six years.
The increased responsibility of family, work, school and organizing would have been too much for anybody’s plate, but luckily she had family to lean on for support. Her children and husband would read her books onto a cassette for her to listen to while she commuted and took care of chores. The system their family developed proved successful, for in August of 1990, Carolyn received her Bachelor’s of Arts from the College of New Rochelle.
One would think the story would end there, but tenacity is the theme here. Carolyn’s responsibility in the union grew. She became a trustee for the welfare fund, which provides benefits for union members. She also started working on her master’s degree at City College. The unions encouraged education so as an incentive people were given tuition reimbursement. But by the time that was implemented, Carolyn was only able to get reimbursed for one semester because she was at the tail end of her Master of Science in Education.
Carolyn now holds three degrees, is a teacher with tenure at Medgar Evers/Community Parent Inc., Vice President of the Executive Board of Local 95, Vice President of the Executive Board of DC1707 and trustee of Local 95’s welfare fund. Impressive, to say the least. Most importantly, however, is that Carolyn’s tenacity is tempered by her humility, “My union experience has been very rich. I owe my education to being a part of the labor movement, to DC1707 and Local 95.”