WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:
In a community where city employees routinely worked two or three jobs to provide for their families, the idea of a living wage was a hard sell, to say the least.
Lucky for Memphis, the young woman who took on the job of selling it had the tenacity, fortitude and intelligence to sell, sell and sell again.
Rev. Rebekah Jordan, daughter of a Memphis minister and a Memphis school teacher, set out to train in college to teach, but found her way to an internship in social change — and the rest is now very important Memphis history.
Rebekah saw the powerful connection between ministry and social change. She went to seminary and sowed the seeds of what became the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice as she prepared for ordination. Working with union leader Fred Ashwill and Rev. Steve Shapard, they laid ground work to form a faith community focused on work related issues.
Beginning in November 2002, coalition members researched what a living wage in Memphis is and shaped the campaign and ordinance. In summer 2003, they began to meet with City Council members.
Through numerous setbacks, political shenanigans and even disputes among the campaign’s community supporters, Rebekah persevered. She drew and redrew strategy, rallying volunteers to go door to door with petitions, to come to rallies in bitter cold, to call council members and press them to appear at hearings and to vote for the living wage.
She was informed, insistent, unflagging, respectful, respected.
The final aspects of a living wage ordinance passed in Memphis in November 2006 extending guarantee of $10 an hour with benefits or $12 an hour without to all full and part time city employees, employees of most city contractors and companies that are granted property tax exemptions.
In celebrations of the victory, Rebekah graciously credited the coalition of faith, labor and community groups and those individuals who steadfastly answered the call to rally or contact council members or otherwise answer.
But all who participated in the campaign know that the reason Memphis now has a living wage is because Rev. Rebekah Jordan was determined that Memphis workers have a living wage.
Rev. Andre Johnson of Gifts of Life Ministries captured Rebekah’s impact in these words at a worship celebration: “When all hope seemed lost, she continued to fire us up with her emails and phone calls, telling us where we needed to be and what we needed to do when we get there! …and with her leadership, we have assembled a nice diverse group of people from all over Memphis who have shown us support. From Christians to Jews and Muslims; from black and brown; from white and all around; from Germantown to Downtown; from Boxtown and Uptown; from rich and poor; from inner city and suburb, from gay and straight, from PhD to no D, from CEO’s to mopping floors.”
Rebekah Jordan is determined that low-wage workers be treated with respect and justice. Even as she leads the push to bring the living wage to county government employees, she is now also organizing a Memphis Workers Center where immigrant workers could learn about their workplace rights and organize to improve working conditions.
This 2007 Woman of Achievement has just gotten started!