Union Organizer and Human Rights Activist
2006 Women's History Month Honoree
Aileen Clarke Hernández has received almost every humanitarian award given. Yet, she proceeds through her life with a grace and humility that makes her accessible to people of all ages and all cultures.
Her parents were Jamaican immigrants, but she grew up in Brooklyn, New York, in an almost exclusively white neighborhood. Her mother and father served as strong role models teaching her lessons about courage and determination that she has used throughout her life.
She was an outstanding student and received a scholarship to Howard University in Washington, DC. Arriving in DC to attend Howard in 1943 she had her first experience of Jim Crow and the racial segregation of our nation’s capitol. Howard University, founded in 1867 to train black teachers and ministers to guide and teach the 4 million freed slaves and 25,000 free-born blacks, provided the academic scholarship and practical experience that fueled her spirit and sense of both community and commitment. Howard University’s faculty included the Who’s Who of brilliant, black scholars including Thurgood Marshall.
During her education at Howard, she began her life-long work of confronting racism and sexism and working to promote respect for all people. For over 50 years, she has worked tirelessly for labor rights, women's rights, civil rights, and human rights seeing all these issues interconnected. Her life of service includes public appointments and innumerable projects at local, state, national, and international levels.
A pioneering and committed feminist, she was elected in 1970 as the second national president of the National Organization for Women and in 1973, was a co-founder of Black Women Organized for Action in San Francisco. Currently, she coordinates Black Women Stirring the Waters and chairs the California Women's Agenda (CAWA), a state action alliance of over 600 organizations in California, working together to implement the 1995 Beijing Platform at the grassroots. CAWA is linking more than one million women and girls in collective action through real and "virtual" networks.
In 2005, for her work in committing herself to human security and justice, she was one of 1,000 women from more than 150 countries who were nominated collectively for the Nobel Peace Prize. But, her history making began over 4 decades ago when she was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson as the only woman to serve on the newly established Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, EEOC. Her appointment resulted from her former organizing work with the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union and her position as Deputy Chief of California’s Division of Fair Employment Practices. When she resigned from the EEOC in 1966, she formed her own urban consulting firm (which she continues to head) and began working with major American companies, governmental agencies and grassroots organizations on a wide variety of issues facing cities – such as housing, health care, employment, education, transportation and the environment.
As a skilled and engaging speaker, Hernández brings her lifetime of activism to the discussion of ideas and strategies addressing the poisonous issues of racism, sexism, and other forms of bias and ignorance that stand in the way of developing community and of solving the problems facing the world today.