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Workers' Rights Supporters New Addition To Black Arts Festival Parade

Immigration reform supporters, unions and social justice groups are joining forces to march for workers' rights this Labor Day weekend.

The event marks the first time these organizations will participate in Saturday’s unity parade that kicks off the 45th annual Wichita Black Art’s Festival.

Sulma Arias is the executive director of Sunflower Community Action in Wichita, a grass-roots social justice organization.

“The purpose of the march is to celebrate with our brothers and sisters in the African-American community, to learn and to hopefully have an experience that transforms us,” she says.

Arias says there are a lot of myths that separate communities.

“But in reality we should be natural partners because in most of the issues that we’re working on both black and brown communities are mostly affected the hardest," she says. "So we should have a plan to move forward together and to really bring our communities forward, and an united agenda.”

Nearly 150 Latino members of Sunflower Community Action are expected to participate along with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 513, Communications Workers of America (CWA), Hutchinson Labor Federation and Interfaith Worker Justice.

Arias says labor unions across America are under attack and it’s important to protect the basic rights that unions have fought for.

“So we are combining forces," she says. "It’s really about working together, about saying we have a lot of differences but if we don’t come together and move an agenda forward we’re all going to be in a lot of trouble. And we hope by having our presence there, to be able to send that message that together, we can make a difference.”

Arias says even though it should have been addressed five years ago the timing is right to march now because of what she calls the crises of unemployment and under-employment in Wichita.

She says some people believe it’s the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are taking jobs away from American workers but she says Sunflower works to educate the community on the root causes of where American jobs are going.

“If we don’t look at the fact that our jobs are going overseas to somewhere where they can pay less, we’re missing the big picture," she says. "Because that’s happening a lot more that the jobs that these 11 million people are taking that are coming back and benefiting us.”

Arias says getting involved in the Black Arts Festival parade this weekend benefits everyone.

“Our community and our city is small and it’s very isolated and I think if we work like islands and we all move away from each other, I think we have less power," she says. "We have more power when we work together and when we understand each other.”

The parade starts at 11:00 A.M. Saturday, August 31, at Wichita State University. It will go west on 17th Street ending at McAdams Park, the site for the three-day festival. Once there, a couple of participants will briefly speak on workers' rights and talk about next steps including Sunflower’s launch of the Good Jobs Campaign this fall.

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.