"I would like to thank Interfaith Worker Justice for their kind recognition and for uniting so many friends and allies. How humbling it is to be in the company of many of my heroes in the movement for economic Justice.
The first honoree we’d like to present this year is the Rev. Jim Sessions.
Jim Sessions demonstrates what it means to put your faith into action. Ordained a United Methodist clergy, Jim’s life represents the intersection of faith and labor. Jim’s organizing skills were honed during the 60's, first as a seminarian and then as a campus minister primarily in the northeast helping students participate in civil rights protests in Dallas, Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, and then organizing students against the war in Vietnam. Putting faith into action.
Eventually, Southerner Jim and his lifelong partner Fran, decided to move “back home” south to East Tennessee. And of course, he organized. First, he organized with the Southern Appalachian Ministry in Higher Education, then Southerners for Economic Justice, then the Commission on Religion in Appalachia. Jim quickly got connected to labor organizing – mineworkers and textile workers and others. Jim built community-labor partnerships in the 70's and 80's when it wasn’t popular. Few were doing it and Jim became one of the best – trusted in the faith community and deeply trusted by labor leaders.
When the founding board of Interfaith Worker Justice was recruited, Jim Sessions was in the short list. Thankfully, he agreed to serve and has probably served longer than almost anyone (although he has had to rotate off occasionally as by-laws require!). He has served faithfully in various officer roles.
But Jim hasn’t stopped. He has continued to serve in director, president and other leadership roles for a variety of labor-related community organizations, including the Union Community Fund, Working American Education Fund and the National Employment Law Project. He also is a local activist and leader with the Jobs with Justice/Interfaith Worker Justice affiliate in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Jim describes himself as blessed to be able to be involved in the work. Jim may have been blessed, but we too have been blessed by Jim’s faithfulness, tenacity and courage. If we just had a few thousand more religious leaders like Jim, the nation would be a different place.
Please join me in giving Jim the Award for Faithful Leadership.