Five Finalists Recognized for Speaking and Acting on Behalf of the Poor
WASHINGTON (November 10, 2005)– Rafael Duran, co-founder of a New York organization that champions justice for restaurant workers, is the 2005 recipient of the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award. The annual award, presented since 1998, honors young Catholics who demonstrate leadership in fighting poverty and injustice in the United States.
Five other young Catholics from across the country were recognized as finalists for the award: Francisca Cortez, Diocese of Venice; Ebony Ellison, Diocese of Wichita; Dario Josue Muralles, Archdiocese of Washington; Sarah Silva Nolan, Archdiocese of San Francisco; and Aquilina Soriano-Versoza, Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
The Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award is presented each year by the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), a national program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), which provides grants to community-based, self-help groups that are addressing the root causes of poverty. The program also works to educate Americans about social problems that contribute to poverty in order to raise awareness about poverty and its deep impact on this country.
The award honors Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (1928-1996), former archbishop of Chicago and a leading voice on behalf of poor and low-income people, who understood the need to build bridges across ethnic, economic, class and age barriers. The award will be presented Sunday, November 13, in Washington, D.C., during the USCCB's annual meeting.
Duran came to the United States from Mexico as a teen to join his widowed mother. She supported him and his two younger sisters working 16-hour days at a clothing factory on Manhattan's West Side. Duran helped out by taking jobs as a dishwasher and cook, where, he says, "I realized how restaurant workers suffered." He wanted to become a waiter, but he did not speak enough English, so he took language classes after work for two years and then earned his General Educational Development (GED) diploma.
As his frustrations with low wages and poor working conditions grew, Duran began to read books about rights leaders including Cesar Chavez, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. He put his newfound knowledge to work when New York State announced funding cuts for the educational programs that helped low-income students like himself. Duran collected more than 400 signatures on a petition he circulated among students he approached on the street, and he and his teachers presented it to their State senator. Ultimately, the cuts were not made.
After the September 11th terrorist attacks, Duran offered to teach a math class to GED students. Coincidentally, the course was held in the same building where displaced workers from the Windows on the World restaurant were meeting to form a group called Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York (ROC-NY). "I met Saru Jayaraman, the director, and I liked the people," he recalls. "I felt compelled to do something with them, because I had seen so much injustice in the treatment of workers – not only those in the restaurant industry, but factory workers, domestic workers and agricultural workers, too."
Duran joined ROC-NY's political committee and collected data on wages, benefits and career advancement opportunities. "We knew that restaurant workers didn't get the minimum wage and often had to work unpaid overtime and that people of color are usually relegated to the lower-paying back-of-the-house jobs, like runner, busboy and dishwasher," he says, "but we got the actual numbers to prove it." After a full year of pressing its case with the State legislature, Duran says that ROC-NY's effort resulted in the passage of a bill that raises the minimum wage for hourly workers and those whose wages are dependent on tips. "The governor vetoed the increase," explains Duran, "but the Senate and the Assembly overrode it." The increases are phased in over a two-year period, from January 1, 2005, to January 1, 2007. "I felt that my voice was heard and I felt fulfilled," he says.
ROC-NY offers classes to workers. Duran says that these are designed to "help people move up and have a better job" and include cooking, baking, bartending, computers and photography. Duran, who has taught ROC-NY classes in waiter-training, English and Spanish, explains that the photography offering is meant to help workers develop a hobby, but that photos they have taken will be included in an upcoming exhibit on the conditions encountered by restaurant employees. "Restaurant owners told us that they violated laws because they didn't know about them," explains Duran. "So we created a manual describing the laws and will present it to the Mayor of New York and the owners of restaurants at the event where we will have the photo exhibit."
With the help of CCHD, ROC-NY is launching a worker-owned restaurant, Colors, in Greenwich Village in December. The name reflects the diversity of the owners, explains Duran, and the cuisine will be American and reflect the global origins of the workers. "This project has been in the process for a long time," says Duran, "and now our dream will come true. Our 50 worker-owners will have good conditions and benefits, will share the profits and will advocate for the rights of other workers." Eventually, he adds, a percentage of the profits from Colors will help establish other co-operative restaurants. Duran will be a waiter at Colors.
Duran worships at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish on 14th Street in Manhattan. He credits the example of his mother and his Catholic faith with helping him sustain his vision of a more just life. "They are the basis for me becoming the person I am now," he says. "Faith gives me the strength to do more."
For now, "more" for Duran means studying at the Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New York, serving on ROC-NY's board of directors and organizing its workplace campaign for better conditions, and working as a waiter at a Mexican restaurant. In the future, he hopes to become a teacher. "I would like to transmit knowledge," says Duran, "but I have a lot more studying to do!"
CCHD Interim Executive Director Timothy Collins said, "Rafael's own journey has made him a sensitive and credible advocate for the rights of his fellow workers. His ongoing commitment to social justice is reinforced by his Catholic spirituality, which teaches him to treat others with compassion, regardless of their differences. Rafael has been tireless in his efforts to win a living wage and decent conditions for the myriad hourly workers who are so frequently overlooked and taken for granted. CCHD is proud to count itself among the early supporters of ROC-NY and the work that Rafael is doing. I congratulate Rafael and his mother as he receives the Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award."
The Cardinal Bernardin New Leadership Award is presented to a young Catholic between the ages of 18 and 30 who demonstrates leadership to bring about long-term, community-based solutions to poverty in the United States. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is one of the nation's largest funders of self-help, community-based programs initiated and led by the poor. Funded by an annual collection in Catholic parishes across the country, CCHD has distributed more than $280 million to more than 7,000 self-help projects over its 35 years. This year, CCHD announced nearly $9 million in grants to support 315 local projects, selected without regard to religious affiliation, in 49 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Editors: For more information about CCHD, visit www.usccb.org/cchd. For more information about the Bernardin Award, contact Barbara Stephenson at 202-541-3364.