Beloved educator, union activist, and community organizer receives organization’s highest honor
As a 17-year-old, Ulysses Floyd quit school, signed his parents’ name to recruitment papers, and then went off to join the U.S. Army.
Thursday, among a sea of admiring peers who gave him three standing ovations, Floyd accepted the prestigious Distinguished Service Award from NEA-Retired. He becomes the 16th recipient of the organization’s highest award, which goes to one NEA-Retired member who has gone above and beyond on behalf of educators—active and retired—and students.
In her nomination of Floyd, Florida Education Association-Retired President Marilyn Warner wrote, “Ulysses has set an example by his hard work in all areas and is the epitome of the characteristics we hope to find in our members. Ulysses represents the face of NEA-Retired through his activism and volunteerism.”
A lot has happened since Floyd’s last day in high school, and yesterday’s recognition marks a long history of service and achievement for a man who at one time thought he wanted nothing to do with the classroom.
Record of Success
After his Army stint was complete, Floyd entered Florida A&M University (FAMU). He returned to the army for three years, was honorably discharged in 1957, and went back to FAMU where he completed a master’s degree in education.
Floyd’s 32-year teaching career began in 1958 at the Webster Street Elementary School. Yesterday, he told NEA-Retired members that it was the principal at the school who urged him to join the local Association immediately.
A decade later, Floyd would join other teachers in the Florida Education Association’s (FEA) statewide teacher walkout to protest the underfunding of Florida schools. The walkout marked the first statewide teacher strike in the nation’s history.
In 1974, Floyd became the first non-White president of the Orange County Classroom Teachers Association. Under his leadership, the Orange County School Board first recognized Orange County Teachers Association as the official bargaining agent for its members.
Floyd has attended every NEA-Retired annual meeting since his 1990 retirement, and has maintained his record of union involvement. He spent six years each representing NEA-Retired on the NEA Board of Directors and the NEA Resolutions Committee, has also served on the NEA-Retired Executive Council, and is a former president of FEA-Retired.
Yesterday, as he accepted the award, Floyd quoted the words of Martin Luther King Jr. who once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is ‘What are you doing for others?’”
Known for his humility and dedication, Floyd told attendees as he accepted the award, “Thank you for believing in me.”