Good afternoon, Madame President, NEA officers, delegates, and esteemed guests. My name is Andrea Beeman. I am a paraeducator from the great state of Ohio, and I’m honored to greet you as the 2020 NEA Education Support Professional of the Year. But it’s not just any year – this year is the 40th anniversary of ESPs joining the NEA Family – something that has made our union stronger than ever before.
I started my career as a paraeducator 19 years ago, serving students with intellectual disabilities. I arrive at work every day, committed to giving my students three things: Love, laughter, and learning. I believe that no matter their ability or their gender . . . the color of their skin or their parents income . . . every student should be able to live their very best life.
Throughout my own life, I have been surrounded and nurtured by many individuals who paved the road that led me to you here today. My family—especially my grandparents and my mother—provided me with solid examples of how selfless acts can change lives and shape a community.
Prior to gentrification, when many areas throughout Cleveland were food deserts, my grandmother grew vegetables. She gave them out to neighbors, family, and friends, and, in doing so, gave me a lesson about supporting my community.
Following his retirement, my grandfather became a racial and social justice activist in Detroit. He protested and read books and articles about politics and education. He helped me understand the effect of systemic racism on my own children. He warned me about the school to prison pipeline and taught me the power of activism.
My mother was a divorced mom of three. We didn’t have a lot of money. Still, she always found a way to help other children who needed a meal and a safe haven. My mom is generous and she’s compassionate. She was also a proud member of the Teamsters union. From her, I learned the power of collective bargaining—how it could save her job, our family, and her newly purchased home.
That’s the power of unions. And as an ESP leader, I hope to help everyone remember that when COVID-19 shut our country down, education support professionals worked tirelessly through it all. When our students needed us most, we were there.
That desire to help my students fuels everything I do as an NEA member and as an ESP leader. It doesn’t matter if I’m fighting for their learning conditions or standing up for our working conditions.
As ESP of the Year, my priority is organizing NEA members to elect a president who understands the needs of this nation. We must elect officials up and down the ballot who will protect public education, our students, and our communities.
We live in a world in which the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd have become windows. Looking through them we’ve seen how our leaders respond to crisis. We’ve seen who truly has the backs of America’s families and children. We’ve seen that we can no longer avoid the difficult conversations about the racial and economic disparities of this nation. We must be in the room where decisions are made. And we must provide educators with the professional supports they need to be culturally competent and active leaders in their communities.
This movement calls on all of us – to go all in – for each of us! It’s time to use the power of our 3 million voices to create change!
I know this because I know what you—my NEA brothers and sisters—have taught me:
You have taught me to transform my pain into protest, and to solve my problems with resolutions.
You have taught me to turn my anger into advocacy, and turn my commitment into organizing other educators.
NEA, you helped me find my voice.
As our nation finally begins to face the past, and how it remains with us today, you have given me the tools to go about the work of building our students a better future, filled with love, laughter, and learning.
I am humbled and I am grateful. But most of all I am ready to move forward with you as we continue to fight, vote and win!