Vol State alumnus Antwon Bailey has a habit of creating "firsts". He was the first student debater at Vol State and the first African-American honors student. However, he is certainly not the first student to be inspired in a Bob Ruff history class.
"He demands critical thinking. Through the experience of arguing in a respectful way, and using critical thinking, he inspires dialogue between students. Dr. Ruff nurtured my love of history. My love of history sparked my love of politics," said Bailey.
That new found passion took him to MTSU for a degree in political science and front lines work on political campaigns. Bailey soon realized though, that he wanted something more.
"I wanted to get closer to the problems so I could help with the solution."
A Master of Public Administration degree from DePaul University fueled a new focus in community organizing. The location in Chicago made Bailey's next career move a natural fit. He is now organizing union members with the United Food and Commercial Workers union. That brings him in contact with workers with some of the nation's largest employers, including Sears, Macy's and Tyson.
"Chicago historically has been a hub of union activity. That region has a lot of cultural support for unions," Bailey said. "Unions are in trouble. They're under attack like never before. Unions gave us so many things that we take for granted today. If unions go away, it's going to get worse for workers. I feel like we're holding the line."
Bailey supervises four other UFCW organizers for the Chicago and Milwaukee areas. "We encourage workers to stand up for the issues that are important to them."
The Vol State alum is also taking his experience international, through a fellowship with the U.S. State Department. He has been working with visitors from Turkey. The goal of the program is to build non-profit support for women and children in Turkey. It's a two-year project that will take him to Istanbul later this year for two and a half weeks of work on the ground.
"The program is called 'The Young Turkey and Young American Program'. I was selected because of my involvement with an at-risk-youth program sponsored by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development -- an urban affairs think-tank in Chicago. I worked there for almost two years while in grad school at DePaul. In Turkey, I will meet with their State Department counterparts and present our project proposals. We have already met in D.C. to present an overview of our proposals. Then we will have site visits to various NGOs (non-governmental organizations) around Istanbul and experience firsthand the roles that civil society play in the lives of women and children in Turkey. My subgroup will develop and implement a pen-pal program between women in Istanbul, Bitlis, and Chicago. Some of the Chicago women speak only Spanish. Translations will be critical to our success."
Bailey is prepared to have more firsts in a career of public service.
"I would like to continue working to help people and break down the barriers we all erect because of our human inclination to stereotype people."