People's Music Network

for Songs of Freedom and Struggle

Plenary: Building Institutions Beyond our Lifetime


PLENARY: Building Institutions Beyond our Lifetime for Cultural Work and Worker/Community Self-Organization

Saturday, January 28, 2017, 3:50-4:50pm

Greenfield Middle School Auditorium

As PMN Artists in Residence, members of the Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble (Nathanette Mayo, Rick Scott & Angaza Sababu Laughinghouse), will lead the plenary session for the 2017 PMN Winter Gathering. They will present their approach to cultural work as an organizing tool, and explain how their own mentors – Kimako & Amiri BarakaSonia SanchezBernice Johnson ReagonBaba Abner Berry and others – shaped their political and artistic development.

FOL is a cultural worker organization and performing group rooted in its commitment to organizing. Over its more than 30 years of existence, FOL has had 22 different members. The FOL are cultural ambassadors and members of the nationally known Black Workers for Justice (BWFJ), founded in North Carolina in 1982. Its mission is “to organize, train, develop and advance the interest of the African American working class and of all workers in workplaces and communities throughout the South in particular, and the U.S. in general”.

In the South, African-Americans have been historically denied internationally-recognized human rights because of Jim Crow segregation and racist national oppression and exploitation. The wealthy ruling elite have used “white skin privilege”, white supremacy, and racism to weaken the working class. Consequently, Southern states have long legislatively denied public service sector workers collective bargaining rights that their Northern & Mid-Western counterparts have (at least historically) taken for granted.

With few financial resources, FOL has organized regional tours throughout the United States to advance BWFJ’s goal of organizing both communities and social movement unions. With or without collective bargaining rights, these unions have an unstoppable demand for justice. These tours spread FOL’s music and message and develop financial and political support for ongoing efforts to organize Southern workers.

Signs suggest the United States as a whole may be becoming increasingly reflective of the reactionary right-wing politics associated with places like North Carolina. This plenary presents the methodology of an organization, which has not only survived in the face of right-wing repression but won many victories despite it.

FOL’s methodology includes:

  1. Recruiting members for the performing group who are directly engaged in the community and workplace struggles they sing and write songs about.
  2. Promoting a Black working class culture of fellowship, resource sharing, and historical awareness, as well as organizational discipline.
  3. Practicing group study of workplace, community and political struggles.
  4. Collaborating, sharing and learning with allied local, regional and national cultural workers (e.g., Hayti Heritage Center, Highlander Center, Alternate Roots, Great Labor Arts Exchange, Black Liberation Movement Artists, etc.).
  5. Developing a strong network of community, labor and political organizers across the country, based on shared commitment to our common struggle and focused on organizing.
  6. Getting a regular job while pursuing a life of cultural work without necessarily expecting to make any living at all – or at least one’s entire living – as a performing artist.
  7. Creating and developing community-owned cultural institutions like the Fruit of Labor World Cultural Center and the Abner Berry Library/Workers Center to serve our community and workers with music, art, films, plays, poetry, Hip Hop Shows, history, workshops, youth/community organizing space, archives, library and book store.

Come hear the lessons learned by this committed and dynamic group of cultural workers and organizers, and consider how they may apply to your own artistic and political endeavors.

In addition to presenting this plenary, FOL will be leading two number of the workshops, performing in the Friday Night Concert, and giving one-on-one mentoring sessions with gathering registrants.


More about the Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble

The group was born out of the struggle of organizing African American workers in the “Black Belt” region of North Carolina and the South. Recruited from workplace and community struggles, members use song to educate about working class history and about the fruitful victories (as well as the bitter setbacks) of oppressed peoples when we organize. See video below for a performance of the Fruit of Labor Singing Ensemble in December 2015 at the U.S. Human Rights Network Conference:

The Fruit of Labor has performed at countless rallies, picket lines, marches, concert halls, schools, colleges, workplaces, churches, Junteenth and Kwanzaa celebrations, and radio stations throughout the United States. Their songs and music are rooted in the African American musical tradition, including chants, call and response, spirituals, reggae, jazz, blues, R&B, soul, folk, hip-hop and spoken word. It’s an exciting mix of dancing, energy, and down-in-your-bones “fightback” spirit coming at you!

They have received many awards for their work combining music and organizing including the Labor Heritage Foundation Joe Hill award; The Abner Berry Black Self Determination Award; the U.S. Human Rights Network’s Movement Builders Award; and the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union Award for Labor Culture.

Find them online at