What Samuel Gompers Said and the State of the America Today

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

The bronze Samuel Gompers Memorial is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The litter in the foreground is not an official part of the memorial.

For the past six years, I’ve had the privilege of attending the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, always held in Washington, DC, and always in early January.

My key tasks there are to participate in the meeting of the Technology Transfer Committee (where I proudly serve as Communications Task Group chair) and manage a reception hosted by the transportation research unit that’s part of the university where I’m employed.

During my brief — three days, two nights — sojourn to the capital, I try to come away with some new perspective on the nation: Where we’re headed, what remains good in America, where are roadblocks to overcome.

I’ve shared my thoughts in past PRDude posts. For example, in this January 17 post from last year, I offered insight on the impact the government shutdown that lasted into early 2019 had on mobility in the District.

The impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump has been at the forefront of things taking place in Washington over the past few weeks. So, I looked for a something else to capture my attention, to provide inspiration.

I found it in the image above, the memorial to organized labor giant Samuel Gompers, while walking along Massachusetts Avenue.

Yes, the District is home to many compelling memorials to men and women, military heroes and leaders from other parts of the world. What struck me about the Gompers Memorial– aside from the striking representation of the seated Gompers flanked by figures of the labor movement — was this statement on the southwest side of the pedestal. It reads in part;

No lasting gain has ever come from compulsion. If we seek to force,
we but tear apart that which united is invincible.

These words by Gompers (who I learned was English by birth and a cigar maker by trade) encapsulated the labor movement he helped forge.

But I wish the members of Congress, those in the Executive Office and members of he Supreme Court would take these words to heart in regards to what’s taking place in Washington today.

We as a nation would be on firmer ground if we heeded the wisdom of an English cigar maker.

What I Learned From Some Amazing 4th Graders

By Edward M. Bury, APR (aka The PRDude)

Sometimes one encounters an awakening in the most unexpected places. Recently, for me, it came during a visit to a Chicago magnet school where I interacted with a class of 4th grade students.

Amazing 4th grade students, I must point out.

The Walt Disney Magnet School was a lot different than the grammar school I attended.

Here’s some background.

The Walt Disney Magnet School in Chicago’s Buena Park neighborhood was planning a program to teach students about industries that would yield employment opportunities in the future. One 4th grade class was addressing the job outlook in the transportation industry. The instructor, Morgan Stumbras, reached out to me at the university where I work and inquired if someone would be free to speak to the students.

I received permission to visit and deliver a short presentation. A scholarly, schooled transportation guy, I’m not. But after some four years leading transportation technology transfer initiatives, I felt confident I could share some relevant and valuable insight.

One concern I shared with Ms. Stumbras: Would the class be able to comprehend much of what I had to say about the work done by our research staff, the value of transportation in modern society, and recent transportation developments in Chicago and around the nation? Rest assured, she said: These kids rank in the 98 percentile.

She was right.

Shortly after I launched my PowerPoint presentation, hands shot up and the boys and girls posed poignant and at times provocative questions. Frankly, I was stunned at their collective interest, knowledge and inquisitiveness. One kid even gave an accurate definition of the so-called “last mile” leg of commute, a challenge society certainly needs to address.

If you need help with identification, that’s me in the red sweater.

They politely inquired about autonomous vehicles, the Divvy bike share program, the difference between freight and transit, the future of hover boards and transportation challenges facing Chicago.

A recent mobility success, the new Chicago 606 trail was of particular interest, and that discussion led to further conversation on the impact The 606 has made on gentrification in the surrounding neighborhoods.

The students sparked when I noted that the transportation industry will always need professionals like engineers to help design transportation networks in the years to come. “My mother is an engineer!” one girl noted enthusiastically. After a comment on safety, another girl pointed out that her mother said she used to ride in the front seat of automobiles as a child, something not done today.

I even gave a shout out about my Accredited in Public Relations (APR) credential, stressing how it keeps me committed to learning about modern public relations practices.

So, how was I awakened by the 32 kids comprising Ms. Stumbras’ class?

In light of all the challenges — transportation and many others — we face as a society today, there’s a generation ready to meet those challenges head-on, and win.

The 4th grade class at the Disney Magnet School made that quiet clear.