Champions of Change
Champion of Change
Melinda Wiggins

For over 15 years, Melinda Wiggins has served as the Executive Director of Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF), a nonprofit whose mission is to bring students and farmworkers together to learn about each other’s lives, share resources and skills, improve conditions for farmworkers, and build diverse coalitions working for social change. Before that time, she coordinated SAF's summer internship program and was a SAF intern with the Episcopal Farmworker Ministry. During her tenure at SAF, she has worked to impact over 600 young people and countless supporters, partners, and allies through mentorship and encouragement to people of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds to engage in and stay involved in the social justice movement.

Melinda is the granddaughter of sharecroppers who grew up in a rural farming community in the Mississippi Delta. Although she was familiar with some of the struggles that people at the margins of society face, she strives to transcend the deep racial prejudices of her community by becoming a white ally to migrant farmworkers, and finding ways for young people to work with farmworkers for mutual empowerment and joint learning. Melinda values hard work as well as celebration. She encourages others to bring joy and passion to community celebrations, especially if they serve to bring people together across boundaries, and honor the lives of workers.

Melinda has taken the lead in creating and developing two key statewide immigrant and farmworker coalitions: The Adelante Education Coalition and the Farmworker Advocacy Network (FAN). She has brought her core values of transparency, accountability and profound systemic change to these coalitions, and as a result SAF has a very strong network of individual and organizational allies from around the state. Melinda is also active with several other social justice groups such as Zomppa and the Windcall Residency Program. She moved to North Carolina in 1992 to pursue a Masters of Theological Studies at Duke University, where she studied feminist and liberation theology.

Currently, Bernie serves on committees including the Chicago Commission Human Relations (CCHR), the National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) Board, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) Board, and Council for the Illinois Department on Aging. Bernie is also founding member of Chinese Immigrant Service Agencies Network International (CISANI).

Her awards include the Community Organizer Trailblazer Award from Rainbow/Push Coalition, the Distinguished Alumni Award from both Briar Cliff College and Washington University in St. Louis, the Edward J. Williams Community Leadership Award from Harris Bank, and the Distinguished Community Leader award from Mayor Richard Daley. In March 2012, Bernie was a recipient of the "Champion of Change" award which is part of President Obama's "Winning the Future" initiative in honor of leaders like Cesar Chavez who have dedicated themselves to improving the lives of others in their community and across the nation. Bernie continues to be active today in the Chinese and greater Chicago community through her work at CASL and on her many boards and committees. She is a frequent speaker on social service, non-profits, and the Asian American community. Bernie is currently leading CASL in its 33rd year of operation.