Remembering Treston

January 6, 2016 · by Joe Alvarez · Filed Under Lives of Leaders, Previous · 2 Comments

trestondavisfaulkner-150x150As we celebrate the New Year, I want to also be sure to celebrate the life of Treston Davis-Faulkner. Treston was the National Field Director of Jobs With Justice who passed away in October. His entire, too-short life serves as a model for all of us in what it means to live our values,  committed to social and economic justice, to family, friends, and community.  His legacy lives on in the people and organizations he touched.

I met Treston in November 2013 when he participated in the first cohort of the AFL-CIO’s National Labor Leadership Initiative. The NLLI is a unique space in the traditional labor movement, bringing together top leaders of the AFL-CIO and the country’s largest unions, as well as leaders like Treston, younger in age, representing “alternative labor” – newly emerging formations of workers such as the Domestic Workers Alliance, and labor-community coalitions, such as Jobs With Justice. I was on the faculty team and I distinctly remember my first impression of Treston.

In a secluded conference center, with limited outside distractions, a group of thirty high level leaders were about to spend an intense week—the first of three—with each other, reflecting deeply on themselves as leaders, exploring how to transform their organizations, and thinking about how to build a collective movement for social justice and economic fairness. Needless to say, there was a certain amount of discomfort with the process and each other.

I was immediately struck by Treston’s ease in the group: he was among the youngest in the room, yet totally unconcerned with status or position. He modeled vulnerability and self-reflection. I was struck by how deeply he listened to each of his colleagues. Treston was instinctively focused on helping the group be the best it could be … helping it engage in a process of transformation.

Throughout the yearlong program, Treston set a standard for generosity: sharing deeply of himself and helping others broaden their understanding and perspective.   He modeled visionary leadership, helping the group think beyond individual institutions, to imagine a labor movement grounded in workers’ whole lives – not just at work, but where they live, eat, and play.

As I got to know Treston better, I learned about his family, and I saw him show the same commitment and centeredness as a husband and father that he did in his work as a leader and organizer. Three months after he completed the National Labor Leadership Initiative, Treston was diagnosed with cancer. He spent the following year battling this illness and died at the age forty on October 26, 2015.

After Treston’s passing, I joined a gathering of his colleagues and friends in New York to mourn his loss and celebrate his life.  I was grateful for the opportunity to learn more fully who Treston Davis-Faulkner was, about his years as a student activist in the United States Student Association and the Student Labor Action Project. I was deeply moved to discover how many people Treston had inspired and motivated to make their lives about the pursuit of social justice. The words his young friends used to describe Treston resonated with my own brief experience of him: urgency, profound commitment to justice, gentleness and kindness, deep connections, tremendous love for his family, an examined life, and through all of it, laughter.

Many years his senior, I had set out to support Treston’s contribution to building a just and equitable world. As it turned out, his life, his gifts, his commitments, and his contributions, will continue to move and challenge me to find ways to share his inspiring example.


2 Responses to “Remembering Treston”

  1. Rosalind on January 12th, 2016 9:21 am

    Hi Joe –
    Thank you so much for this remembrance of Treston, I met him many years and was impressed with his grace, commitment, and ingenuity.

  2. Jessica Srikantia on January 13th, 2016 3:45 pm

    Joe – thank you for sharing and reflecting Treston’s greatness so that his life can reach and inspire those like me who did not have the good fortune to meet him prior to his untimely passing. His passing is a great loss but his life has clearly been an immeasurable gain. Condolences and best wishes to his family, loved ones, and all touched by this great human being.

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