Victoria Ellis was posthumously honored with the 2022 Education Minnesota Human Rights Award for her lifetime of service to education, the union and students.
Ellis, a Minneapolis education support professional and union leader, who passed away in 2021 was a human rights champion, said Monica Byron, Education Minnesota Vice President who started the Education Minnesota Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee with Ellis and others.
Ellis spent her entire career helping people and working with students who have disabilities.
“She believed that those were some of the more underserved students in schools,” said Viki’s son, Justin Ellis. “For her, the focus really wasn’t just on those students, but also their families. Because the family and the community to her was all part of the same thing in helping students succeed.”
Ellis brought those needs of her students to her work in her union. She was an advocate for her students in every room and in every space she entered.
“Viki reminded all of us why we were here, and that’s our students’ education, and to make sure that they have as good an opportunity as possible,” said Shaun Laden, former ESP chapter president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals.
Those who worked with Ellis in schools or in the union called her a “truth teller” and said she was never afraid to speak up, especially when an injustice was happening.
“I can remember lots of times when everyone else was silent and Viki was speaking out,” said Geneva Dorsey, an ESP in Minneapolis who now chairs Education Minnesota’s EMAC. “Everyone sat back and listened and took into action what she was saying, because when Viki spoke, she was very powerful and she knew the work from her heart.”
Ellis was not only extremely active in her own local, the MFT, but also Education Minnesota and both the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers. She took every opportunity to attend a conference or training, because she knew it was another way for her not only to grow and learn as an educator, but as an advocate.
“She knew that the power of working collectively was very, very important to bring in the other people around you in whatever ways that you can, so that they can find their own power and find their own ways to success,” said Justin.
Justin and his family knew this was so important to her that after she passed, they set up a memorial fund for people who wanted to honor her life and donated that money to Minneapolis ESPs who wanted to take part in union leadership trainings and conferences.
Ellis not only was an advocate for her students, but for other educators, especially educators of color.
“There’s always an ongoing need for more educators and for my mom, one of the biggest things that she saw was the need to bring in more educators of color to help reflect the communities that we have in Minneapolis and in Minnesota,” said Justin. “And help all those people maybe don’t always see themselves in the classroom.”
Ellis’ involvement in beginning EMAC was crucial to the success of that committee, said Byron.
“She had so much historical knowledge about unions and about the community,” she said. “And she really brought us together as a group.”
Throughout her entire life, Ellis never stopped working so that everyone was seen and heard.
“She just wanted to be that person that wanted to be boots on the ground and get involved in everything that she could to make a difference,” said Dorsey. “She paved the way for myself and others who came behind her.”
Ellis was a fighter, said Justin.
“The fight she brought to taking on her cancer, that’s the fight she had in real life when it came to dealing with some of the issues that educators today have been seeing for such a long time,” he said. “Whether we’re talking about inequity in the classroom or the gaps when it comes to the wages that educators are paid. The fact that our schools are often under threat of not getting the funding they desperately need. Just being able to acknowledge that the achievement gap is real. These are the things she fought for and wanted to see a difference be made in this world.”