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Four Cooperators to be inducted into Cooperative Hall of Fame

Four outstanding cooperative leaders will receive the cooperative community's most prestigious honor when they are inducted into the Cooperative Hall of Fame on May 6 at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The inductees are Ben Burkett, State Coordinator, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives; Everett M. Dobrinski, former Board Chair, CoBank; Carmen Huertas-Noble, Professor, City University of New York School of Law; and Michael Mercer, CEO, League of Southeastern Credit Unions & Affiliates. 

A long-time advocate for black farmers in the Black belt, Ben Burkett has spent the last forty years as a farmer and cooperative organizer in Petal, Mississippi. To fight the ingrained discrimination that denied Black farmers open markets for their crops, access to federal and state programs, and even retention of their land, Ben organized neighboring farm families to sell their crop in Chicago, and later helped to develop the Indian Spring Farmers Association. Ben was appointed to the USDA’s Farm Service Agency committee by Mike Espy, former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and Secretary of Agriculture under the Clinton Administration, where his work helped to raise the profile of agricultural and handicraft co-ops throughout the South. As a tireless promoter and advocate for the cooperative business model, Ben’s knack for connecting farmers globally and bringing them together for a common cause has made him a sought-after speaker, trainer, organizer and a true example of the cooperative spirit. 

A third-generation grain and oilseed farmer, Everett M. Dobrinski recognized at an early age the value of cooperatives in providing essential services that his family. farm needed to compete in a global marketplace. Everett served on the board of directors of the  Verendrye Electric Cooperative where he became Chair in 1990. In that capacity, he was instrumental in financing a new daycare and convenience store in the more rural parts of Verendrye’s territory. An advocate of cooperative education, Everett frequently educated members about cooperatives and championed the need for Cooperative Education Directors in other industry sectors and provided valuable advice to develop curriculum about cooperatives for high school and college students. He served on the CoBank Board of Directors from 1999-2008 and as Chair from 2008-2018 where he helped CoBank and the Farm Credit System weather the U.S. financial crisis in 2007-2008. His leadership enabled agricultural cooperatives to maintain access to credit.

Carmen Huertas-Noble  spent her professional career laying the tracks for a sustainable worker cooperative sector in New York City and beyond. Known for her conviction, fortitude, and determination, Carmen advocates for worker cooperatives as tools to fight income inequality and to alter traditional power and wealth dynamics. As a Senior Staff Attorney in the Community Development Project of the Urban Justice Center, Carmen counseled cooperatives in navigating legal entity formation options and on creating democratic governance structures. She partnered with the Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC-NY) in creating COLORS, a worker-owned restaurant in Manhattan and with Green Worker Cooperatives to develop ReBuilders Source, a cooperative that collected and sold recycled construction materials and equipment. As the Founding Director of the Community & Economic Development Clinic (CEDC) at CUNY Law School, Carmen has educated and trained over 200 students in cooperative law. An important ally for worker cooperatives, Carmen’s insight, experience, and tireless efforts are creating the eco-system worker cooperatives need to flourish. 

A statesman and visionary leader in the credit union and cooperative movement, Mike Mercer spent his career “connecting the dots” between credit unions, cooperatives, cultures and institutions all with the goal of improving the financial lives of working people. Mike has championed financial products and services that meet the needs of working-class members, such as used vehicle loans for low-credit score borrowers, small value personal loans, and saving programs, mortgages and accounts with few fees and minimum balance requirements. With over 30 years of service to credit unions, Mike has chaired the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) board and the American Association of Credit Union Leagues. Twice he’s chaired the board of the National Cooperative Bank (NCB). An advocate for credit unions, Mike is credited with securing the support for the Credit Union Membership Access Act from then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. The passage of this law ensured the survival of the credit union movement after the Supreme Court ruled against a broader interpretation of the Federal Credit Union Act. Mike encourages cooperation among credit unions for both information sharing and efficiency. 

Cooperators from across the country will gather at the National Press Club in Washington, DC on May 6, 2020 to celebrate the vast achievements of these four cooperative heroes. Prior to the ceremony, all four inductees will participate in the Cooperative Issues Forum, a panel event open to all interested cooperators. 

Tickets for the Hall of Fame are now available for purchase. Individuals interested in sponsorship opportunities may visit the Hall of Fame website to learn more.

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