Darrin Speaks to Overcoming Struggle at AFL-CIO Gompers Conference

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Darrin with AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman (L) and Greater Boston Labor Council Leader Rich Rogers (R).

Each year in May, working families from across the commonwealth gather for the Massachusetts AFL-CIO Gompers-Murray-Meany Educational Conference. Often referred to as “Gompers” for short, the annual conference is an amazing opportunity for union members to get equipped with the latest tools and strategies to help raise wages, win better benefits and improve the overall conditions we work in.

Darrin had the honor to speak in front of hundreds of union members from Roxbury, Dorchester and communities throughout the region sharing a bit about his work on behalf of local families and the personal and professional hurdles he had to overcome to get there. Darrin has first-hand experience with the barriers folks from our community often face when trying to find and maintain family-supporting jobs, and union membership is one of the most direct paths to success.

Read Darrin’s prepared remarks to the Gompers Conference below and learn more about the benefits of union membership from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.


Massachusetts AFL-CIO Gompers-Murray-Meany Address


My name is Darrin Howell and I am running for State Representative in the 5th Suffolk District, which covers Roxbury and much of Dorchester.

I’m not a politician, but I’m running for two key reasons:

The first is because I’ve struggled. Like many of my neighbors, I’ve struggled to make ends meet and support a family. I’ve been on that endless, dead-end search for safe, affordable housing. I’ve lost loved ones to community violence and dealt first-hand with that trauma.

And like many of my friends — and so many other young, black men out there — I’ve struggled with the pull of the street life.

When you combine a difficult home environment as a kid with limited education and even fewer resources, job prospects as an adult are pretty bleak.

But the streets are always hiring, and the pay is solid. Trust me, I’ve been there.

That brings me to the second reason: I’m running because I’ve been working for more than a decade to help my friends and neighbors lift themselves up and get beyond these struggles. And I KNOW I can do more and be even more effective as an elected official.

For the past 12 years, I’ve dedicated my life to public service — doing everything I can to fight the social ills and inequality that plague our community.

I’ve been a strong advocate in the halls of power — from City Hall, to Beacon Hill, to Washington — pushing leaders on key budget and legislative priorities that support working families. And when those leaders fail to listen, I’ve been an even more outspoken voice in the streets, leading marches and rallies to demand action.

  • I’ve been there as thousands of Massachusetts workers won better pay, benefits, and union rights.
  • I was in when Michigan passed its Right-to-Work law and we took to the streets.
  • I was in DC when we stormed the capitol to call for action on long-stalled job legislation.

When it comes to the values of working families, I’ve never shied away from a fight.

My passion for this work is deeply rooted in understanding the struggles that people go through. I want to make sure that no one in my community is forced to make some of the difficult decisions I’ve had to make in my own life.

I’m up-front in saying that as a younger man, I sold drugs and participated in illegal activities in order to generate money. I own that I had no problem carrying firearms in order to protect what was mine. And I admit that I had my share of relationship problems and understand the challenges that substance use can bring.

But I’m also a living example that you can transcend your circumstances — that your worst obstacles and trials don’t have to be your defining moments.

Though I’ve been open about the choices I made in my youth, and did my best to make amends. I really didn’t see a true second chance until a City Councilor by the name of Chuck Turner answered my call.

You see, I was ultimately incarcerated for those activities I mentioned earlier. I served real time. Primary Day this year actually marks just about 14 years since my release.

Back then, I’ve was doing all I could to be a good father and a productive member of society while carrying the burden of that criminal record and being an “ex offender”. Needless to say, it was beyond tough. Almost impossible.

It was Chuck who helped set me on the right path. I had been working with his office on CORI reform efforts — based on my own experiences trying to find and maintain gainful employment with a criminal record in my shadow.

Chuck eventually offered me a job on his staff, and I served as his Director of Constituent Services.

I also got involved in an organization called STRIVE Boston, where I met other men — also ex offenders — who modeled success I thought I could never achieve in my own life.

These experiences gave me hope for the future, and motivated me to help both myself and others strive for more.

I’m a big believer in the phrase “to whom much is given, much should be expected.” And so I’ve taken that “second chance” I was given, and gone on to become a local youth mentor, a resource for disadvantaged families across the state, and a nationally-recognized community organizer and policy advocate.

Today, I’m running for elected office to bring my lived experiences and record of advocacy and public service to the next level. I want to do more for my neighbors, for Roxbury and Dorchester, and for working families across Massachusetts. I’ve been aggressive advocate for change and progress as a private citizen, but I know I can be even more effective as State Representative.

That’s where you all come in. Just as you and I have stood side-by-side in so many fights over the years, I hope you’ll stand with me again in this one.

This is a true grassroots campaign, fueled by dozens of volunteers. Every door knocked, every phone call made, every $5 contribution sent — it all sets us on the path to victory this fall.

This is what our labor family does best, and I can’t express how much I appreciate the support of everyone here.

Thank you.


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