May 8, 1954 – October 30, 2019

In Swahili, the name “Fahari” means “magnificent and rare.” Fahari Jeffers was both.

She led by quiet brilliance, elegance, poise and determination. The daughter of a domestic worker herself, Fahari with her husband, Ken Seaton Msemaji, co-founded the United Domestic Workers Union (UDW) for home care workers in 1978.

For her part, Fahari was forever grateful that acclaimed farm-labor leader Cesar Chavez personally chose her and Ken to lead the formation of a state-wide labor union dedicated to domestic and home-care workers.

Much like immigrant farmworkers who had been denied a decent life in the fields and communities of California’s agricultural valleys, privately-hired domestic workers were underpaid, if at all, and under-appreciated for the life-giving in-home care they provided.

A long-time resident of National City who passed away at age 65, Fahari often recalled that Mr. Chavez cautioned her and her husband that fighting for the rights of domestic workers would take them the rest of their lives before their shared dream would become a reality.

Fahari went on to make that dream her life’s work. At 21, she made the decision to earn her undergraduate degree and later, a law degree, again following Mr. Chavez’s wise advice. Fahari used her skills to win union contracts on the toughest uncharted American labor turf.

Her model collective bargaining rights law of 1999 is patterned across California and the nation, where over 150,000 and over two million home care workers enjoy union rights. Fahari regarded writing this legislation as one of her proudest accomplishments. Asserting rights for our nation’s domestic workers gave way to the passage of the first-ever federal Domestic Worker’s Bill of Rights in 2013.

Fahari L Jeffers picture

In California, (also in 2013), Governor Jerry Brown passed the California Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. The bill provided the first guaranteed overtime pay for domestics and paved the way for improved working conditions of underrepresented domestic workers including nannies and home care workers. Thanks to their collective efforts, domestic/home care workers are now recognized as employees by the State of California.

For historical perspective, the union Fahari co-founded was only the third labor union in U.S. labor history to be founded by Latinos or blacks. The first was the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, founded in 1925 by A. Phillip Randolph; the second was the United Farm Workers of America, founded in 1962 by Cesar Chavez.

She believed in the righteousness of her causes, that of improving the economic lives of the people she served. She did not offer excuses or complain. She was a resilient warrior with a cause. Upon hearing the news about her long-time friend and confidante, Congresswoman Maxine Waters said: “I am so sad to hear of Fahari’s passing. She was a powerful civil rights and labor leader. Founding the United Domestic Workers Union with her husband Ken Seaton-Msemaji put her up front with the top labor leaders in U.S. history.”

Fahari was loved and admired by her countless friends and acquaintances people, both locally and nationally, but never more so than by her parents, sisters and brothers.

Born in San Diego on May 8, 1954 to Jessie Pearl Russell-Jeffers and Joseph Louis Jeffers, both natives of Russell Union in Norlina, North Carolina, Fahari was originally named “Lucyetta” after her mother’s mother. As a teenager, she and her siblings became interested and involved in their African-American culture. They joined the US Organization and were part of the Mumina and Malaika Dancers Troupe. Fahari later became a teacher at the School of African American Culture for Children. It was during this time that she adopted the name Fahari.

After dropping out of Morse High School, she resumed her studies at Snyder Continuation High School. She completed 18 months of courses in six months in route to earning a high school diploma.

Fahari, who found inspiration, partnership and a lifetime bond in her husband, went on to earn a BA in Psychology from San Diego State University, a Master’s in Public Administration from National University and a law degree from Thomas Jefferson School of Law. She passed the State Bar Exam on her first try. Always at the top of her class, the bulk of her studies were done at the same time she was in the early stages of creating the United Domestic Workers Union, which was the nation’s first of its kind.

Fahari’s community and professional leadership carried her to successes. Fahari’s career of leadership included US/NIA; Black Federation; co- founder of United Domestic Workers Union as its Secretary-Treasurer and Chief Negotiator; President of San Diego Convention Center Board of Directors; Ford Foundation Leadership Award; Eureka Fellow, Cesar Chavez Club; and the 2018 San Diego Women’s Hall of Fame selection. For ten years, she relished being the St. Rita’s Annual Bazaar Chairperson. She is survived by her loving husband of 44 years, Ken Seaton-Msemaji, as well as his children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

Fahari also had a special place in her heart for her siblings: Rose Glasford of Bermuda, Karama Broach of North Carolina; Joe Jeffers of Colorado; Vickie Jeffers of North Carolina; Dr. Adam Jeffers of United Arab Emirates; and Michael Jeffers, San Diego, who passed in 2010.

• Karama: “Our sister overcame so many health issues, which made her a fierce fighter for her family and for underdogs her entire life! Fahari lifted and held us up. Her imprint is in our hearts and souls.” • Vicki: “Fahari was stylish and always dressed sharp. She taught me to be a successful Executive Assistant.” • Adam: “Fahari was the sister of all sisters!” • Rose, her eldest sister: “She will always be my special and loving Lani.”

In recent years, she enjoyed Prince concerts with her sister Vicki, plus singing and dancing in the hospital.

Fahari also enjoyed in her frequent Las Vegas casino trips and sharing Supremes-style “hand pictures” with her sisters, good comedy and ice skating. At a moment’s notice, Fahari could quote extensively from all three Godfather movies. In recent years, her most special times were family tardeadas on Sunday afternoons.

During her life, Fahari overcame a series of medical issues, none of which deterred her focus or slowed her life journey of achievement and results.

Thank you, Fahari Jeffers, for your superb example of caring devotion to those who care for others.