My First Mentor Was, African American

When I began working at Southern Illinois University @ Carbondale on October 10, 1978, I knew no one and no one knew me.  I could not believe my good fortune in obtaining a civil service position at the University.  The position of Building Service Worker I in the housekeeping department, Building Services, had over 700 people on the test register.  I truly believed that there must have been a mistake and that, in short order, I would be notified that my services were no longer required.  As I traveled to my assignment of cleaning the Accounting building, Thalman Hall, my supervisor asked me if I had met the foreman, yet?  I responded that I had not, and he assured me that, Jim, would be over sometime during the evening.  As I became engrossed in my work…I suddenly heard a loud voice calling out, ‘Brooks’, and I stopped to see the kindly face of my foreman, Jim.  Jim smoked a large cigar that caused his head to be enveloped in a blue ring of smoke and the pleasant odor of tobacco.  He then said that I could sit down for a few minutes…as he was my boss.  I immediately felt comfortable with my boss!  It was obvious to me that he was interested in my success at SIUC.

Jim checked on me on a nightly basis.  He not only was a fount of knowledge regarding information concerning Building Services, but was rich in history of the SIU Carbondale Campus.  I soon discovered that Jim was talking about me with his colleagues, as well as the Superintendent of Building Services and the night manager.  Jim was a gentleman.  He informed me, early on in my career, that he understood that I was a christian and that he would endeavor to not use ‘salty’ language when he was in my presence…although he recounted that he enjoyed colorful speech!

At my first promotion, in the department, Mr. O’Hara, the Superintendent, told me that Jim could not say enough good about me.  One of my colleagues told me that he had spoken with all of the foreman and that they all had a high opinion me.  This was all due to my mentor, Jim!

Jim described to me the lengths that he had to go to care for his disabled wife.  He had to bathe her, and this included lifting her into the bath tub and lifting her out.  He had to dress her and feed her and care for all of her physical needs.  When Jim was doing all of these tasks he was 69 years old.

The first foreman that I hired, when I became Superintendent…20 years after I was hired as a Building Service Worker I, was a wise African American woman named, Jewel.  I received the promotion during very difficult circumstances for the department and the threat of privatization of our services.  I was looking for a person of professional, stellar, leadership qualities…Jewel was all of that and more!  She served as my advisor and counselor and friend…her opinion was something that I highly valued.  Jewel was honest and her counsel was unvarnished and pure.

Alfie came to work in our office.  He is of the Muslim faith and prays on a regular basis.  Through university contacts that I had, in those days, I was able to assist him in re-enrolling in school.  I liked him from the moment that I met him and saw rich potential. Today  my friend, has a full-time job with the Grounds department and every time his mother sees me…she hugs me and thanks me for what I was able to do for Alfie.  What she does not realize is that…being privileged to know, Alfie, has done so much more for me…than my meager help to him!



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