Armed with extensive pre-apprenticeship certificates, Andre Hollins, a father of twin boys, searched nearly 2.5 years for work. By dawn, he would have already hit up multiple construction sites. He rarely saw people who looked like him. He wanted to give up. Instead he turned to Los Angeles Black Worker Center. What he discovered was his voice, his rights and the power of joining together with other Black workers to create change in the economy, and in the process, he also found a job.
"All I hear is Black people don't want to work, don't have skills, are not trained," says Hollins, who currently works as a unionized carpenter in Los Angeles. "The [real] issue is access and retention. We have to get together and make sure that the doors are opened for us to get into industries and access good jobs. This makes our community strong."
Andre's story is not unique. If you go anywhere in this country you will hear stories of Black men and women who struggle to make ends meet for their families. These stories reflect the reality of the Black job crisis. This job crisis has two faces: beyond the face of joblessness, it is the face of being trapped in low-wage jobs. It is a brother who just got out of prison and can only find employment through a temp agency. It is the sister trying to juggle family, work, and school bouncing between jobs at McDonalds, WalMart and the Gap.
The cause of the Black job crisis is not just the economy. It's the lack of power. No matter how "strong" the economy, we are disproportionately unemployed and in low-wage jobs. In Los Angeles, more than 50 percent of Black working age adults are unemployed or in low-wage jobs. Across the nation, 38 percent of Black workers receive low-wages. It is a lack of power that allows these outcomes to occur and these outcomes destabilize our families and the subsequent poverty is at the root of mass incarceration, homelessness, health disparities and the educational divide.
Solving the Black jobs crisis means realizing Black people are not responsible for the racism that our people have had to endure for more than 100 years. Nor are we to blame for the horrific levels of Black unemployment and underemployment. Resisting stereotypes that focus on individual deficits or myths of black work ethic allows us to lift up new narratives focused on our right to quality jobs and full employment.
Solving the Black jobs crisis means building power by organizing Black workers -- employed and unemployed -- to challenge organized money and power.
This organizing is taking place. Here in Los Angeles, the LA BWC worked with various community groups and labor unions to win passage of a historic Project Labor Agreement/Construction Careers Policy that includes a strong disadvantaged worker hiring clause and federal anti-discrimination and equal opportunity provisions. A Chicago-based Black worker center, the Worker Center for Racial Justice, worked with a coalition of groups to successfully campaign the state legislature to limit the ability of private firms to inquire about an applicant's incarceration history. In Canton, Mississippi, efforts to form a union at the local Nissan factory resemble 60s civil rights movement activism.
That this Black worker organizing is taking place at the same time as the larger upsurge in Black activism is not an accident. Last fall, these conditions brought 55 people from nine cities from around the United States to attend a conference to understand how to build Black worker centers. We forged a community dedicated to building a movement for Black economic justice as we shared our "Black freedom dreams."
At the end of the day, this is about making a difference in our peoples' lives. Consider LeDaya Epps. LeDaya lives in Compton and bounced around from job to job. She ran across the LA BWC at a job fair and became a member. She connected to a program and got placed on a job as a union apprentice, made possible because community groups and labor unions came together to win that historic policy I mentioned above.
We fight for LeDaya.
We fight for our communities.
And when we fight...we win.
This post is part of the "Black Future Month" series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 28 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.