Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Retired African American Male - Reflections on the Beginnings of a 35 year career

A writer writes!

I retired at age 55 after serving 35 years in the Federal government as a public service.  My entry into public service was through a college internship program in Human Resources (then called Personnel) while a sophomore at the University of Evansville.  At Evansville I was one of the 100 or so African American students who attended the school which at that time had about 3,000 full time students.  The environment at the University of Evansville prepared me somewhat for my entry into the work force as an intern working with Caucasian employees.

Initially I shared a furnished  apartment with two other African American interns one of whom worked at the same government location as I, the U.S. Army Finance and Accounting Center.  The apartment was a mere one block from our employer.  That made transportation to and from work being a non factor in our employment.  At the age of 19 I had my first office job!  After working the prior summer at an Uncle's Burger King restaurant, I was glad and felt lucky to have an office job to work at.  No more frying burgers on a grill and mopping floors at the store's closing.  Now I had an office job which seemed to fit the reasons why I was going to college in the first place.

My initial work assignments involved mundane clerical work.  Preparing files and doing whatever the specialists in the office told me to do.  My supervisor was an African American, the only one in Human Resources.  There were several older African American females in the office, but I only saw one other African American male in all of Human Resources.  I mostly stayed to myself at work to include breaks and lunch. My lunch often consisted of purchasing cookies and peanuts from a vending machine and sitting in a large break room.  The building at that time reflected the Army military style.  There were green steel partitions in offices and the cement floor was a grape/purple color.  An intercom announcement daily stated when it was time to start work and when it was time to leave for the day.  Workers lined up at the doors awaiting the announcement that the day was over.

Typewriters still ruled the day then, and carbon paper copies of letters and documents were filed in filing cabinets to record actions taken.  Microfilm was then the latest technology to look up information on microfiche readers.  We sat at steel gray desks lined up in rows. A semi private office was only for managers.  The age of computers was just in it's infancy with a personal computer still years away.  Training and Development was the title of the office I was first assigned to.  The function of the office was to facilitate employees going to training.  I don't recall being involved with the important side of the mission of the office.  I only recall assisting with clerical tasks.  Regardless, I was making good money to me for what I was doing.  I would rent a car on occasion to go to a mall, a drive in movie by myself, or take a bus "downtown" to go shopping.  One of my roommates moved out and the remaining roommate and I did not get along very well. I recall we had an issue about him not paying his share of the phone bill.  The phone was in my name. I also recall finding a magazine he had that seemed to infer he was gay. After awhile he left and I had the apartment to myself.  Somehow, and I don't recall how, I sent one of his paychecks to the phone company to pay for the money he owed me on the phone.  Luckily the apartment manager either let me out of the lease  when my summer internship ended or we had all signed a month to month lease.

I don't think I took my first job very seriously in terms of the work I was assigned.  I even recall one occasion when I left my job and took a public bus downtown to purchase tickets for an upcoming concert.  Yes, the wildness of youth.  That first internship lasted from late May until late August.  I think my parents gave me a ride back to Evansville to start the Fall semester.  Since I didn't have many clothes in those days, I believe purchasing nice clothes was something I did that summer prior to my return to college.  My main recollection of that summer was that after work I spent my time around the apartment watching TV and preparing for the next work day.  I may have been picked up by a friend one time to attend a concert or church, but otherwise it was a lonely experience.  I do recall having to carry two bags of groceries about 7 blocks due to not having a car.  It was a grueling experience and my arms got tired several times to the point where I had to stop and regroup.  But, that summer I wound up having my own apartment for the first time and started my journey towards learning all of what goes into being an adult.

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