Day 11: African-American History Month – Post-Slavery Employment

Yesterday, I met with a dear friend/ally/supporter/colleague/ revolutionary for lunch and he opened my eyes yet again to the possibilities of my life. I feel so grateful for him and for meeting him through my first “post-slavery employment.”

Recently, I’ve been re-reading a letter that I wrote to my colleagues when I left that employment situation (though I haven’t really left at all because the place and people mean so much to me!). I want to share a portion of that letter as it also honors a very important figure (to me) in African-American history, Frederick Douglass.

Here it is…

“Six years ago, I was in an unimaginable place in my life. I was at the crossroads of slavery and freedom and Cal Corps (now the Public Service Center) was nothing short of a refuge. Frederick Douglass in The Narrative of Frederick Douglass portrays my experience most accurately when he writes:

‘I found employment, the third day after my arrival…It was…hard work for me; but I went at it with a glad heart and a willing hand. I was now my own master. It was a happy moment, the rapture of which can be understood only by those who have been slaves. It was the first work, the reward of which was to be entirely my own. There was no Master Hugh standing ready, the moment I earned the money, to rob me of it. I worked that day with a pleasure I have never before experienced. I was at work for myself…It was to me the starting-point of a new existence.’

Cal Corps has undeniably been the starting point of a new existence for me. Like Frederick Douglass, I found my employment at Cal Corps just barely after my arrival into a free state. It was a happy moment because I was finally able to keep my rewards. Those rewards, both monetary and interpersonal, were keys to the chains of my slavery. Since then, the same rewards have allowed for my continued liberation.

Also like Frederick Douglass,

‘Here I found myself surrounded with the strongest proofs of wealth…Every man appeared to understand his work, and went at it with a sober, yet cheerful earnestness, which betokened the deep interest which he felt in what he was doing, as well as a sense of his own dignity as a man. To me this looked exceedingly strange.’

Cal Corps is a strange place. It is strange because few places like it exist. Rarely do I hear of work environments that are so communal, playful, respectful, nurturing, creative, and prolific. In these ways, Cal Corps is also very wealthy. We are rich in compassion and love, and in our deep interest in what we do. Each of you has shared with me your many assets. You have contributed to a world of abundance that I did not imagine I would find upon escaping slavery.”

Yesterday, I experienced more of that continued abundance. Thank you, dear friends…you know who you are.

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