NEWARK – The grit of Natasha Harmon to get to the Laborers’ graduation and the first vital stage on the quest for a career in the Building Trades, struck a chord with Newark Council President Lamonica McIver. “For a long time I was the only woman on a council of nine, in a city where 60% of the vote is women,” McIver told Harmon.
When the Laborers’ Pathways to Apprenticeship NJ graduated its first class this morning at the TREC Center in Newark’s South Ward, Harmon was among those labor force trainees in caps and gowns receiving their diplomas after an intensive five-week program. At the podium in the gym, in the presence of family and friends and those men and women of Labor who back them, she noted – with a note of unmistakable pride – how 50 people came to the first session.
Seventeen graduated today.
And of those, as McIver noted, Harmon was the only woman.
That said, the bond among those who made it appeared overall to transcend gender.
This finally was about the unity of labor.
“You may have to put others on the side,” Wayne Richardson, executive director of Pathways to Apprenticeship NJ gently reminded the graduates, referring to friends, and even family, who are mired in bad habits. The training he oversaw, with John Blyden, co-founder of P2A NJ and instructor Japhis Lampkins, aims to uplift people with the dignity of a union job, and represents the path of a lifetime.
“I don’t ask for anything in return,” Richardson said. “Just go out there and do the job.”
The labor leader, who serves as president of the Essex County Commissioners, received a strong and grateful applause.
Born and raised in Newark, Christopher Williams said he he looks forward to the next stage in his training, a Laborers’ apprenticeship in Monroe.
“Pathways to Apprenticeship doesn’t happen every day, especially in the inner cities,” the graduate told InsiderNJ. “It’s very progressive a lot of industries are singling out certain types of people. The people who created this, and who support it, Mayor [Ras] Baraka and brother Richardson, created opportunities. They can open the door, and this program will put people inside the middle class. I can see a lot of inner cities around the country [implementing this]. It’s spreading like wildfire. I would encourage other people to do it, because a trade is valuable. Give it five to ten years, you’ll see other cities adopting what we have here. Part of what this shows is that success is not just money. When you look at those who created the program, success is opening a door to put a person in an [empowered] position.”
The graduation ceremony’s keynote speaker, McIver underscored the extent of the opportunity for these graduates at this particular moment in Newark’s history.
“There are billions of dollars of development happening here in the City of Newark,” said the council president. “Corporations want to come to the table seeking amenities from Newark, like tax breaks, and we in return have asked for things. We have to get something in return and the number one thing we ask for in return is jobs for our residents. There is a lot of money to be made. You have no idea.
“That could be you,” McIver said. “Be professional. We all have a lot of past but that doesn’t matter right now. Stay focused on the opportunity to earn the dollars that are out there for you so the people sitting behind you are proud of you. Take this opportunity. Stay persistent. Stay strong and persistent. When you show up like that, you’re going to deliver like that.”
McIver’s local government colleague reinforced the sentiment – and the accompanying communal responsibility.
“This is an opportunity that you should not take for granted,” said South Ward Councilman Pat Council. “What you’re doing has an effect on everyone else who comes after you.
“Show folks that Newark can work, will work, and will show up,” Council added.
Himself based in Delaware, and a key ally of the Newark-based Richardson, Blyden said the New York Laborer pioneers of Pathway to Apprenticeship conceived the program as a way to make the union more diverse. When diehard union brothers Blyden and Richardson first learned about it, they vowed to make it happen in New Jersey.
Today, they did.
The full list of Pathway to Apprenticeship NJ graduates: