Streets across America have become the sounding board for the majority that refuses to remain silent in such turbulent economic times. The cry is for jobs, for economic justice, for a fair shake at making a decent living. AFRO reporters hit the streets of Baltimore and the District of Columbia to engage those who are struggling with unemployment and the accompanying challenges. This regular series will share their plight, one which is common to so many. What does it take to survive?

Baltimore

Jerry Millings, 37. Unemployed for a year.
“I’m looking for anything, but I’m mainly interested in retail or warehousing…something along those lines. My biggest challenge has been my criminal record. I’m very frustrated because during incarceration, I went to school. I did a little bit of work in different areas, so it’s really not anything that I can’t do or don’t know how to do. I can be taught anything. What people don’t realize is that I may have done some things in my life, but I did the time. Some people forget that. At the end of the day, I’m still a man, still a father, still a husband and I still have to pay taxes. These things are expected, but I don’t find a lot of employers willing to open the door. My wife works for the government and she doesn’t make a whole lot of money, but she makes enough to pay the bills and support us for the time being. But that’s frustrating because a real man doesn’t want to be in a situation like that.”

Willie Silver, 45. Unemployed for over a year.
“I’ve been unemployed for a while. I’ve a job as a chef in a restaurant. I’m very frustrated and angry with the city and their promises they don’t keep their word. Surviving with my kids has been my biggest challenge. But I get by–legally. I do it the right way.”

Jemar Mccoy, 37. Unemployed for 5 months, previously worked as a janitor
“I’m looking for any kind of work–part-time, full-time, cashier, clerK–anywhere that’s willing to hire me. I’m not frustrated because I have over 22 years of experience. I was doing janitorial work under contract, but since then, I haven’t doing anything but job searching. I’ve been surviving off of disability once a month and that’s not enough for me or my three children.”

Washington, D.C.

Nikki Freeman, 38. Laid off from a law firm in 2008, about five months after she returned to work from delivering twins.
She kept looking for work, applied for TANF, which required her to enroll in a work program. Freeman was assigned to work at the Laurel Hospital. “I already had work ethics and skills but I did it hoping that I would get a job.” The employer was impressed. “They kept saying that they wanted to hire me but didn’t have the funding.”

After six months of working without pay, Freeman decided to leave the work program and tried looking for employment on her own. Her TANF benefits were cut off. She lost her housing and moved with her mother in northeast Washington. “I’m just pissed off the way the system works.”

With six children, Freeman has continued to struggle to find housing and employment. “If it wasn’t for my mother, I would be completely homeless.” In the District, back on TANF, Freeman enrolled at the Virginia Williams Center in another work program. “I’ve sent out over 30 resumes in the last few months but nothing happens.”

Freeman has taken classes in criminology and graphic design. She also has a cosmetology license. “I would like to have gainful employment that will allow me to rent or buy decent housing for my children. I am also interested in going to college. All I need is a chance to prove myself.”

Glen Martin, 56. Kaiser Permanente, was unemployed for 14 months
“I got laid off. You think you would want to be all right within a month or so and as you go out you first start going to job fairs. It would be a big waste of time. You get into this room and they have these various kiosks and you get the same response: Send us your resume. It’s a total waste of time.

You see a lot of people who are older and the job is paying $15 or $16 an hour. And that’s good for a teenager, but not for someone who has to pay a mortgage. Then, you go on an interview and they offer $11 an hour and then that doesn’t go too well. Then you start worrying about your unemployment benefits.

My best advice is to tell people, when you have a job keep it. You don’t know what hell is waiting out there for you. (Now) I’m with Kaiser Permanente, basically almost starting over. I’m competing with 20-year-olds. You have one thing going for you, your maturity. But you are a bigger risk because of your health. You don’t learn as quickly as a 20-year-old. You find yourself leaning up to a computer; almost kissing a computer screen. You just don’t learn as fast when you are older.

Debra Daniels, 54. Former senior manager in the former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s administration
“My long term unemployment was in fact deliberately, personally orchestrated and maintained via the direct desire, previous influence, and demand of former D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty along with employment blacklist support from a number of other truly sick, evil people in high, medium and low places.”

“Coupled with the virtual ruin of my professional career and reputation, irrevocable ruin of my 30 years of earned financial assets including good credit, all life savings and retirement funds, college funds saved for both my children and grandchildren, life insurance funds, real property assets, and the admittedly marked deterioration of my personal health, as well as that of my immediate family, I’m more than furious.”

“I was contacted by another D.C. government agency, fully interviewed, vetted, hired, and then shortly afterwards terminated from the second position in October, 2007 without cause or any other explanation given despite total bewilderment and repeated inquiries on my part.”

Daniels filed a lawsuit with other government employees. The case is still pending.

Daniels is an award-winning strategic communications expert and journalist with 25 years of professional experience.

Bryan Walls, 39, Mitchellville, Md. Former training instructor
The economy has a part to play in it. I think you can come to a level that you are overqualified. I feel that even if you try to switch jobs that people are not going to hire you because they want you to stay at a dead end position. There are too many people coming out of college looking for employment so they are forced to take lower paying jobs also. There were not enough people in my industry needed. Personally I work in training security and law enforcement and that’s the last thing somebody wants to pay for until something goes wrong.

Barry Hobbs, 56, 30 years experience as a videographer
“I had a FCC radio and television operator’s license first-class in my field of work and a recipient of affirmative action. I never thought it could happen to me.” But all that ended when the network made way for the next generation.

“It’s like 30 years of experience just wasting away.”

Hobbs became a substitute teacher in the District for years until the hiring policy was changed in 2008.

“With only a one day notice, I was dropped from the substitute teacher rolls because I didn’t have a four-year degree.” He lost everything and added his name to the long term list of the unemployed.

Now living with family members, Hobbs spends much of his time in the District’s One Stop, an employment center applying for jobs online. “In America, the worst thing for a Black man, besides prison, is not having a job. I want to teach youth how to shoot with a camera instead of a gun.”

He recently managed to give Mayor Gray a letter asking for work. “Nothing happened yet, but I have to keep my spirits up. I’m tired of hearing that Black men don’t have skills, can’t fill out an application or don’t want to work. We are begging for jobs but businesses don’t want to give us a chance.”

Hobbs said surviving without a job has been a learning experience. “Being unemployed, when you know you are capable of being the best at your craft, makes you find out who you are from within.”

Click here to read the first edition of “Survivors”

Click here to read the second edition of “Survivors”