I was born and raised in Newark. In fact, I have lived here my whole life. For a while, I lived in an apartment building that overlooked an empty lot at the corner of Littleton Avenue and West Market Street in Newark’s West Ward. A long-closed factory used to be there, and after it was demolished the land remained vacant for a long time.
At the time, I was working three jobs to provide for my two daughters, Keziah and Jaziah, and my son, Zion. I was a security guard at one of my jobs, and when I noticed that a fence had gone up around the vacant lot and a security guard station had been placed there, I went to see if could get a job as a guard. I learned that PSE&G was planning to put a new switching station at the site to improve the local electric system. At first many residents expressed concerns about the plan, but after many meetings with local residents, community groups and elected officials, PSE&G obtained approval to build the new station.
As part of the agreement PSE&G made with the City of Newark, the company and its general contractor on the project, Jingoli & Sons, created a job training program to prepare local residents for jobs in the construction industry. I am one of the almost 100 Newark residents who were trained under the program, and three years ago I began working as a contractor Safety Watcher at that very station – the Fairmount Heights Switching Station.
To prepare me for the job I received many hours of OSHA-approved training in construction job-site safety. My job was to keep a close eye on the workers there to ensure that they were performing their work safely and keeping themselves at safe distances from electric equipment and other hazards. When I reported to work that first day, the site was just an empty lot in the earliest stages of active construction. At first I was concerned that the predominantly male work force would be reluctant to take instructions from a woman, but as they got to know me and came to understand that I had their safety at heart, they were very accepting. I like to say that when someone pushed back, I would just use my ‘mommy voice.’ It never failed.
Over time, the station began to take shape. The building that houses the switching equipment went up, the station equipment and electric circuits were installed and the building was placed in service. Finally, earlier this month a decorative art wall surrounding the building was dedicated at a ceremony attended by PSE&G executives, local residents, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and other officials, and the artists whose works grace the walls. What had been an eyesore just a few short years ago is now a beautiful building housing a functioning switching station. The West Ward is better for it. Newark is better for it. And I am better for it.
My friends on the PSE&G team that managed the project told me that they always get a special feeling of pride and satisfaction when a project they have been working on is finally completed. Now, having seen this project through from start to finish, I understand exactly what they mean. I will never look at this building without thinking, “I helped build this.”
When I came to work here I was struggling financially and living in a high crime area where I was afraid to take my children out to play. Thanks to this opportunity, I now own my home in Newark (where else?) and my children can now safely play in their own backyard.
Yes, I helped build that building. But the building also helped me to build a better life for me and my children.