I was about a quarter mile from home into my walk when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Excuse me, Miss, but can you tell me where’s the nearest library?”
I took out the ear buds, turned off the audio book and studied the attractive, nicely dressed young African American woman. Pointing north, “There’s one about four miles in that direction and,” pointing southeast, “another library five miles that way.”
At her crestfallen face I asked about her need for a library, offering that if it was to drop off books, I would be happy to do so for her.
She offered a rueful smile. “I need to print out my resume for a job interview in an hour.” She went on to explain that she had taken a bus from Maplewood to Olive and Ballas in Creve Coeur (a ten-mile distance) and was told as she got off the bus that she should head south on Ballas toward a library, which would have a computer and printer. Her plan was to walk to the library, print out her resume, and then walk back to the job interview–all in one hour on a hot muggy day while dressed in interview clothes. Her voice and demeanor were calm with no signs of self-pity, anxiety, anger or frustration. In fact, Kanesha mostly seemed really excited by the prospect of a minimum-wage job interview.
It took me a full minute for the details to coalesce into a cognizant thought.
I offered for her to come to our house a half block away where I have a computer and printer. She gladly accepted, and so we did. A total stranger following a total stranger into her home.
The resume had been written as an email and when she hit print, only half the resume showed. That’s when I stepped in–my 15 years as a charter middle and high school writing and English teacher kicking into gear. I copied the resume into a Word document, fixed a couple of small typos, corrected two spelling errors and changed the font size to better fit on the page. We printed three copies and then walked back out together, where we parted ways in opposite directions, she to her interview (she turned down my offer to drive her there) and me to resume my power walk.
And then it hit. And I have not been able to shake it since.
This is why so many children and adults of poverty can’t begin to access the same opportunities as children and adults of privilege. There is no way Kanesha would have gotten to the interview in time, resume in hand, clothes crisp. More likely, she’d have arrived very late, very frustrated and very unprepared. Who would hire a candidate in that scenario?
When my white upper middle class children have gone on job interviews, they drive there in their cars, resumes on nice paper stock having been written on their own laptops and printed from their own printers. They easily arrive on time, cool in the summer, warm in the winter.
Something has to change. It’s not right and it’s certainly not enough. There is just so much inequity in our society. I’ve seen it firsthand and daily with my inner city students. These stories are real and they are a mere short drive–but a very long walk–away from our lives of privilege.
There are resources–not enough but some. Perhaps a starting point would be for all of us to educate ourselves on what’s available and to work at spreading the word about groups that help job seekers to dress for success, to create error-free resumes, to get transportation to the interviews. I invite everyone to use (and share) this forum to suggest resources that we can pass along to anyone who can benefit. We must all stretch ourselves.
This young woman was adorable. We immediately connected and we exchanged phone numbers. I want to know if she got the job.