By Kent Ferris
I recently accompanied Quad Cities Interfaith Executive Director Leslie Kilgannon to Black Hawk College in Moline, Illinois, for the Highway Construction Careers Training Program (HCCTP) graduation. Twelve people — including six minorities and four women — received certificates for completing a 450-hour, 13-week pre-apprenticeship program. They did this in order to be among 100 Ready Workers preparing for construction careers as roads and bridges are built and rail lines created in the Quad-City metro area.
The graduates were grateful for the educational opportunity they were afforded. They thanked their instructors, college administrators and their families, many of whom were in attendance. When the program director spoke, she thanked local labor and business leaders. She also thanked Leslie and QCI.
I guess it was because I am part of QCI that I was among the invited guests who formed a line and shook the hand of every graduate after they received their certificate. It was an honor to congratulate them. It reminded me that I did my best to honor a commitment to make the community better by ensuring that people previously overlooked for good-paying jobs would have programs such as this one to participate in. I’d been part of QCI and Gamaliel groups that visited the secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation in Springfield and had also been part of planning meetings and public prayer gatherings in support of economic justice. Beyond my own involvement, it was really amazing when a young man who’d been part of organizing efforts received his certificate as one of the 12 in the third class of graduates from HCCTP.
The event was wonderful! But here was the moment I had not anticipated. As I stood in front of the room with the other community representatives to shake the hands of the graduates, the composition of the room hit me. I quietly said to Leslie, “Look at all the little kids!” There must have been three dozen children under the age of 10, many of them infants and toddlers, in the room to support their moms or dads. I thought to myself, those kids won’t need trips to the community food pantry because their parents will have good-paying jobs in the construction field.
For me, that was one of those moments of bliss when walking with the Two Feet of Social Justice occurs, when making the commitment to faith-based community organizing yields the harvest of justice.
(Kent Ferris, OFS, is director of Social Action and Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Davenport and a member of Quad Cities Interfaith.)