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Monthly Archives: December 2017

I was privileged to be interviewed by my colleague and brother, Denis Haack, Co-Director of Ransom Fellowship on that topic that continues to live on, “race in America”.  Article is here. I am looking forward to the day when we are not discussing race so much but rather, celebrating race!

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Trade Schools: Alive or Dead?

I recently posted this on my Facebook page: “When I was in high school, some students boarded a bus and attended Vocational (Trade) School. Here, they learned about trades. I bring this up because I attended a half-day seminar on homelessness in Kansas City. For someone transitioning from homelessness to wanting to buy a home, access to affordable housing is a huge deal in Kansas City (because of income deficiency). One presenter said, “There are so many vacant houses that once repaired or rehabbed would be idea for affordable housing.” He also said, “We have found while the houses to rehab are plenty, the number of rehabbers is not.” So, back to how I began — are trade schools still up and running I wonder? If not, what if the church provided trade training to young people?”

For ‘Underperforming Students’

One comment from a former student grieved me although I anticipated a comment like this.  He posted this on my Facebook feed: “One of the issues is that my generation and near mine were conditioned to look down on trade school and those careers. We were told to ‘aim high which meant not using our hands or doing any sort of labor, that’s for the down and out.”  Another person wrote this, “The attitude of the student body of my school was very negative on trade school.  It was seen as remedial.  It was understood to be for people who were underperforming academically and didn’t have many other options for their future.”

I cannot say that I looked down on these peers when I was in high school because my father (Tracy Bobo, Sr.), my stepdad (Robert E. Frazier), my beloved grandpa (Henry S. Bobo) and many African-American men I knew worked in the trades. For example, my grandpa who was truly a scholar-athlete in high school and who later served in WWII in the Navy, owned and operated his brick masonry company.  My grandpa was an entrepreneur.  To say he was excellent at what he did would be an understatement!  Rather than being an underperformer, my grandpa was an intelligent brick mason and company owner.

Feel Their Absence

Once upon a time, I said, “For those who look down on our neighborhood trash collectors and don’t view their work as important, let them go on strike and we’ll quickly see and smell how important their work is.” Similarly, for those who have this negative opinion of those who went to trade school or make their living working a trade, I say that, if tradespeople would suddenly go on hiatus we would certainly feel their absence most acutely.  Think about a clogged toilet without a plumber to unclog it.  Think about a malfunctioning car without a skilled car mechanic to repair it.  Think about a sweltering hot summer with a broken AC unit and no HVAC technician to repair it. Think about the wiring needed for a recreational room without the services of an electrician.  Think about being aboard an airplane needing a repair before take-off without an avionic technician to address it.

Breakdown of the Family: Another Reason

Sadly, I think when our parents or others communicate explicitly or implicitly that trade work is inferior work, this leads to a shortage of men and women considering and entering trade schools to learn a trade.  I think there is another reason why there is a shortage.  While I did not go to a trade school, I learned basic skills that tradespeople do by watching my stepdad, my dad and grandpa.  For instance, I learned how to run wire for a ceiling fan; I learned how to replace the flushing mechanism in the toilet tank; I learned how to change the oil in my car; I learned how to hold and use a hammer — I learned all these skills by watching my father, stepfather and my grandfather.  With the breakdown of the family, many young men, in particular, do not have any idea how to even hold or use a hammer because dad is not around. I wonder if this shortage of tradespeople, even amateur ones like myself, will become even more common as the human family continues to disintegrate?

Noble and Dignifying Work

Personally, I think those men and women skilled in trades have noble and dignifying work.  I believe as the late Dr. Martin Luther King said, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”  Those engaged in trade school jobs – whether it is changing a spark plug or unclogging a fetid smelling toilet or running wire for a ceiling fan – are doing work that has dignity and importance and contributes to human flourishing.  All this makes me think of my nephew, Marcus Johnson.  He is a plumber today and I am really proud of him.  Today, he works for a company but some day he plans to own and operate his business and I will proud of him then too.

I salute all men and women engage in a trade.  Our standard of living utterly relies on your skill and competence. Thank you for your work!