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Construction Manager Shares Views On Blacks In Jail And On Job Sites
Published:
8/27/2014 4:11:39 PM


Thomas Cooper
 
By Barney Blakeney


For the past 20 years Philadelphia native Thomas Cooper has lived and worked in Charleston. He holds a degree in engineering and has worked in construction as a project manager and quality control specialist while here. He’s also gotten some insight from a brief stint while incarcerated, a victim of the state’s child support system. He came by The Chronicle recently to share some of his views on that system and the lack of skilled Blacks in construction.

Cooper thinks too many Black people have become weak and lazy. During his experience as an inmate at Charleston County Detention Center some five years ago, he perceived that older inmates disproportionately were drug addicts and younger inmates disproportionately were drug dealers. Older inmates told stories about getting high and encounters with prostitutes and younger inmates talked about selling dope and busting heads.

His four months spent in jail was enlightening, Cooper said. Young men who had lost their belief in themselves and God recalled the myth of bling bling and making it rain money as they faced the reality of long prison sentences at facilities where their daily showers couldn’t wash away the smell of urine and feces coming from the dirty toilets within their cells.

Cooper said they tasted the sweat of inmates who prepared their meals. It became a seasoning of sorts and the thought of disease, germs and bacteria were ignored just as were the roaches that crawled at night and the pain from sleeping on steel bunks with on two-inch mattresses.

When he left jail and returned to the job which paid him nearly $50,000 annually, Cooper said he looked around the construction sites and wondered why there weren’t more Blacks working. Other ethnic groups were represented among the carpenters, brick masons, electricians and drywall workmen, but the few Blacks at the sites usually picked up trash. Few held skilled positions.

He thought back to his days at the detention center, to the misguided young Blacks who traded their futures in construction for beliefs in lifestyles played out in music videos and rap songs.

“That stuff ain’t cool. It never has been,” Cooper said. “Too many people don’t take pride in a hard day’s work because they say they can’t make enough to support themselves and their families. But they work in prison for one dollar a day. The funny thing is they’re happier to work in prison than on the outside.”

Cooper hopes he can help change that. He’s begun to have dialogue with construction contractors to develop incentives that might encourage them to hire and train more Blacks in the construction trades. He thinks the government should enforce minority business and employment regulations as much as it enforces child support laws.
 

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