In the spring of 2015 a former farm hand came to see me about a job. This was a white kid, we will call him “Joe”, who had worked for me the summer before doing assorted farm work along with a couple of other kids. He was quit anxious for a job and so I told him I would think about it and let him know.
Riding in the car with Joe was a 19 year old young black kid who I will call “E”. He was a scrawny young man who wouldn’t have weighed 135 pounds if he were soaking wet. He also wanted a job. I told him I really didn’t need three hands, as I already had one summer helper, but I would consider it and let him know as well.
“E” didn’t make a poor impression that first day, but I didn’t think he would last, as most of my summer helpers don’t. Gainful employment in the farming industry isn’t high on the list for too many teenagers. The work is far to dirty and low tech for most millennials. I thought about it that night, and the next day I called and hired “Joe” but told him I didn’t need his friend “E”.
Even though I didn’t really need E, I began to question whether subconsciously it made any difference that this young man was black? I didn’t think so then and don’t think so now. But I wanted to prove it to myself. So several hours later, I changed my mind reasoning that having an extra body wouldn’t hurt.
Nicknames being a common occurrence among young men, we tried out several nicknames for “E” including Emperor and T-Bone, before finally arriving at the one he had used most often. It was just a letter as well, and rhymed with the “E” alias I have given him in this article.
The first month or so both Joe and E worked pretty well, although they had some limitations. They didn’t have a car, so they relied on family. Four people using one car caused a few hiccups but we all made it work. The connection between E and Joe clarified itself when they told me it was E’s uncle who was living with Joe’s mother. E’s uncle thanked me for hiring E and in all my interactions was a perfect gentleman. I had little contact with Joe’s mother although she was pleasant as well.
The most obvious condition of the family household was the lack of money. Poor people have poor ways as the saying goes, and it showed. So my reaction was to fix what I could for the two boys and see if I couldn’t help them stay on a more productive path.
Initially, everything went fairly well. I worked side by side with these boys quite a bit and got to understand what they wanted to do with their lives. Joe wanted to go to college and play basketball. E just wanted to make some money and get a car. I was especially interested in E’s background and what it was like to be a young, black man in America.
I came to understand that his father went to prison when E was one year old and was still in prison. His mother had been around but it became apparent by reading between the lines that he had pretty much been on his own since he was 8 having limited parental supervision. He learned to cook because he had to. He did have a grandmother who seemed to be a positive influence in his life.
He was born in Texas and grew up in the Lubbock area. He said his family was deep into the crime scene but that that he wanted a different direction for his life. This was especially important to him since E had recently become a father. Later, E’s six-month old son actually visited our home along with the child’s mother. I grew to like the young man and believed I had a decent, although certainly incomplete picture of his life.
It was rocky at times trying to direct 3 young men. As a fairly demanding employer, who had owned a construction company for 25 years, I wasn’t always pleasant in my dealings with these young men. Tough but fair is how I would describe it. They used a little different vocabulary. Between smoke breaks, listening to hip-hop music, earplugs, leaving their trash around the ranch, a good bit of slacking, and an apparent inability to read my mind, we still made it work.
In fact, it worked well enough that I came up with some ideas to help get Joe and E on track. I had an old farmhouse that I had recently acquired and told them if they would provide the sweat equity and fix it up, I would provide the materials. They both agreed. E was very excited when he went into the house and began planning on the colors of his room. His eyes twinkled and smiled broadly as he picked a room to fix up for his son. I also told him that I would help him set up a business if he could come up with a good idea.
As part of that effort to prepare for looking for a real job, E and I spent a half a day finding him coats, shoes and shirts that I had “outgrown”. It surprised me that we found as many items of clothing that he actually not only could wear, (my sizes have escalated slightly over the years), but that he would actually wear. Some of my older, hardly worn, leather jackets were his favorites. He repeatedly posed, smiling with a big cheesy grin, while proclaiming, “I make this look good!”