As of the end of October, there had already been more than 545 mass shootings this year—an unacceptable and unconscionable number. And that’s on top of countless gang shootings. As your human rights chair, ordinary citizen, and father, I am deeply concerned for the broad and deep impact of lives cut short, particularly those that involve school children. School shootings take away more than individual lives. They rob us of future leaders, workers, family lineage, heritage, and legacies. I am tired of waiting for action from politicians on this issue and have wondered if there is something that our union could be doing at a grass roots level to help give children a sense of hope.
I asked myself two questions. First, what can we, as utility workers, do to help reach at-risk children and prevent another tragic news headline? And second, what can we be doing to have a positive influence in the lives of troubled youth that gives them hope and options for the future?
In 2019, the Michigan State Utility Workers Council (MSUWC) and Consumers Energy started a pilot program to visit elementary schools for old-fashioned “show and tells.” Electric and gas workers met with fourth and fifth graders and showed them what utility workers do to help create a safe, comfortable, and protected environment — with an emphasis on safety. We planted seeds of hope for these inner-city kids and showed them real life examples of attainable careers in the trades. That year, we reached 500 kids in six schools in the Pontiac School District.
COVID-19 put a temporary stop to the program, but we resumed the “show and tells” during the 2021-2022 school year. No longer a pilot, we visited thousands of fourth and fifth graders in Flint, Lansing, Saginaw, Kalamazoo, and many other cities throughout the state. When an electric crew does the visit, they bring their bucket truck and show how they protect themselves when handling live wires. When gas service workers do the show, they explain how they stay safe when dealing with gas shutoffs and other emergencies. The kids love the hands-on learning experience!
Reaching children at a young age — at the developmental stage — is education at its most basic. We need to reach them before corruption sets in from sometimes toxic home environments; before socioeconomic issues cloud their young minds; before the corruptions of racism, bigotry, discrimination, and conscious biases can set in. If we get there in time, then maybe we can bring a positive message of hope and purpose. And for each child we reach, we perpetuate our legacy as utility workers and help build a wonderfully bright and prosperous future, one child at a time.
I’d like to encourage and inspire our union family to spread this type of program across the country. Many locals already take part in high school career days. By focusing on younger kids, we can reach them at a more formative age, let them see they have positive options, and plant those seeds of hope early. For more information on how to start a program like this, contact the UWUA’s Human Rights Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org).