By LENNOX FARRELL
Are feelings of being unemployed akin to those of bereavement? Being unemployed can be the loss of self-confidence. Over time, other losses occur, spiraling downwards in an emotional vortex of diminishing self-respect, self-regard, and self.
One of several ironies is that being unemployed can itself be a form of being full-time employed. The tasks of searching for and following leads and contacts; of scrounging for the means to continue searching are not part-time. These occupy and disturb one’s mind, body and soul, waking and sleeping.
For Jeremiah Isaiah — a pseudonym — whose experience is cited, 41 years old, a specialist in laser welding, and with a large family, “it was exactly one year and eleven days” since being unemployed.
It spills off his tongue, self-accusing. “One year and eleven days! It was a shock. I worked all my life, even before an adult, and did well. I was liked and liked my job and the people I worked with.”
Just shy of 13 years had he worked there. In fact, all his adult life, work wasn’t drudgery, but opportunity. And then, ‘boom!’ the economy nose-dived, the auto-industry spun out, forcing ice-fishing buddies into suspicions competing. He felt betrayed when called in and ‘let go’! Somebody, he was sure, would look out for him. But with everyone looking out for self, saving the company meant cutting friends who’d been like family.
He recalled driving his own family, as usual, to church that weekend; everyone silent, forlorn. For him, the feeling was exceptionally severe, in some ways, unfathomable, because he had prepared all he could, all his adult life never to be in any situation he had seen too much of, growing up. Like so many other Black professionals, he had been prepared for employment, not self-employment; dependent, more on the ‘certainties’ of resumes than on the ‘uncertainties’ of business plans.
As a church-man he had also been preached to, and had himself preached to others that a man who didn’t feed and care for his family was ‘worse than an infidel’. The preacher’s sermon that weekend called the congregation out on the wearing of jewelry. Did the visitors also feel like infidels? Being unemployed carried a sense of shame he couldn’t readily share with pastor, and other congregants.
You just assume that with your skills, your glowing resume, leads, recommendations, arriving on-time, and researching in advance of interviews, companies offering possibilities. But you search and search and search, and your family is forced to move in with folk, and your teens have to change schools and to the inquiries of friends, church friends too, their eyes answer, uncertain with bravado.
He doesn’t question the church’s denominational goals: ‘to save souls for the Kingdom'; praying, but not job hunting with you. One must understand, the church have other priorities, pre-ordained’.
Many people seeking employment admit that it is a challenging experience that metastasizes over time. It isn’t only one’s savings that are drained. So, too, are one’s self-confidence and self-regard. And one’s family relationships. Under the brutal pressures of implacable uncertainties, things are said. Things that might heal later, but remaining scars, testify! Relationships almost never turn completely around. Being unemployed is adding negatives and subtracting positives. All round!
And among the reasons for these is not having had the time to grieve the loss of one’s employment; not addressing the emotional numbness that comes with losing one’s self-esteem, one’s livelihood. But if that’s bad, consider growing old working ‘temp’, all your life. Hell on earth is ageing unprepared.
“People bottle it up,” Jerry says. “They play the game as if it’s business as usual.” He continues: “But losing a job is a grieving process. It is the death of a relationship. Of relationships. On the job. In your home; church.” His pause is to parse emotions, not focus ideas. “Too much is lost when you lose a job, one you trained for. And, as you know, a Black man, more’s expected of you for less, and I never falter.”
Relief came via another church body. White. Located in his neighbourhood. It took practical steps, holding faith-based job fairs. Every third weekend it hosted possible employers; many doing or seeking business with that denomination. The church was leveraging obligations on behalf of the unemployed. He was welcomed. Posted info. Was contacted. A toe-nail in, it was not his exact specialty, but it helped meet some responsibilities. And, most of all, it reduced his sense of estrangement; it boosted his sense of hope. Others cared enough for him and his family. Morning had broken.
One assumes that leaders of Black congregants know about these grievings and options. In all fairness, should they? Are there not officials elected; bureaucrats tenured to address such issues? Pastors are trained in providing sustenance to the soul, yes? But for the body? In other communities though, both options abide. For Black communities, who like everyone else, pay taxes, the system is occasional. Why? That public, and private-sector tribe of politicians, bureaucrats and corporate elites, despite embracing ‘multiculturalism’, take seriously those who most look like them; those whose intrepid representation won’t take ‘no’ for an answer!
And why the Black clergy? Because churches collectively through their budget allocations, directly contribute billions to local and national economies! Churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship, contribute indirectly, too, assisting in reducing rates of crime, divorce, drugs and alcohol abuse. It is also à propos to factor in that most politicians at every level: Federal, Provincial, Municipal, do not represent citizens. Instead, they genuflect to those who do vote … with unforgiving memories.
Sadly, the political system is one strumpet-driven; one brazenly quid pro quo! Here, the sum of the individual parts is more to be pandered to, than the sum of the whole.
Ironically, Black church members–especially women — are dutiful to the polls, voting. For too many of us, however, the harmlessness of the dove is valued above the wisdom of the serpent. Thus, when last has any politician felt sufficiently pressured to respectfully address a concatenation of Black clergy and communities?
They do so with others; others who dictate the script. Appointees thereby represent communities first, then political parties. That’s a given. Is it with us? Politics is hard ball. Much harder is being chronically overlooked as community, unemployed and unemployable! And what would the GTA look like if Black residents had employment/unemployment rates similar to those of other Canadians? God in Heaven, what on earth is so unreasonable righting this wrong?! Are we orphans of some lesser God?! And isn’t ‘charity a sin when justice is the issue’?
And do not Black communities, despite being unemployed, purchase goods and services, faithfully, where we are not employed, faithlessly? And what would the GTA look and be like when Black communities, mobilized and galvanized, own and operate Malls? Purchase where our people are employed? Imitate the success of communities from whom we purchase goods and services; ironically employing others by our hard-earned dollars? Leveraging our own Black dollars in the way others leverage theirs … and ours?
To be continued: Black churches getting it right.