A licensed home builder, my dad started my work career at ten cents per hour for construction site clean-up. In addition to my work, I made things from leftover materials. A king’s throne was my most memorable creation, smile. By the time that I finished high school, I was up to one dollar per hour. My other hustle was washing dishes and helping to clean at Jack’s Chicken Shack, my aunt and uncle’s cafe in Sheffield, AL.
A friend, Robert Charles Jones, got us odds jobs working for white people. Cleaning up after the rodeo was our coolest gig because we’d never dreamed of seeing a rodeo.
I finished Prairie View A&M College (now University) with a BS in Architectural Engineering in 1968. Immediately, I went to work for The Boeing Company as a Ground Systems Engineer. During the static testing of the S1C Booster, the first stage of the Saturn Moon Rocket in Bay St. Louis, MS. It was a mechanical engineering job, so as the first Black Boeing engineer on the site, I had to learn quickly on the job.
Through observation and asking way too many questions, I managed to get a seventeen percent raise my first year with the company, and my boss’s boss apologized because they could not give me a better raise. I believe my super strong work ethic and my “owner” rather than “employee” attitude likely caused my pay increase.
My dad taught me that if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well. So he assigned one finish carpenter/cabinet maker to ensure that every “John Kennedy” construction project was fully and properly finished.
The first three companies that I worked for after college placed me in their fast-track employee programs. Interestingly they did not let me know my status until I resigned from the job. You could say I was a “company man” because of my gung ho get-the-job-done attitude. One repeated negative thing happened throughout my career; they blamed me for negative actions when on-the-job group discussions happened.
My community work in civil/human rights ended up positively impacting my career. After being discriminated against at a local motel when we moved to Clearwater, FL, in 1972, it awakened a desire to fight for fair treatment.
What I did not know would be a career-changing event started with letting the personnel department at Honeywell Aerospace, St. Petersburg, FL, know that I was to attend a career weekend in Dallas, TX. The company y was sending hiring recruiters. I explained that my reason for going was to see old college friends and that if I saw worthy candidates, I would refer them to the company.
I ended up recommending two attendees and Honeywell ended up hiring both of them. Within a month, the personnel manager pulled me out of an offsite Kenner Trago Decision Making workshop and offered me the Equal Employment Manager’s Job. So, I went from being a second-level engineer to a second-level manager with a five thousand dollar raise.
The very first thing I did was to read the Federal Government Equal Employment and Affirmative Action law. All the law required was for federal contractors to make “a good faith effort toward improvements.” What in the hell is “a good faith effort”? So, I made my program about “Doing The Right Thing.” Within months federal compliance agencies and the EEOC advised other contractors to seek out what was happening at Honeywell Aerospace, St. Petersburg, FL.
A big part of the EEO/AA work was coaching individuals to succeed in their ever-improving levels of responsibility. Being discrete also was critical because I knew every employee’s pay rate, including the plant manager. Learning the nuances of management and how to gain the best advantages for “affected class” individuals was tricky but fun.
While it seemed like a glamorous job from the outside, it was nerve-racking because you were always doing more than management wanted and less than what affected class people wanted or expected. It required a significant amount of creativity. For example, to raise glass ceilings, we hired Blacks and women above the existing ceilings. Yet, this was never announced or pointed out.
Now and then, I run across individuals who may have benefitted from my work ethic and due diligence, and they will thank me for a job well done; that’s about as good as it can get!
Thanks for listening!
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William Leroy Kennedy
Former Financial Services Professional at Kennedy Group, Ltd. – Financial/Motivation
Studied Architectural Engineering at Prairie View A&M University “Giving a strong recommendation: Khan Academy for educational success”