There are moments in time that fundamentally change your trajectory in life. They fuel your commitment to doing better and being better. For Ja’Quan, RW ‘19 alum, that moment was when he lost his best friend to gun violence. And now, he’s motivated to be the person his friend always knew he could be.
Ja’Quan joined RW’s program in fall of 2019. He was working in a warehouse as a forklift driver but had always wanted to operate machinery on construction sites. Time and again, he’d show up to a job site and ask questions about how to apply. “They never gave me a direct answer,” he said. “They would always be like ‘just fill out this application,’ but I knew they were just trying to get me out of the way.”
Johnetta, an alumna of the program, introduced Ja’Quan to RW, and when he looked into it, he saw that he’d be exposed to many of the construction-related skills he was interested in learning. “While I was in the midst of learning carpentry, I actually learned a lot about other unions, including the Laborer’s. They’re always the first ones to show up on a job and the last ones to leave. I wanted more stability, so they were really interesting to me.”
Being in RW’s program helped Ja’Quan uncover many of the strengths he already possessed. “I was disciplined, but they really taught us consistency. Showing up on time, never stop trying.” He recognized that it’s hard to achieve personal goals without persistence. “Things might not be moving fast enough, but as long as you’re taking steps in the right direction, it’s still progress. And then when you look back, you realize that you got really far.”
VALUES SHINING THROUGH
When we talked with Ja’Quan a few weeks ago, he was driving home from his job site at 43rd and Lakeshore—a pedestrian bridge being built by F.H. Paschen in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago. Ja’Quan is a laborer for Paschen, who he’s been working for since April. “Paschen’s a good company. They care about their people. Before I got on this call with you, Mary [Person] just called me to say hi!”
Their core values shined through early on for Ja’Quan—long before he even began working with them. “Paschen sent one of their workers to speak at Revolution while I was in the program. He was saying how good they were as a company, so I told Jackie [RW’s Business Services Manager] that I wanted to work there.” The timing didn’t quite work out, but Ja’Quan was motivated. He researched Paschen, networked with their staff, and ultimately impressed their team with his dedication. A leader at the company placed him on a side project until he was able to come onboard as a union member.
“I was actually going to be a carpenter at first, because they gave me the choice of unions,” said Ja’Quan. “But considering what I’m trying to do, I did the math, and I’d get where I want to be faster with the Laborer’s Union.” Nowadays, you can find him assisting the carpenters in building forms for concrete, helping unload equipment, and more. “I like working on different sites because I’m always doing or learning something new.”
GETTING TO THE NEXT LEVEL
Just in casual conversation, you can tell Ja’Quan is laser focused on his future. “I’m learning skills that no one can ever take away from me, and I want a job that will enable me to leverage those skills.” And he has plans. “I want to get a box truck so I can drive equipment around while still working full-time. Long-term, I want to own and rehab properties to rent them out.”
His drive is evident. “Every day that I go to work, I’m one step closer to achieving my real goals. All the work I’m doing now has to happen in order for me to get to that next level.” And that’s what Jackie Gallo, Business Services Manager, remembers of Ja’Quan. “If he says it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen.” She was always impressed by his go-getter attitude. Ja’Quan is also eager to help others get to the next level, too. “He’s someone who refers a lot of people to the program,” noted Financial Capabilities Coordinator Jasmine Thomas.
FUELING HIS FIRE
Ja’Quan has a fire that you don’t often see, so when we asked what was fueling him, he was direct—”my best friend.” Earlier this year, before he started working at Paschen, his best friend since childhood was murdered. “Someone was trying to shoot his younger brother, so he ran out in front of him to save him.” And this tragic loss has had a profound impact on Ja’Quan. “I know that could have been me.”
His friend was an incredibly positive person. “He was always supportive of me, especially with Revolution. He’d say ‘you need to get up and go to school, because you gotta be better. You can’t give up.’” That constant encouragement meant the world to Ja’Quan, and the absence of his friend as he makes progress in his own life is painful. “It saddens me deeply because he never had a chance to get married, to have children, to see his business that he was making get its first $100,000. He never got to see none of that.”
But Ja’Quan isn’t backing down. He’s channeling this loss to fuel his own passions. “He motivates me. I feel like I’ve got to do more because I am working for me and him.”
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