Faces of the Movement: Gerry Kennon
“I had never really been political until I joined the Black Worker Center,” says Gerry Kennon, a current member leader at the Los Angeles Black Worker Center and fourteen-year veteran of the construction field. “It just opened my eyes.”
Liberty Hill was an early funder and ally of Los Angeles Black Worker Center, helping to strengthen the year-old fledgling organization in 2010. Gerry learned of the Center—which organizes Black workers to fight back against discrimination in the workplace and improve access to quality jobs—when he was referred by a friend after complaining of racial bias at work. He first called more than two years ago and has been a member ever since. “I didn’t know that there were so many other people who shared the same story as me,” he says.
Working in construction, Gerry has dealt with a number of unfair situations, from microaggressions to outright racism. On one job, where Gerry was the most skilled plumber and the only Black worker at the site, the supervisor assigned him to pick up trash rather than utilize his expertise. “He didn’t ask me what was my name—what were my qualifications,” Gerry says. “It definitely took a toll on me not having the same opportunities that the guy standing next to me had.”
But thanks to strategies learned from the Black Worker Center, Gerry was able to hold the company accountable for its racist practices. “If I had situations I went to a supervisor, and if the supervisor didn’t listen I called the office. It even got to a point where the office called me to have a meeting with the superintendents and some of the higher management personnel because I felt like I was being discriminated against. Once it went up the ladder and people started realizing that I was voicing my opinions, things changed.”
In addition to fighting discrimination in his own workplaces, Gerry has been involved in numerous campaigns for justice with the Black Worker Center. One highlight was the Ban the Box campaign, which recently scored major victories reducing barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals. The campaign he’s proudest of was Do You See Me Now, which pushed back against racist stereotypes of Black workers and promoted the potential of L.A.’s Black workforce. Being part of the campaign meant doing everything from phone banking to planning marches to physically counting the number of Black workers on jobs. “We showed up at contractors’ offices, demanding attention like, ‘Where are the Black workers out on the job site?’” explains Gerry. “We got a lot of information out. We put a lot of people to work.”
As he has segued from undertaking his own political education to fighting discrimination at work, to driving powerful campaigns, involvement with the Black Worker Center has had a big impact on Gerry’s life and career. And behind it all is a strong sense of community and solidarity. At the Black Worker Center, “I feel at home. I feel like I matter,” he says.