Editor’s Note: This is Part One of a series looking at ongoing efforts to launch a new pre-apprenticeship program based in Queensbridge, Long Island City.
New York, NY – Ask 696 Build Queensbridge Founder and Director K. Bain what’s the biggest threat facing kids today, growing up in the often dangerous Long Island City community, and he’ll straight up tell you — it’s “hopelessness.” And then he’ll tell you how good union jobs with middle-class wages & benefits, healthcare and retirement packages are part of the remedy.
Laborers Local 79 organizer Bernard Callegari first met Bain at a Community Board 1 meeting about three years ago, shortly after the Downtown Brooklyn native and former legislative director for then Councilmember Jumaane Williams had successfully launched 696 Build Queensbridge out of a defunct NYCHA-owned storefront on 41st Avenue.
Bain brought about 40 neighborhood kids with him to that Community Board 1 meeting as part of 696 Build Queensbridge’s political education program.
“It was somewhat of a shock for the community board because they’re not used to to seeing the people most impacted by the policies they put into place being present in that room,” says Bain.
Callegari, a Queensbridge product himself, says that he and Bain immediately hit it off and decided to work together on anti-violence initiatives and securing fresh opportunities for young people in the community.
“I heard him speak, he heard me speak, and we just connected,” Callegari says. “I think when you grow up in a neighborhood such as Queensbridge, it’s really hard to value life — someone else’s life or your own.”
Growing up in severe poverty on the streets of Queensbridge, Callegari can recall how he and the rest of his despondent and disenfranchised buddies would routinely put themselves in lots of dangerous situations.
696 Build Queensbridge — referring to the six blocks and 96 NYCHA building that constitute the community — is part of NYC’s Cure Violence initiative started back in 2010. The three-year-old program employs nine adults and 15 young people. It also has about 150 volunteers. According to Bain, 99-percent of the staff are formally incarcerated, while 100-percent have been “impacted by violence on some level.”
The latest Census figures still peg Queensbridge per capita income at around $14,297.
Since teaming up with Bain, Callegari and his union brothers have quietly helped get the 696 Build Queensbridge HQ into shape, installing ceiling fans, storage units, heavy bags and more.
Bain — a Brooklyn College alumnus with degrees in African Studies and Sociology, as well as Public Policy and Administration — calls Callegari a “gentle giant” and “credible messenger” that has “electrified” Queensbridge youths through his actions and ongoing commitment to the community that shaped his formative years.
“The fact that we have access to what we call ‘credible people’ and ‘credible messengers’ like Bernard that come back — that is how we combat violence,” Bain says. “A lot of time, when the news comes around, they want to see the dramatic…us rushing in and stopping shootings. That happens… that’s part of it. But the real stopping of the violence is to know, ‘Okay. You were here. You’ve been in life and death situations. We’ve seen you in physical altercations laying your life on the line. And now, you own your own home? Now, you’re respected in the business community? Now, you’re actually contributing and giving back to others? Young people want to know, ‘How do you do that?’”
Even now, Callegari thinks back and says, “It’s almost baffling to think that I could go from my mom collecting cans and living in an apartment that’s infested with cockroaches, being embarrassed to bring my friends from school…to then, as a young adult, get a job that would allow me to change my whole quality of life. That doesn’t even make sense. When you grow up the way I grew up, you don’t even believe in the opportunity.”
Callegari, of course, changed his life by joining the ranks of the trade unionist movement. And even though entrenched poverty and systemic racism continue to make it difficult for many in Queensbridg to believe there really is a way out — Bain and Callegari are confident a new pre-apprenticeship program based in the community itself will lead to “multitude transformative change.”
All that’s needed to get the Queensbridge-based pre-apprenticeship program launched in $90,0000.
Ninety-thousand-dollars — we’re in a $90 billion city budget, and we’re talking about $90,000. I think it’s doable — 696 Build Queensbridge Founder K. Bain
“Ninety-thousand-dollars — we’re in a $90 billion city budget, and we’re talking about $90,000. I think it’s doable,” Bain says. “And I think somebody who claims publicly to represent the people should step up and be a part of this unprecedented need being met.”
The plan is to launch the pre-apprenticeship program with a class of 25 students from the Queensbridge community at a cost of less than $5,000 per person and equip them with the “essential skills” needed to adapt to the work environment.
The labor movement, even here in New York City, needs new members. According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics [BLS], union membership again fell last year to 10.5 percent of the workforce. Back in 1983, when the BLS first started reporting on union membership data, the membership rate was 20.1 percent.
“Less than $5,000 per person to get them placed in one of the seven different unions that are a part of Pathways to Apprenticeships [P2A],” Callegari says. “You’re talking a fraction of what it takes to get an associate degree at a city college. You’re talking about a full-on career with a labor union where you’re going to make $70…$80…$100,000 a year.”
Pathways to Apprenticeships, reportedly has about an 80-percent success rate.
“So, if out of those 25, 20 of them make it through the program, 20 of them are getting placed in a union — that’s 20 careers,” Callegari says.
As of now, 696 Build Queensbrdige’s pre-apprenticeship program is still in need of funding.
Says, Callegari, “We’ve been having a hard time; lobbied elected officials; had meetings; drafted the budget; we showed them how easy it would be to implement this program — and we’re still waiting.”
To find out more about 696 Build Queensbridge and its pre-apprenticeship program, call 929-328-1835.