Emmanuel Flowers, a chef by trade, settles into living-wage job at Brady Faith Center to support his family
Who is Emmanuel Flowers?
Race / ethnicity (self identify): African-American of Indian and Creole descent
Resident: South Side, Syracuse, New York
Job status: Employed Occupation: Youth coordinator at the Brady Faith Center
Hourly wage: Living wage
Education level: 90 credits of college in business administration and food service administration at Onondaga Community College
Volunteer work: Community liaison for the community garden, co-chair of the Community Youth and Violence task force through ACTS, member of the Urban Jobs Task Force
Number of children: 10 with his wife of 24 years
Number of residents living in household: 10
A sit down with Emmanuel Flowers
Q: Can you share a brief work history?
A: I am a chef. I was in the military, that’s kind of like my first big job. Then I got out of the military and I started working for the DoubleTree Hotel here, well actually in the intermediary I had a couple of little jobs, I was a manager for Dunkin’ Donuts, I worked my way up from the bottom to become a manager. Then I was always working for family, and Omanii’s Lemonade Heaven. I was his assistant, like his manager. Then, in transition because family businesses happen to be short lived, he didn’t have enough hours for me. So I went and looked for a job and found one at the DoubleTree in Carrier Circle. I was out there for about I want to say five, maybe seven years. I had to have my foot worked on. It didn’t heal so they took me out of work and I just didn’t go back to that.
Q: How did you end up working at the Brady Faith Center?
A: I walked in here (Brady Faith Center), my children were going to a program; I was going to volunteer and go on field trips with them, and one day the center director and the executive director pulled me to the side and said, ‘Listen, we have a guy who is leaving. We need someone to cover his hours. Would you be willing to do it?’ And I thought it was them asking me to volunteer. And they said, ‘No, we’ll pay you his wage and we’ll go on from there.’ That was the five-week program for vacation bible school, I was probably in the second week of it, and I’m here but it’s a nonprofit so I’ve been on and off looking for a job for the past five years. Recently we’ve been able to establish me on a more full-time basis so I could earn a living wage. It’s a blessing.
Q: Can you elaborate on the living wage?
A: I have a living wage. It took a lot of time from the military to find a living wage. And my family size has increased. My youngest is a year, just turned a year in November (2015), so because of my family size, having a living wage means something more to me than someone who is single. So yes, I am grounded here at Brady Faith Center, I have a living wage, I have good hours, I’m in a place that needs me and I serve a purpose. This is a full-time position that fits me perfectly. But in turn, if a need comes up for more financial stability — security — then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll look for something else, but this is the grounding.
Q: What do you like most about the job you have?
A: I can see the change. I can see that the work that I’m doing has an effect on those around me, and it has an effect on me as where I feel grown and growth every day by something that I’ve done here, something that someone has said, something that someone did. We have folks here that walk in off the streets and don’t know what Brady does. They saw the building and say, ‘I don’t know what goes on in there.’ And we can change the world today. It’s just unique, so I love what I do and I’m thankful that the Lord put me in that position.
Q: How do you get around Syracuse? What do you use for transportation?
I have a vehicle, but I’ve been on the bus and I know the constraints that being on the bus puts on you. Because when I was working at the DoubleTree I didn’t have a vehicle, and I would either walk or take the bus all the way out to Carrier Circle. (Shortest route from the center of the South Side to Carrier Circle would take two hours and four minutes by foot, according to Google Maps)
Q: Right now, what is the biggest challenge you face daily?
A: The biggest challenge I face, and I think most folks looking for good employment face, is having enough — enough time, enough money — to not have to sacrifice food for lights. Having enough energy to get to the job, because you come home and instead of being able to rest you have to do family dynamics and handle those things. I love walking into my house because my girls scream, ‘Daddy!’ and they run and give me hugs, and I can help them with homework, but a good paying job may take you away from that.
Q: What are your options for job-hunting in Syracuse?
A: The first thing you decide when looking for a job in Syracuse is distance, location. Because you want a job that pays, but if you can’t get to it you mess up your job skills, going to a job that is great but you’re not able to get to it consistently and then that burns you. What would be hard for me, if I lost my job today, God forbid, and were looking for another job, is trying to find a job that is flexible so that I could still be a part of my children’s lives so that I can handle the if and ands or maybes that come up in parenting and daycare. If my wife gets a call that someone has some work for her, then the first thing we talk about is, ‘Where are we going to send the baby.’ We need to figure out where she’s going to be and that’s what a lot of people face. Like I can get a job, but are they going to work around me not being able to get to work until 8:30 because my child’s daycare starts at 8:30?
Q: What do you want people to know about you as an employed person?
A: I believe in commitment, I believe in communication, I believe in opportunity. Not exactly in that order, but I believe if you give someone an opportunity to communicate with you, they will be more committed to your business. If you find someone who is committed to your business, you need to communicate and offer better opportunities. I believe that if someone communicates with you, they need an opportunity to be committed to your organization. You have a responsibility to see what you can do to better that relationship.
Q: What gives you hope?
A: For me it’s family. I am a very spiritual individual, but my family has always been the foundation of my job. So when I get up in the morning knowing that I am going out to make pennies for them it’s worth it. I have been able to work through some of the most racist positions, and the lowest-paying positions, underpaid positions I should say, because I was doing it for my family and I knew that they were going to be blessed because of it. The other thing that motivates me is, for lack of a better word, pride. I believe in me, even the times I don’t have a job. Even when I’m going to social services and saying, ‘I need food stamps.’ Even when I’m going to a pantry and picking up food I know this isn’t the end of the story. It’s just another page.
Q: What were you doing this past Friday night? What is a typical weekend like for you?
A: I usually have Fridays off, which is great, now. I love the movies. I love movies, I don’t mind watching them at home, but there’s nothing like being at the movie theater with the big surround sound, the big picture, the popcorn and the ICEE, and a significant other. But I’ll also go to the movies by myself. So last Friday we were preparing ourselves for the Super Bowl. We were doing a little shopping, and I love shopping, and I love shopping now more than then, because I make a living wage so I can shop if I want to. I can go to the movies and not have to save up for it two to three months. That’s beautiful, and it took a lot of work to get there. I spend a lot of time with family, reflecting on it and talking about it.”
Q: What is the job you would like to have now?
A: Well, my dream job would be probably a food service professor, teaching food service, and having a cooking show. I would love to have a training kitchen where I had six to eight stations and they watch me on a camera and see what we do and teach folks. Then it would be nice to have a cooking show where I get to use my personality, I get to cook, I get to eat, what better world than that? The wife and children could be on the show from time to time, I’d be in heaven.
If you’ve been following this series by Inspiration for the Nation, it’s now a good time to take stock of your level of financial preparedness, particularly in today’s uncertain business/political climate.