Black history is an essential part of the history of our nation, our communities and our company. Black associates have been key members of the Rudolph Libbe Group team since our earliest years. In a series of articles this year, we are celebrating the contributions of current associates and retirees, and expressing our gratitude to them for being a part of the Rudolph Libbe Group. This month, we also celebrate Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
—Bill Rudolph, Chairman, Rudolph Libbe Group
Lakeith Jefferson, a warehouse associate at GEM Inc., credits his father, Willie Jefferson, for his decision to choose a construction career. Willie Jefferson worked 42 years as a laborer and operator at Rudolph Libbe Inc. before retiring in 2007.
Lakeith worked in other industries before joining construction. “I’ve worked in restaurant management and in a hospital. The money’s a lot better here. At other jobs, you’re doing the same things all the time, but this is spontaneous. There are some jobs where you hate going to work. I love coming here.”
The work offers plenty of variety, but it’s also demanding. On the hard days, he stays positive.
“It’s a mindset. I come here in a good mood, even if something goes wrong. If you come in sad, you’re going to be sad all day.”
Just as it was for his father, racism is a constant. Not at work, they both say, but in their personal lives. His 75-year-old father describes standing in his own front yard in a predominantly white neighborhood when a police officer stopped to ask if he lived there. Leaving for work in the early morning, he would often notice a police car following him. It stopped after he had lived in the neighborhood for a while.
At nearly 50, Lakeith has had similar experiences. “It’s rough. It can be bad sometimes. There’s nothing here [on the job], but the police will follow me if I go out to lunch. I’ve been stopped for having tinted windows. I was stopped coming back from Cedar Point.”
He worries about his 19-year-old son’s safety. “I gave him a talk. If he’s pulled over, I’ve told him, ‘Don’t do a lot of moving. Listen to what they say.’ He’d be nervous, so I’ve told him, ‘Don’t make sudden moves. Be aware of your surroundings.’”
Treating others with decency and kindness is important. On the job, he believes in helping the younger generation be successful. “One thing about construction is when someone comes in who’s new, the people who are getting old and ready to retire kind of dog them. You should show them the ropes instead of dogging them. I’m going to be 50, so I’m not too old to relate to them. I still believe in just being positive.”