This is an interview of Jerry Nelson (depicted on the right, next to his wife Grace, on the left) telling his son Jerome about one of his first experiences as an immigrant coming to Jamaica
The year was 1983 and I was 25 years old. I had just come to America at the age of 24 with my father and waited a year to get my first job. I ended up getting recruited for a temp job called Manpower. Manpower would send people to different locations based on your skills, and you would work at a certain job from days to weeks at a time and then move on to a different job.
At this time, I would be working at Denville at a machine shop called American Radar. I would use a hydraulic press that would cut rectangular holes called flanges for wave guides. I ended up becoming so efficient working on the machine that it basically became a sport that I could complete with ease and finesse as I could see others around me struggling to get the machine to work just right without breaking it. Everyone at the time saw that I was confident in my abilities and so I garnered a certain amount of respect especially since normal temp workers would stay for a short time compared to myself who ended up staying over six months which was not very common unless you had a great work ethic and were efficient.
I was confident, knew what I wanted, who I was, and whatever I was doing, I was going to do it well and to the best of my ability. I had plans far beyond that job at American Radar and was working to get myself into college because my father could not afford to get me in. My goal was to become an electronic engineer and save money to get into County College of Morris, then eventually New Jersey Institute of Technology, but first I had to complete my time at Manpower’s American Radar to achieve my goals.
Ivan Fox was the plant manager’s name at the time. I remember one day he pulled me aside during lunch break and told me, “Well you think you’re good… well, as a black man in this country you don’t only have to be good, you have to be double good.” I was the only black person in the small company of about 15 workers. At the time I was taken back by what he had said but in addition, at those moments, I didn’t fully understand the significance and truth of what he had stated because I was an immigrant, I was new to this country and not very accustomed to racism because in Jamaica, it is a homogeneous population. It took me coming to this country to learn about racism and the impact of racism in people’s lives in a society where in ways it can be considered the core of how it operates. This motivated me to not only work twice as hard as the next man, but treat others the same no matter their race, religion, or background. I finally left the company within a year to move on and work towards my goal in which I later accomplished to become an electronic engineer. The company still remains to this day and is something that as I look back on, can say helped me navigating my life.
Montclair State | New Jersey