We crammed into a small conference room.
Everybody wore a black-and-gold shirt with the City of Boston emblem embroidered on the front and "STREET WORKER" stitched across the back. I didn't yet have a shirt. I couldn't wait to wear one.
It was just my second week on the job. I spent my first five days sitting in an office reading through a large black binder of documents signed by Mayor Ray Flynn. He hadn't been the Mayor of Boston since 1993. It was 2005.
The street worker program was changing. Its new director came from City Year (www.CityYear.org) and it was quickly obvious that he was trying to turn the City of Boston's street workers program into another City Year.
City Year corps members wore bright red jackets, khaki pants, and Timberland boots. You can spot them a mile away. The new director wanted us street workers to also wear a uniform, one that included khaki pants. I am a khaki kind of gal so I didn't see the harm in wearing a uniform.
But the more seasoned street workers did see harm. Most had been doing their jobs for five to 15 years. They liked doing what they did, as they currently did it. How they did their jobs was proven, and that included their clothing. They didn't want to become like City Year.
After the street workers were seated in the crowded conference room, the director said, "Today, you will be evaluated as you practice giving a presentation about street work."
The street workers cringed in their chairs. They mumbled beneath their breaths. This had been sprung on them. They were unprepared, uncomfortable, and, well, [filtered word]ed off.
The street workers were wide-ranging in personality and life styles. Some were in their 50's. Most were men. Some were stylish, wearing the latest Michael Jordan sneakers; while others didn't care about their appearance. They were diverse – Haitians, Jamaicans, Latinos, and a few Caucasians. Some had college degrees and others, like me, just barely made the educational cut.
Some were at ease standing in front of a group and presenting. But others were not. As those who were not began to get up and talk I could see how humiliated they were. No warning, no time to prepare. Some stumbled, some were at a loss for words, and some stood like a deer caught in headlights.
That's when I knew the director didn't respect street workers. At all.