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PSRP of the Month Backup

Joyce Cooper, Employee Engagement Associate & Retirement Coordinator, Dr. Alice G. Pinderhughes School Administration Headquarters.

How did you wind up working for the school district?

“{My husband] He had been working for Baltimore City for around 20 years. He told me shortly after we met. I put in an application and was hired- October 16, 2001.

How was it working within the “post- September 11th” atmosphere?

Amazingly, I worked for an engineering company. I tried to be a very honest person. I’m not saying I was perfect. But, there were some things that I was asked to do that was against my character. For that reason I was let go. I was the only one that was let go. The guys said we are all going to take a pay cut so Joyce can stay on and thats because I called him to the rug about being dishonest about things.

Basically [here is] what happened with 9/11- a friend, one of the coworkers at that time, before I got laid off, we were going to the Library of Congress because I wrote songs and I write poetry and I wanted to take it down there and get it (copyrighted licensed). That morning, I was sitting there waiting for him to call me. He says, “Joyce turn on the TV.” I said, “Whats wrong?” He says, “Turn it on.”

We watched as the Twin Towers, the second [plane] hit the Twin Towers. Then we watched when the Pentagon was hit. He said, “You know we can’t go now.” So, after that, that is when  my husband said, “Hey Baltimore City is hiring.”

So it was a shock of the nation but I needed another job. Even though I took a $20,000 dollar cut to come to Baltimore City. But having the small amount was better than nothing at all. But I did understand that the benefits were good. I had prior health issues that prevented me from working so that was good. The atmosphere was good and the person who hired me was good. I still have a relationship with her.

When your colleagues took a paycut for you to stay on, for me that sounds like solidarity. Solidarity is a big part of unions. Can you tell me more about what solidarity means to you and if there were any other solidarity acts that you can remember during your tenure here and the third question would be what are solidarity actions people can take to support you in your work.

Let’s return to that.

What is the hardest part of your job

Well actually I dont think my job is hard. It is not hard. If we use a house. We look at windows. We look at different windows and there are different windows we have to look through. There is one for coming in one for going out. There are issues in the system because whether the system is built to recognize problems, whether the person who is operating in that window is not following the rules.

Then it is issues with the person themself not paying attention. Then there is issues with the powers that be dont understand how all those issues effect the performance of the person. So what makes. The difficulty is not the problem itself. The difficulty is the trying and the giving it out and the multitude- one after another one after the other. Everything is time sensitive so it is impossible for one person to glide through because in a plane when you hit those pockets people are going to automatically say, “Hey we are ready to crash.” The pilots know because that is the pilots job. But the people don’t know. And even if you are an experienced plane rider you always have that fear. Even the pilot says  “Hey today might be the day but im hoping.”

And its a drop all the way. So whether it is one person trying to hold the fort with the SOS and you are on an island alone and you are doing those flashes where they can see shooting up flashes saying, “Hello I am here. I am here!”

Sometimes people feel that because you are strong and because you are knowledgeable that everything is a breeze. But it isn’t because not only are you dealing with a systems problem youre dealing with the people problem. The person that you are serving doesn’t understand and sometimes they may get really off the hook. But they didn’t mean to because nothing was explained to them before. And a lot of times that is what I face. “Well I didn’t know.” Well hey my question to them is, “But this is your record. Why would you make sure that you look and see whats going on. Why would you wait 20- 30 years to get something corrected?”

Then on the administrative side , “Okay just get it done.” Well, then you got this invisible, this black hole where everything seems to fall in. I forgot what you call it. It is Somewhere, over in Jamaica or that sea area. They call it the Bermuda Triangle. I am telling you there are a lot of records right in that Bermuda Triangle and you got to risk your mental health, you got to risk your phyiscal health, you got to risk your emotional health, dive in and hope that you dont get swept up in in the meanwhile or lost yourself.

So there are many emotional, physical, psychological thing that a person may encounter. I am not saying im the best, I am not saying I am all that and a bag of chips. I am just saying that i know my caliber and I know I care.  And when you care you go beyond the call of duty even though your e supposed to stay in this tiny perimeter and you better not go out of it. That is hard and it really is. Because you are dealing with people who have faith in you because you represent the district.

I do know that when some people when they dont get satisfaction, they will take your name and drag you like you are hanging on to the back of the bus tied up. And when it stops you skinned alive. And if its a hot day you got bees stinging you, you got flies, you have to take it with a grin of salt. Ignorance is not bliss. It is all uncalled for. Because all we have to do is to find out the nature of the beast. 

So the thing is, everytime I talk to someone, I am talking to myself because I am not going to put out what I dont want reciprocated back. When I get my best back I know that I have given my best. It may not come through that source but I am blessed, number one to be alive. I am blessed that my family is alive. I am blessed because I am sane. People are losing their mind everyday but I am blessed to have all my mental structure. It may not take as fast but it is there. And because there is that general love for people- I have it. 

I told somebody I would rather have a favor in God than a raise. Because when you have favor with Him who created us, no matter what people do or dont do, people will commend you. They will put you up and they will snatch the rug up under your feet and if that is a flying carpet you know you are coming down without any support. 

So, it has been a learning experience working for Baltimore City Schools. It hasn’t all been bad, I have had better days then I do bad. I think it is the structure of your thought. Because if you dwell on that what is bad, that which is, think of negativity, then it does something to your character and I refuse to go there. 

Thats a word for me. Thank you. That resonates with me. 

Going back to the guys who wanted to take the paycut to keep me on board, they knew that I know my place. I know how to resolve issues without getting my personal feelings all up in the way. They know that I am big on integrity and honesty. I studied CAD 10, Cad 11 and Cad 12. The gentlemen who I worked for said that it is impossible for me to learn. I like challenges. Right?

I went to school for IT but I wound up back in administration. So the boss said I hired you to be my pretty little secretary and you all up in this man’s face. But thats the way you look at it. I was sitting down so he can teach me something. Iits how you look at it. The glass is half full or it is half empty. They said it was impossible. He said it was impossible. I learned because I wanted to know. I caught so many mistakes from this engineering company. And then it came to the point where, because this guy taught me how to go into the brains of the computer, one day the whole system shut down and they were on a time constraint to get this stuff done and have it to whoever the client was. 

Everything went down, the head, the mechanical engineer said oh my God we are not going to make it.

So I said, “What happened?”

Everything went down.

He said, “ Joyce we are not going to make it. 

I said, “ Yes we are going to make it. Move aside sunny boy! Move aside!

And he said, “what are you doing.  You dont know what you are doing

I said, “Watch, observe and learn.” I went in there with everything Preston taught me.

He said, “What are you doing?”

Boom! Everything went up.

He says, “How did you do that.”

I said, “Go back and tell the boss that this secretary was able to save this company.”

And he never forgot that.


I don’t like favortism. I respect the ones who sweep the floor and wipe out the dirty toilets  just as much as someone who has their doctorate. Everybody can’t be educators but there is a gem in every last one of us we just have to bring it forward.

We are all oysters!

The irritation makes the pearl, but alot of folks dont want to accept the irritation. They don’t want to be a jewel.To allow the irritation of whatever is my environment to continue to make this jewel. And one day when the jewel is finished being made, im gone.

Because that is life. I don’t want to die at Baltimore City Schools. And pressure can do that. I have said inadvertently goodbye to a whole lot of people that I found out died later. They talked about retiring and two months or a week later they’re gone.

And then I also say how you treat folk, there was one woman who came to me and she was about to commit suicide. Do you hear me?

I am listening loud and clear.

If I wouldn’t have treated her in 5 seconds or 20 minute, that women said I came to you because I was going through the process but you took the time to tell me that my life was important. 

I didn’t know what was going on. But I sensed something was wrong, and along as we did the retirement papers I spoke to her spirit.  I said, ” Hey, I congratulate you. I commend you for giving it your all – your all maybe 80% your all may be 50% but that is your all and I commend you for that.”

So when she came back the next day  I said hey is it something i did wrong. She says, “No. I just want to tell you thank you.”

“Thank you for what im just doing my job.”

She says, ” No. Let me tell you the real reason I came back because I already wrote a letter to my family that I was going to commit suicide. But because you cared enough to talk to me…” I said one person just cared and thats all people are looking for – someone to care. They just need that arm. They need that vote of confidence that you can do it in spite of the pressure from the internet from your peers just from life in general so when we have these Quest Conferences and Para Conference I commend the folk, I commend the folk . I am not in the classroom. But each of us have our own. What is the less of the two evils? Take that route because that is what is going to keep you sane. I am telling you because thats how I have made it down through the years regardless of who has been my supervisor or manager- I keep it real with me. 

And learn not to charge the other person who may not understand who I am. I can’t look at you and size you up. That happens too often in life. Im stereotyping. Oh you dont look like you are going to do such and such and such or be such and such.

I had a granddaughter that dropped out of school because the teacher said, “Oh I already know you are going to fail. So I am going to fail you right now. She planted that in that childs head. So look I plant holistic, “You are a leader. You are a leader. You are courageous. You are strong! Get all that you can get! And whatever capacity God gave you dont stop at zero because you may be the next one with a cure! You may be the next one who stands at the podium on january 15th and you dont even know!

I tell them you may be the one that separates the brain. You will be the one who will write something in legislation that will be the source for all human beings to survive.

You ain’t God but he can use you. He gave us a will and intellect, emotion, intellect and will. I preach it to myself.

When I get stressed out, I get up, take a walk and take a talk. I get my head together. I come back. I cannot fight City Hall but I can push every stone I can to build some type of fortress.

I told this young lady. She was fighting me tooth and nail. I said we can do one or two things. 

We can throw stones at each other. Or we can take those stones and we can build something. She took the wisdom that God gave me to give to her and we are friends till today- over 40 years!

And everyone cant be in your circle, whoever you got you got to pray them through,because these are the times they said in that old song that try mens souls. i will not compromise. if i got to compromise i dont want to be there.

And this day is not done overnight, character is something that is structured and built by the fires of life by the ritual learnings of life. Its not in the sunny meadows its not sipping lemonade sitting on a beach. Its when you got to get down there and push.  Because, look.  Greatness is in everyones womb, you got to push it, its got to be developed and then you birth it.