“Coming to Catholic Charities was the best move I ever made,” said Jah-Keem Williams, smiling broadly, when asked about his experiences with Catholic Charities. “But to tell you the truth, the life I had, I wouldn’t have seen myself here today,” his face losing the smile as he recalled the life he had just a few years ago in Albany.
The Life He Had
Jah-Keem and his younger sister lived in a gang-riddled neighborhood with their mother, a single parent. His older sisters were out of the house and his mother was doing the best she could. Jah-Keem’s father was in jail for his own gang-related activity and it wasn’t long before a nine-year-old Jah-Keem fell into the wrong crowd and by age 10 was working as a “mule.”
“I was paid a lot of money to be a mule and carry drugs,” Jah-Keem said, “and I liked having money. As much as my mother tried, she wasn’t able to get me to stop.”
Jah-Keem eventually got into trouble and was arrested. But three months in prison and three months on probation didn’t have the effect his mother had hoped. He soon fell back into his old ways. She didn’t want him to continue on the same path as his father but she knew she had to get him out of that environment. It was then she made the decision which would begin to change his life for the better.
When Jah-Keem came home one day he was met with a moving truck outside their apartment. His mother had it all packed and she matter-of-factly told him that she and his younger sister were moving to Buffalo to be with family. She gave him an ultimatum: move with them, or stay in Albany.
“I had nowhere to stay, so I came (to Buffalo) with them,” Jah-Keem said.
There’s a Reason for Everything
It didn’t take long for trouble to find Jah-Keem in his new city. He was kicked out of school for defending his younger sister in a fight she was having with another girl. Enrolled in a second Buffalo school he stayed out of trouble, but academically he suffered. The final straw came with the notification that he would be held back at the end of the year. There was no way he wanted to repeat another grade and already being older than his classmates, he dropped out.
After some time with no job and no high school education, it was Jah-Keem’s cousin who recommended he try Catholic Charities.
“He told me to go to Catholic Charities and they would help me get my High School Equivalency,” Jah-Keem said.
High School Equivalency and So Much More
At Catholic Charities Jah-Keem met Workforce and Education Services Program Associate James and HSE Teacher Peter. Jah-Keem credits both men with getting him on the right track, getting him through the HSE program and with placement in an employment internship which led to a full-time job.
“James made sure I was where I was supposed to be and he never let up on me,” said Jah-Keem. Additionally, James called him if he overslept, took him to the places he needed to be and became a male role model in addition to his program mentor.
“James told me he saw potential in me and nobody but my momma ever told me that before,” Jah-Keem said of the man who has also become his friend.
Another person to recognize potential was Bukky, Jah-Keem’s recruiter at Tape Con where he worked through his internship. “She said if I showed the potential she saw in me I might end up with a real job there,” he said, “and that’s exactly what happened. It’s the first legal job I’ve ever had.”
Upon gaining a full-time job at Tape Con, Jah-Keem was given his work uniform shirt. The shirt, he said, made him feel accepted, part of the team and finally, part of something good.
“Getting my shirt was the best thing ever,” he said.
Jah-Keem’s Story is Just Beginning
Today 19-year-old Jah-Keem is the first to admit that achieving his HSE and full-time employment wasn’t easy. But he’s proud to say he did it. He recently graduated with his HSE and began his full-time shift with Tape Con. And right now, his goal is to have an "upstairs office" there!
“I won’t forget my past because that is what had made me the man I am today. But I know I won’t ever fall back into those ways,” he said, “And I won’t ever forget Catholic Charities because of the help they gave me. I’m proud to have become the man my mom always wanted me to be.”