Here is a story I wrote for this week’s Mountain Xpress. Please note that the workshop and job fair had to be postponed at the last minute, but the Professional Mixer is on for this Saturday.
It might not surprise Vernon White II’s former teachers and classmates at T.C. Roberson High that this two-time MVP, who was awarded a full basketball scholarship to N.C. A&T State University, is once again tackling a challenge with his trademark persistence, energy and enthusiasm. With a bachelor’s degree in sports medicine and a new position at Eaton Corp., White could have chosen to focus on solely on his own career. Instead, he identified an unmet need in the community and decided to take action.
“I’d moved back home after graduation and was doing temp work at Eaton. When I asked about getting a full-time job, they asked for my resumé, and I thought, what’s a resumé?” White realized that a great education did not necessarily prepare young people like him for the world of work — not to mention his friends who didn’t attend college. “It was like a light bulb going off,” he recalls. “This is a problem: How can we solve it?”
With only a month and a half to prepare, White and staffers Tameka Crump and Max Cherry from the Linwood Crump – Shiloh Complex pulled together their first job fair at the center last April. Now, as they gear up for this year’s edition, White reflected on what makes this event unique.
“When you think of a job fair, you think of just going in and turning in resumés, but this is not like that. I wanted to give people more of an introduction, to educate people about the format and the purpose of a job fair. A lot of people don’t understand that it’s about relationships, making connections.”
To help people do that, the Shiloh Center will host a workshop. Supervisors from various city departments will conduct mock interviews, review resumés and provide insight into what employers are looking for in candidates. “Many people today don’t realize the importance of first impressions and interviews,” says Cherry. “We are not looking to become the next big job fair: We’re looking to be the springboard for individuals who seek work.”
The goal for this year’s event is to have 25 companies and five universities represented. White hopes that in addition to dropping off resumés, attendees will also learn about resources they can use to get their names out there and about the best ways to search for jobs online. The city of Asheville will provide computers so that applicants can fill out online applications on the spot. “One of the biggest reasons why we decided to host and develop the job fair is to show the general public there are employment opportunities regardless of age, race, sex, criminal background and education,” Cherry explains.
And convenience aside, the centrally located venue will also encourage people from diverse backgrounds to participate. Shiloh (a biblical name often translated as “the Messiah” or “the Peaceful One”) is a historically African-American community established before 1870 in an area that’s now part of Biltmore Estate. George Vanderbilt bought the land in the late 1880s and moved the whole community, including its church and cemetery, to the current location. Today, Shiloh is a racially diverse neighborhood with both low-income and middle-class residents.
White, who grew up in Shiloh, wants people from different backgrounds to talk to one another and build connections. “Asheville has a lot of potential, and that was nice to see when I came back. At the end of the day, the whole purpose is to inspire people to step outside of their limitations, to talk to different people, to try something different.”
“It’s so easy to get caught up in the lifestyle of doing the wrong thing,” he continues. “And if people wait until it’s too late — until they have background issues and their record gets in front of them — then they are playing catch-up. We want to avoid that. If we can get the youth now to see how important this is, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Date My City Professional Mixer
Besides his efforts to support job seekers, Vernon White is involved in another initiative aimed at helping minority professionals advance their careers. He’s teamed up with Date My City founder Sheneika Smith, Major Moments Events and Melting Pot Asheville to organize the first Date My City Professional Mixer.
The networking event will be held Saturday, March 22, from 7 to 10 p.m. at Tressa’s Jazz and Blues (28 Broadway in downtown Asheville). There will also be an announcement by the Western North Carolina Diversity Engagement Coalition, a network of anchor institutions seeking to promote a diverse and inclusive workforce.
For more information, go to facebook.com/wncdec or facebook.com/newasheville.
Photo by Alicia Funderburk