When I was very young two powerful forces shaped the work ethic that I practiced most of my life. The first of those influences were the adults in my life. Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (during the 1950s) I was surrounded by hardworking, mostly Black, adults. Many of the men worked in one of the steel mills that dotted the landscape. In my early childhood, my late father, Robert (Bobby) Hoots, Sr., was one of those men. My paternal grandfather, affectionately known to his grandchildren as Daddy Hoots; my tall handsome maternal Uncle Donnie McKinley (who turned 87 this year), and my uncle by marriage, Herbert Grandison started working in the mills when they were young men and worked there until they retired.
Like the men in my family, other men in my neighborhood worked in one of Pittsburgh’s steel mills or factories. There were also Black medical doctors and dentists (to my recollection all of them were males); teachers, preachers, and entrepreneurs. Black men worked as stock clerks, in laundries, and as bartenders. Many of those men held two jobs to support their families and to earn enough money to buy their first home. For the most part, they were decent, law-abiding, and hard-working.
The women who weren’t stay-at-home-moms worked in diverse industries in various capacities. Some were domestic workers. Others, like my dearly beloved and now deceased Aunt Cora Elizabeth (Aunt Lizzie) were Licensed Practical Nurses, Registered Nurses; teachers, sales clerks, telephone operators, secretaries, and bank tellers. Women also worked in one of the many factories that were located in Pittsburgh such as the H. J. Heinz Company and Westinghouse Electric. If memory serves me right, a lot of Black women (and men) worked in the housekeeping departments of Pittsburgh’s hospitals and universities.
Stay-at-home-moms cleaned their homes, the sidewalks of the blocks on which they lived, and the hallways and stairwells of their apartment buildings. They scrubbed and waxed floors, sometimes getting down on their knees. They used a washboard to get their white clothes and linens sparkling clean (dingy clothes were a disgrace). then they did the painstaking work of pulling the laundry through the wringer of their washing machines; placing the laundry in a basket; lugging the basket of laundry to where the backbreaking task of hanging the laundry on a clothesline began. They also cooked and baked from scratch and without benefit of air-conditioning. They rose early to pack their husbands’ lunches into old metal lunch boxes or brown paper bags. All the women I knew took great pride in their housework.
Scripture was also a powerful influence in molding my work ethic. Reading and studying Scripture from an early age I came to appreciate and value all forms of legitimate work. I also developed an understanding of the importance of working diligently and doing the best job possible. Watching the adults around me eke out a living, and listening to them speak proudly about their work, coupled with my understanding of Scriptures such as, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for humans,” (Colossians 3:23) and “For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat,”(2 Thessalonians 3:10) laid the foundation for my work ethic.
It was because of those early life lessons that I took great pride in my first jobs. I practiced what Scripture teaches about work and I imitated that which I had seen the adults I admired do.