A Journey Worth Taking
To Maurice Harris, everything he does is for his family. As a man of faith, a loving husband, and father of five—who just sent his eldest daughter off to college at Southern Illinois University—Maurice has devoted his life to providing for his family through the trades.
The Chicago native got his start in the trades through Chicago’s St. Paul Church of God in Christ Community Development Ministries, Inc. (SPCDM) Opens in a new tab —a longstanding and trusted organization that offers community workforce development programs like the one Maurice completed to become a plumber, as well as a range of other services.
Maurice currently works on sites across Chicago as a journey level plumber with Ewing-Doherty Mechanical, and soon he’ll get to add the Obama Presidential Center to his list of projects as construction ramps up.
Read Maurice’s story in his own words, then learn more about our partnership with St. Paul Church of God in Christ Community Development Ministries, Inc. and our Obama Presidential Center Construction Workforce Development Initiative here.
Photos by Lawrence Agyei
Maurice Harris was born and raised in the Austin neighborhood of Chicago. “When I was a kid, everything was okay. My dad worked at the post office and owned the building we lived in, and my mom was a stay-at-home mom. My dad passed away when I was 19-years-old and things went south from there. During that time I was destructive and struggled a lot.”
“I joined a gang and was in it for about ten years. I decided to get away from that life, though, because I wanted a better future for my family, and I wanted to set a good example for my sons and show them that there’s a better life out there for them.”
“Back then I was destroying everything, but now I’m building everything around me. That’s the difference. My dad provided for me and my family before he passed, and I decided to enter the trades so that I could make a reliable income and provide for my growing family, just like my dad did.”
Maurice has done just that. After going through several different workforce training programs across the city, he eventually entered St. Paul’s workforce development program after receiving a flyer to attend their 2016 career exposition.
“I didn’t even know St. Paul’s offered a program like this until I went to the expo and saw all the little example stations set up. I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was amazing that they were there in the middle of this Black community. It was quiet everywhere, but right there in that parking lot there was all type of action. It was amazing. I was sitting there listening to [St. Paul Church of God in Christ] Pastor Ford speak and I’ll be honest, I was tuning in and out (laughter) but then I heard him say that I could take the aptitude test right there. I took the test and after graduating from the program in 2017, I made a direct entry into the Plumbers Union Local 130.
“I knew I was in the right place, and I even joined the church. Now I’m a Deacon at St. Paul Church of God in Christ and serve as the Board Director on one of the churches’ Department of Housing and Urban Development properties as well as a Board Member of SPCMD.”
“Getting to where I am now hasn’t been easy, so it means the world to be a journey level plumber and have the opportunity to work on a project like the Obama Presidential Center. I’m on cloud nine. I can’t explain how wonderful it’s been. I make a fair wage, I’m a part of a brotherhood that cherishes their families and loves them deeply, and everyone wants to go home safely. I’m in the best place I could ever be at in my life.”
In addition to working as a plumber who has been with the same employer for five years while raising a beautiful family, Maurice is passionate about sharing his own story with other young people in his community.
“Any young guy I can come to on the streets, on the trains, on street corners, I talk to them about my journey. Whenever I see someone going the wrong way and doing things that won’t take them where they want to go in life, I’ll stop and talk to them about it and keep talking to them about it. I get on their nerves sometimes but I don’t care. They need to hear it from someone who’s been in their position.”
As a man who loves his city, Maurice has high hopes for the future of Chicago and the hardworking people who live on the South Side.
“So many people just see the bad parts of Chicago through headlines about gun violence, but they have to understand that 10 percent of the population doesn’t define the whole city. People are working, paying taxes, and are in the city every day and you never hear anything about them. There are programs like St. Paul’s and a lot of others that are actually saving people’s lives and giving people who don’t know how to get help a place to go.”
“Chicago ain’t [sic] just violence and rap music videos, it’s not that. I’m on the South Side right now, and everybody on my block goes to work or is doing something every day. They’re not hanging out or creating harm. Chicago isn’t just a bad place, it’s a really nice place. We’re all working people here. And we don’t get enough credit for it.”
Learn more about the Obama Presidential Center’s Construction Workforce Development Initiative here.