Dear U.S.P.S. Family,
Hello and good afternoon. I’m pleased to have your attention if even for a few moments. I’m humbled to have the chance to introduce myself to you.
I’m an agent for change, who uses social capital and a powerful voice for the greater good.
You see, I’m Catherine Hughes, also known as The Caffeinated Advocate. I’m an author, editor, blogger, speaker, trainer and leader. I’m also a proud mailman’s daughter. I ultimately consider myself a storyteller, and I want to share a story with you. Maybe, just maybe, my words will inspire an opportunity to create a conversation, and consideration for change.
“Speedy delivery!” said my son Christian (Chris), smiling for the camera and posing with our dog, Abby.
He couldn’t wait to show his mailbag to the neighbors (you’ll notice the bag is slightly hidden with his hand in front of the logo in this photo as not to break policy). Chris came home from his second day of orientation this past Tuesday with more paperwork and his bag in hand. To him, this wasn’t just any sack.
It was a status symbol.
It was his future.
It was his dream.
It was EVERYTHING.
Chris’s grandfather is John Tomko, who served the U.S.P.S. primarily in McKeesport for almost 25 years. For many of you reading this post, you don’t know who John was. Allow me to share a bit about my childhood hero — and Chris’s. To the communities of families on his routes, John was “the mailman.” He considered himself fortunate to call his customers his friends. He was a dedicated carrier who never complained. He even served as a supervisor for a period of time, but ultimately returned to doing what he loved. I remember when Dad passed, some of those very people attended his viewing, because he had that much of an impact on them.
We lost Dad on July 14, 2009 — ironically, eleven years to the day that Chris brought home a mailbag after day two of orientation, preparing for the training academy the following week.
Chris attended his third day of orientation, and then was sent to another location for day four. He understood that it was the day he would “learn to drive a mail truck,” and he was nervous, but also excited.
It turned out that “learning to drive a mail truck” meant demonstrating to someone in a matter of moments that he could handle driving a large vehicle — positioned on the other side of the truck mind you — and then park it between cones.
Chris’s nerves got the best of him, and he was told he did not pass the test.
As an adult on the autism spectrum — and even as a child — he endures moments of heightened anxiety when tests are administered. It is no surprise that without any practice or preparation that this task did not end well.
What DID come to me as a surprise, was that Chris was told he was now “separated” from his position, and that someone from HR would call him to discuss another option.
Someone sure did — and suggested that he apply for a clerk position . . .
. . . in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, four hours from our home.
Chris went from achieving the career of his dreams and achieving ultimate financial security to being unemployed . . . and during a global pandemic? He left a well-paying union job with full benefits. Now he has . . . nothing.
How is this allowed to happen?
I can’t wrap my head around this, and goodness knows I am digging deep and I’m trying. I cannot understand why this test, if it is a requirement of the position, was not part of the multi-step process when he received the contigency offer.
Why allow someone to put in their notice and leave a secure position for something that is clearly not secure?
I cannot understand how someone is hired for a job, then it is decided AFTER hire, “oh wait, this person cannot do XYZ, so therefore we will just let them go.”
I’m confused. Where was his training? Are police hired for a department and sent to the streets, only to learn that person wasn’t trained to handle a weapon? Are teachers placed in front of a classroom of students having never learned how to instruct children? Are doctors handed a scalpel and told “Good luck! Don’t kill anyone, now, ya hear?”
Listen, I understand that “rules are rules” and that this is a requirement of the position. I’m not here to debate that. What I am here to suggest is that your orientation is flawed at best.
No one — again, especially in 2020 when millions are filing for unemployment — should leave a secure position for something that is not guaranteed.
You dropped the ball, U.S.P.S. And, boy, oh boy, are you missing out on one of the best carriers you could ever lay your eyes on.
Chris was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder at the age of three. He was moderately impacted at the time of diagnosis, and we were very uncertain at that time what the future might hold for him. Over the years, he continued to break down barriers and defy many odds.
He graduated with honors and has worked in different positions since leaving school to gain experience and explore his options. In fact, up until our local paper was discontinued, Christian was our neighborhood newspaper carrier. During a speech given after being awarded a rotary scholarship in May 2016, he said, “I look forward to serving my community and giving back to others. My disability will not hold me back.”
Chris passed his written road test two years ago, and his driver’s test last year after much practice and perseverance. He was excited to become a licensed driver so he could visit all of the neighborhoods he’s been studying for years. He is the biggest Google Maps expert you will ever meet!
Chris would have easily mastered the sorting of mail and delivery very quickly, I have no doubt. The truck would have taken perhaps some extra practice — and some extra patience (I oughta know, since I’m mom!) — from his instructor.
Ultimately, my son is an overcomer, just like me and just like his grandfather. After receiving his terrible news, holding his welcome letter in his hand (again, dated July 14th, the day a former carrier took his last breath) and looking at his mailbag with tears, Chris dried his tears and started to move forward. He is already making connections and searching in the hopes of taking whatever next step is meant to be.
If you are interested, I’d love for you to read more about our journey. My latest book, a powerful memoir, went live on Amazon for pre-order on — you guessed it, July 14th to honor Dad’s role in our story. Imprisoned No More: A Mother and Son Embrace Autism and Journey to Freedom shares how both Chris and I have triumphed over unthinkable tragedy.
I don’t know what’s to come, but I know that Dad is our guardian angel. I believe in my heart that what is meant for us, will not pass us. Chris’s future is bright and I believe that he will find his way.
U.S.P.S., you will always be “family” to us. Being a proud carrier allowed my father to keep a roof over our heads and food on our table. He made many friends along the way who will never forget him. I still have his route tag (forever #28) in my drawer. Sometimes at my lowest moments, I take it out and hold it for strength.
As that family member you just can’t get rid of (you know, like the holiday visitor that just doesn’t take the hint?), I urge you to consider your current hiring practices. No one should be placed in the position of leaving their current role and then risk being on the unemployment line days later after not passing a test — a test in which my son hit a cone for goodness sake. It’s not like he hit a mailbox or a pet. He hit TRAFFIC CONES. Now you have let him go, and he has no income, no medical benefits, but yet feels great shame that by no means he should be carrying. That is wrong on so many levels.
I implore you to consider your contigency offers and revamp your orientation. If you are training someone, please provide thorough training for that individual. Heaven knows without practice, if handed the keys to the mail truck, I would not have returned it in one piece!
I do not ever expect any sort of response, but I do pray that change will come for future candidates so that no one experiences what Chris did this past week.
2020 is a time for much needed change, and change starts with us.
Advocacy is by no means easy, but I will fight for a better world until I take MY last breath.
That . . . is something that I can promise you that I will ALWAYS deliver.
A Mailman’s Daughter . . . and a Mailman’s Mother (even if for only four days, an accomplishment achieved nonetheless)
Dear U.S.P.S. Family,