In 1991, 21-year-old Andre Barnett decided to make the trek from one West Coast to another nearly 6,400 miles away. He left his family in Senegal, a coastal country with French colonial heritage on Africa’s west edge, to California, birthplace of Hollywood, surfer dudes, and Joe Dimaggio.
Andre recalls being a fish out of water in the Golden State. He was a soft-spoken, French-speaking African man whose only immediate connection to Americans was a love of soccer and Above the Law actor Steven Seagal. He took classes to learn English, built a circle of friends, and got a job working as a security guard, but knew that a challenging road still lay ahead.
Andre spent time as a forklift driver for an Alaskan fishing company (“on land,” he clarifies), before settling in Parkland, Washington in November 2014.
Then, things crumbled into a desperate catch-22. Andre couldn’t find work, meaning he couldn’t save up enough to buy a car. But it was precisely because he didn’t have a personal vehicle to take him to the more industrial parts of Tacoma (where public transit doesn’t go) that he missed out on job interviews.
“No bus, no chance,” he says succinctly, remembering the difficult time.
This is when a friend—himself an immigrant from Nigeria—told Andre about Tacoma Community House. He took a leap of faith and gave us a try, beginning work with Clara Sciortino in our Employment Department.
“Andre and I met weekly for about three months,” Clara says. “We worked mostly on job applications and resumes. Andre was very consistent, communicative, and determined…[he’s] good at advocating for himself.”
With Clara’s help, Andre’s hard work and determination paid off: he’s been working security at Allenmore Hospital for the past 2.5 months. “Things are much easier for me now,” he says. “I love my job.”
What does the future hold for the 46-year-old? Andre says he wants to save up enough to attend a community college, get a degree in economics, and someday return home to West Africa to help is family and community.
Oh, and if you’re wondering… a 2003 Pontiac now sits proudly in his driveway.