WASHINGTON, D.C. — Winnsboro native Fay Allen Kennedy’s fingerprints will be all over the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture when it opens some time in 2015.
In February 2012, he signed contract with a three company joint venture, Clark/Smoot/Russell (CSR), that is involved in constructing the facility. Kennedy was the first minority contractor to sign on with a contract for the work with CSR and the first electrical contractor to sign with them.
A master electrician as well as businessman, Kennedy said the project he worked on last summer and fall involved electrical contract work on the job site with a company from Woodbridge Va.
“Being able to work on this museum has meant a lot to me,” he said. “It’s one of those things that you can look back on and say you are a part of history. And for me, it is being blessed to understand both side of the fence.”
A second ‘first’ for Kennedy
This is not the first “first” for Kennedy when it comes to breaking down barriers and promoting civil rights. As he looks over the job site, many times it triggers memories of his being escorted to class by National Guard troops during the integration of schools in Fairfield County in 1964-65.
At that time he was about 8 or 9 years old. Originally from Winnsboro, he had attended White Hall elementary in Jenkinsville.
“We were going between different schools and just knew we were part of something different,” Kennedy said.
Those formative years shaped Kennedy into the man he is today, in large part due to the influence of his father.
“There was a statement my father gave me,” he said. “He said ‘It’s not about race. If you are mad at somebody, you are mad at the person, not the color. If you are upset with someone, it is not the race but it is that one person you have an issue with.’”
He said his father never wanted him to bring race into interpersonal conflicts. Though he shielded Allen from discrimination as best he could in those days, Kennedy said there were rough spots and tension along the way.
“Instead of fighting my way through it,” he said, “my daddy showed me the best way through this is through education.”
He said that lessons from his father ignited a spark that inspired him to dream of a life beyond Fairfield County. Those dreams led him to become a licensed electrician and businessman.
A 1977 graduate of McCrorey Liston High School, he attended Benedict College for a time and also the University of South Carolina. Kennedy said that for financial reasons he wound up completing his education at Midlands Technical College instead.
“I attended under President (Jimmy) Carter’s JPTA (job training partnership) program and was able to finish MTC in 1984 (with an electrician certification),” he said.
The search for work eventually led him to Maryland, which meant he had to re-certify first as a journeyman and then as a master electrician. In the years since, he became certified in Virginia, too.
“In Maryland I went for the highest (certification),” he said. “I became a journeyman first and then went for my masters for the Metro area,” he said. Since that time he has earned and maintained certification as a master electrician for South Carolina, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.
Igniting a spark in the business community
A solid work ethic led him to eventually strike out on his own and form his own business, B.I.P. Inc., to service the area. Yet despite the pressures of entrepreneurship and the tight bidding of contract labor, he found time to give back to groups in the D.C. Metro area, particularly minority-owned electric contractor businesses.
He helps them network and bid for contracts, and his model has been a successful one. So far, Kennedy’s company has installed the temporary power for the entire project and he said that his company has won contracts to do more work later in the design process.
“I help them learn the paperwork and about more experience-based aspects of installation of electrical equipment, that I picked up over the years,” he said. “Since I have had the opportunity to do things that other guys have hard time getting to do, I felt called to give back.”
Kennedy also is active in church outreach, something else he attributes to his father’s influence. He has donated electrical equipment and time doing electrical work free for small churches and also has staffed men’s retreats where his story of perseverance and faith resonated with young men in particular.
“I was blessed with opportunity with work, social life and spiritual growth,” he said. “(At the retreats) we dealt with young guys and gave them ideas of what God given talent that have and what they could do with it. Our goal is for them to aspire to lives beyond the box that is their own (impoverished inner city) neighborhood.”
He is one who made it and said that he was inspired to keep striving, in part, by doubters.
“People saying that you can’t do it, inspired me to work hard and keep striving,” he said. “I was always taught that with God everything is possible, so you do it.”