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Welding instructor revitalizes Baltimore's steel industry while saving lives

Welding instructor revitalizes Baltimore's steel industry while saving lives
Welding instructor revitalizes Baltimore's steel industry while saving lives 04:10

BALTIMORE -- Kay Williams is a welding instructor who sometimes wears multiple helmets.

"Sometimes I have to be the parent, the therapist, the teacher, whatever," Williams said. 

Her students can feel her love. It is a love that comes from a deep place and fuels her mission every day. That mission includes revitalizing Baltimore's steel industry while also changing lives. 

"She is very loving, caring and passionate," Devonte Murray said. "I love Ms. Kay."

In July, Gov. Wes Moore toured the old Bethlehem Steel plant in Sparrows Point—a space that is being reimagined and will soon be a manufacturing hub in the offshore wind industry

"This is exciting because this is going to set the tone for how Maryland is thinking about moving into the future and doing in a way that is going to support families with work, wages and wealth," Moore said.

Moore's plan is for the towers the wind turbines sit on to be made in Baltimore. The project will eventually bring about 500 jobs to the Sparrows Point facility; many of the jobs will belong to steelworkers.

U.S. Wind has partnered with JARC—a non-profit organization that teaches low-income adults skills to earn a living wage through free manufacturing job training. Synnamin Ockimey is a graduate of JARC's welding fast-track program. 

"I'm glad they're finally bringing something to us that we get to be a part of," Ockimey said.

The program shows students a new life and provides them with skills needed for positions in the metalworking industry. 

The program has also saved lives. 

"All I knew was the streets," Murray said. "All I'd seen was junkies and fiends. I didn't know nothing else."

Murray grew up in East Baltimore. He says JARC and his instructor, Ms. Kay, saved his life after two life-changing experiences. 

In 2019, after his twentieth birthday, Murray was shot in the chest. 

"Four inches away from death," Murray said. "They told me I was lucky. They woke me up and said, 'You a lucky man. That was four inches away from your heart. A little inch and you wouldn't be here.'"

Murray also spent time in jail but says words from his young son during a visit changed him.

"He came to visit me. He was like, 'Dad, I don't ever want to come back here,'" Murray said. "And then I told him: I'm never going back to jail."

Murray has been working to become a certified welder at JARC since March. 

"I looked at this opportunity, as a second chance to get it together," he said. "This was my resurrection."

It's a second chance his welding instructor's grandson won't get. 

"He was shot and killed," Williams said. "That kind of pain, I wanted to just quit and go home. I'm doing things in his honor, like what can I do to keep his memory alive?"

Ms. Kay pours into her students and watches them grow. 

"I'm witnessing firsthand that joy, like a rose really growing from the concrete," Williams said. 

That joy has people who were once hopeless, excited about the future. 

"Breaking that generational curse, man. I'm tired of it," Murray said. "I'm really ready to be great. To see my son, the way he look at me when I'm doing what I'm doing, and the way it makes him feel, it's no happiness like that."

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