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Class 127 Climbs the Staircase to Success

Graduates of CJT Class 127 take selfies with DC Central Kitchen’s workforce development staff after the ceremony on Friday, February 4, 2022.

“You, in and of yourself, are a revolution. Every day that you wake up and do the work, you are a revolution,” DC Councilmember Janeese Lewis George (Ward 4) reminded the 14 graduates of our 127th Culinary Job Training (CJT) Class on Friday, February 4th.  Sponsored by long-time DC Central Kitchen supporters Claudia and Peter Sherman, Class 127 completed their coursework while facing the unexpected shutdowns and rising infections that accompanied the most recent wave of the pandemic. In other words, their success is a revolution.  

After a resurgence of COVID-19 cases and a return to online classes, the students had to find the strength and resolve to move forward in the face of uncertainty. They had to, as CEO Mike Curtin put it, follow the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and demonstrate that “faith is taking that first step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase.” 

The graduates of Class 127 know how to invoke faith. They know how to walk towards the belief in a better future. They know how to take those small steps forward, or as graduate Donita M. eloquently captured in her graduation day poem, “somehow within our strength – we managed all these things – one day at a time.” 

When the omicron variant forced our program to move to virtual learning in January, our students traded their knives and chefs’ coats for Zoom study sessions and support circles. The students of Class 127 committed themselves to building a community to manage the challenges of the shifting circumstances. Reflecting on the subsequent unity of the group as Class 127’s chosen representative speaker at graduation, Mishayla V. emphasized “during our time here, we laughed, cried, disagreed, and even had days where we didn’t want to participate. But most importantly, we made it to the finish line with the help of each other.” 

Class Sponsor Peter Sherman reminded the graduates that the finish line – the ability to climb that staircase to success – is often found in the small steps forward. Steps like mastering specific jobs, offering to help colleagues with tasks, building a reputation, and showing up each day with a smile and a positive attitude. 

The lessons taught during our CJT program can develop these necessary skills, as Class 114 graduate and Alumni Speaker Someko H. proved with an empowering account of her journey from a “shy, single mother lacking confidence and purpose” to an accomplished hospitality professional. Following her CJT graduation, she received a full-time position at a DC restaurant and became a recovery coach for others seeking a fresh start.  

Life presented new challenges for Someko in 2020, but she held on to her faith and took the next step forward. She told the class, “COVID hit, and I was laid off. I thought, what’s next? And then I baked a cake.” Now, she runs her own business, Fellowship Over Food, a testament to the positive outcomes of showing up every day with a positive attitude and believing in one’s right to a seat at the table. 

Finding one’s seat at the table became a rallying cry for the day with Councilmember Janeese Lewis George invoking the wisdom of the late Representative and activist Shirley Chisholm by encouraging the graduates to carve out their own space in their future careers and to bring a folding chair when necessary. “You are going to be a revolution — not only for this city, but for your families and generations to come,” she concluded.  

From rising above the challenges of the moment to moving forward with faith, Class 127 emerged as triumphant professionals, ready to revolutionize the hospitality industry. We look forward to seeing these 14 graduates at the top of that staircase to success in the future. To hire one of these promising new culinary professionals, email Workforce Development Director Mikeya Kirksey at mkirksey@dccentralkitchen.org.

Check out more photos from the day on our Flickr.