A 22-year employee of the UI, Artice James is a subforeman in the sheet metal shop in the Operation and Maintenance Division. James also is the president of the Champaign chapter of the National Council of African-American Men. In his spare time, he enjoys fishing.
Tell me a little about what you do every day.
The type of work we do is more or less heating and ventilation. We also get into some architecture sheet metal such as gutters, downspouts and copper roofs. It’s a very rewarding trade.
We also get into special fabrications: fume hoods, range hoods for cooking and different types of wheeled janitor carts and table carts.
You said you found your work very rewarding. Why?
We are one of the few trades that builds things from scratch. We take flat sheets of metal and form it into something worthwhile. I like the variety of work that we get into. One day, we could be building a stainless steel sink. The next day we might be putting in an air-handling unit or a heating and air conditioning unit.
What are some of the more unusual things your shop has built?
I think that at one time our shop built a stainless steel enclosure for a popcorn machine at the Assembly Hall. Years ago, when they had the Prairie State Games here, our shop made an Olympic torch out of stainless steel, and it had a burner in it. I was kind of proud of that. Somebody in our shop designed it.
Tell me a little bit about your educational background.
I graduated from Champaign Central High School. I went to a real small college for two years, the University of South Dakota at Springfield. I played basketball and played football there. In that whole school, there were only maybe eight black kids, me being one. It was a little different and took some adjusting.
What is the mission of the National Council of African-American Men?
The main focus is to create a more positive image of black males.
We also have a community summit to talk about different problems and issues and try to come up with solutions. The summit has expanded to what we call now the Black Male Symposium. Parkland College is spearheading that. The symposium brings together different organizations from the community, such as NCAM, NAACP, the National Council of Negro Women and the United Way. We try to get the police chiefs involved too.
What types of issues is NCAM working on?
We are trying to come up with an action plan to address the large amount of black males in the criminal justice system and other problems plaguing the minority community. Maybe if we get different minds together we can come up with something that can make a difference.
Does NCAM do other outreach programs?
One of the things that we have done is give scholarships to boys who are being good role models.
Every summer, we have a couple of campouts for boys between the ages of 8 and 14. We’ve been averaging 27 to 30 kids; we’ve been doing it for probably seven years. One of the purposes is to try to introduce them to the outdoors: fishing, pitching tents, telling stories at the campfire.
We also try to give them a little black history or give them a male perspective, since a lot of these boys don’t have fathers around. On occasion, we have a speaker come and talk to them.
During the summer, we also build a float for the Fourth of July parade. This is for girls and boys.
At Douglass Center, we’re involved with the Easter Egg Hunt. We actually hide the eggs, help supervise the kids and support the hunt.
This year we are hoping to have a soapbox derby where we actually build cars and race them in teams. We try to introduce these kids to different things. If they’re not skilled at sports, maybe they’re skilled at designing something or working with their hands.
We mentor kids, but each guy does it in his own way. I have taken seven or eight kids to Ag Day and to basketball games. Some of the men may drop in at the schools and sit in on a class. I think if the kids see more men that are out there doing the right thing, maybe it will influence some kids not to go on the negative side.