NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Back in the 1990s, Rendell Henderson was a drug dealer in the mean streets of Norfolk.
He sold cocaine — powder or cooked into crack — to support his single mother of four children in the Diggs Town section of the city.
He was busted in 2000 and spent three years behind bars.
“I was in a dark place in my life at one time and that gives me more reason to come out and push these guys,” said Henderson, who is now 48 years old.
Henderson hopes to provide a push for non-violent former inmates and those aging out of foster care through his new nonprofit welding school, Maritime Development Center.
The center, still in its infancy, has a board and volunteer educators, but it doesn’t have a building or sufficient funding.
Still, Henderson says he is getting calls from mothers who desperately want their at-risk sons enrolled in the program.
“I want to give them, teach them, a trade so they can be productive citizens and hopefully change their lives,” he said.
Managers at Colonna’s Shipyard say they are in support of any program that can produce more skilled and motivated workers.
Randall Crutchfield is Colonna’s vice president and chairman.
“All of the shipyards need qualified folks and we are also working on finding the right motivated folks and getting them qualified,” said Crutchfield.
There are labor needs and there’s a critical need to reposition minorities in the workforce.
A recent Brookings.edu study shows, for a number of reasons, Black men and women are nearly twice as likely as white people to be unemployed, even as many industries are desperately looking for workers.
“That’s sad [the unemployment numbers] and hopefully I can change the aspect of that. I want to reach to as many as I can,” said Henderson.
As a welder, Henderson comes up with a plan and puts pieces together. Helping troubled youth in the inner cities across the region is his project — a project that he calls a mission to reassemble communities that have been dysfunctional for decades.
“I want to reach to as many as I can and hopefully this program we will put in place to start here. There’s got to be a starting place — there’s got a be foundation in Norfolk … that’s what we are going to do. I am going to fight for it all the way,” said Henderson.
The fight will require additional funding.
On Saturday, June 26, Maritime Development Center will host a fundraising dinner at the Chesapeake Conference Center.
Additionally, Henderson is reaching out to leaders in the community in hopes others will contribute to the school. For more information, contact Henderson at GOMDC@gmail.com.