Celebrating Black History Month with Gene Bynum
- Feb 25, 2021
Black History Month honors African Americans’ triumphs and struggles throughout U.S. history, including the Civil Rights Movement and notable artistic, cultural, and political achievements. One of the ways we are celebrating is by sharing stories from our employees.
In the second installment from our employee perspective series, Superintendent Gene Bynum shares the importance of looking back to understand who you are today.
Tell us about yourself.
I am Gene Bynum, a Senior Superintendent who recently celebrated 20 years at The Beck Group. I was born in Buffalo, New York, but my family moved to Plano when I was in the fifth grade. I have been in Plano for most of my life, but I did leave Texas to attend Florida A&M University.
How did you get into construction?
My introduction to construction happened after moving back to Texas from Florida. I wanted to pursue construction full-time and found a job as a laborer building apartments and high-rises to support myself while going back to school.
I enjoyed construction from the start. At that first job, I made the superintendent laugh. He gave me more responsibility, and my experience grew. After completing the first apartment complex successfully, the company made me the number two man on a mid-rise. During the project, they let go of the number one guy, so I took over to finish the project.
What has been your experience in construction?
For almost a decade, I was the only or one of the few black men on many jobsites. One of the issues I faced was proving myself. Others often asked me, “What do you know?” Having others question my experience was one of the most irritating things.
If I didn’t know how to tighten specific size anchor bolts or complete a particular task, the guys on the projects would give me a hard time. I tried to handle it with that person directly rather than talking to the project manager or human resources. It was tough, but talking with those individuals and continuing to work with them helped us move forward.
With time, my experience and work ethic spoke for me. I worked my way up the ranks and started taking on more responsibility – schedules, plumbing, and billings.
What does Black History Month mean to you?
My family used Black History Month to educate me. Growing up as a younger black child, my family would encourage me to do something great in life. There was always someone that would say, “You can’t do that.” But black history is there to pick you up and show you that you can.
Black history month reminds me that I am not alone. It’s a time to reflect on our stories, and honestly, it’s empowerment. It’s a reminder that things are still hard, but people before us pushed through and accomplished great things. So no whining, and don’t slow down because no one behind you did.
What has knowing your history taught you about yourself?
Knowing my history gives me pride. Regardless of what you see on the news and what others might say, our history is motivation. It reminds me to stay on the right track. Black history has helped me deal with subtle racism in life and even in my current position. As a young black superintendent, it helped me realize what I could and should do when others make an inappropriate comment. Instead of reacting and getting angry, I pull that person aside and talk with them because correcting someone in a crowd causes animosity. Let your work and character shine through. Take the high road.
Is Black History Month still relevant?
It is relevant. It’s great to learn about history and culture, especially for those who are raising children.
I have a son (14) and a daughter (13), and much like my parents did with me, I use black history month to educate them. One of the stories I recently shared with them goes back a few generations. It is very personal because it is about my maternal great-grandmother’s death, who grew up in the small east Texas city of Newton.
My great-grandmother had a fair complexion and hazel eyes. Her boyfriend was dark-skinned and one-day, townspeople saw them together and became angry. They thought she was a white woman, dating a black man. So they lynched her. After experiencing this tragedy, my family moved north to Buffalo for a different life and opportunities.
Telling it is a difficult story, but I share it with my children to remind them of our history and the challenges we faced. We looked at photos of her and talked about how this was not too long ago in Texas. Growing up in the south, we are fortunate enough to hear both the good and bad sides of history.