My name is Joycelyn Cunningham. I was born in Montego Bay, Jamaica, West Indies. I came to the States to Miami, Florida. When I was in my early 20’s. I really was supposed to go to England, but I got a sponsor for the states and myself and a cousin went to Miami. I stayed with lady in Florida and I worked there for a while, but then I got my green card and came to New York.
The friends that I met in Florida, they moved to New York first, and I was the last one to leave. My first job here, I was working for a company on Chambers Street for about a year, Chambers & Chambers. Then I got another job in a nursing home and we were told that Columbia University was taking students. You didn’t have to pay in those days, everything was free; you get your books, you get your education free. So we went to Columbia, where we wanted to do nursing, and we spent about a year and a couple of months. Then years later I went to City College in Brooklyn. After City College I went to cosmetology school and I also did business school. Then I sponsored my daughter, and my daughter came here in 1976. During that time she started high school, and went on to Hunter College and Down State University. She graduated with a Bachelors of Sciences and is a registered nurse. That’s my only daughter. She married a doctor who specializes in AIDS patients, and she has two kids. One goes to Dartmouth College and the other one goes to Queens Community College.
I started to work with 1199 SEIU. It’s the largest Union in New York City. In 2001 I went back to Florida, West Palm Beach, where we organized members in nursing homes and hospitals to become members of the union, that way they get healthcare benefits. So we organized a few nursing homes and then 9/11 caught us in Florida. Then I went back to the nursing home, worked part-time there and part-time for the union until I became full full-time. I worked actually twelve years for 1199, so I retired in April of this year.
I’ve been living for forty-one years in the Midwood section of Brooklyn The neighborhood is totally different than it was 20 years ago, but our block is a safe nice neighborhood. The neighborhood is more mixed than before, even the building where I live is more mixed. It’s a mixture of people coming in, so it’s good. And it’s a decent, safe, clean place. It’s not noisy like some places.
It’s good being retired. I occupy myself. I travel, I go places. I took Latin classes for a period of time. I also like to play tennis and when I play tennis, it keeps me going, it makes me focus. It’s something to do and I look forward to doing it. There is another class that I’m planning on taking, ballroom dancing—yes, yes, yes! I like dance. I think it’s a way to express yourself! I think it keeps you going mentally.