Ubiñas: Upward mobility, one generation at a time

Blue-collar CCP worker Darryl Irizarry (right) pushed son Darryl Irizarry Jr. to white-collar success. (ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

THEY LOOK MORE like siblings than father and son. They act like it, too, the way they playfully rib each other during a lunch break at a deli near Community College of Philadelphia.

When I ask the guys for their business cards, Darryl Irizarry Sr. cracks wise.

"I don't get cards," he says, as he watches his namesake, Darryl Irizarry Jr., produce his. "I get calls."

The father, 49, is a building engineer at CCP. When he's not working on equipment, he's monitoring it in the boiler room of a building on the main campus. Sometimes in a uniform, but always in the kind of comfortable clothes worn by men who work with their hands.

The son, 29, is an administrator at the school with a job in a seventh-floor office that calls for sharp suits and carries a mouthful of a title - annual fund and alumni relations coordinator. The kind of job that's the result of a dedicated father who busted his hump for kids he was determined would do more, be more than himself.

But it was worth it, because this is how it's supposed to work, each generation helping to push the next one forward and up.

Irizarry Sr. went further in school than his parents, who went further than their own in Puerto Rico. And even before his children were old enough to understand, Irizarry Sr. was determined his kids would go even further.

"There was no question asked. I was going to college," Irizarry Jr. said. "That was just what he instilled in us at an early age. 'You will go to college and you're gonna make something of yourself.' That's all I heard."

Not always an easy path in the West Kensington neighborhood that long ago earned the unflattering nickname "The Badlands." Irizarry Sr. and his wife were overprotective of their son and daughter, who also graduated from college. School, home, homework and supervised fun. But that didn't inoculate the family to the land mines of drugs and violence all around them.

The elder Irizarry spent years visiting his twin brother in prison. The younger Irizarry saw friends get locked up, get killed or turn into unrecognizable shells of themselves.

His father's warnings were clear: "You get locked up . . . don't expect me to call you, don't expect me to come visit you, don't expect me to get a lawyer. You're privileged to have two parents in the same household working hard to see to it that you don't have to have a lifestyle to nowhere."

Tough love backed up by a work ethic learned as a little boy working alongside his father at the Italian Market, and that as a man, sometimes kept him away from the very children for whom he was working so hard.

But the sacrifice meant vacations that were as much about fun as they were lessons that the world was much bigger than their neighborhood.

"Family vacations were huge because we got a chance to see the world outside that four-block radius," Irizarry Jr. said.

And yet when he was ready to go to college, there awaited another lesson that shocks many first-generation college students.

"I wasn't prepared," he said. He was an honor student at his high school, but he didn't test well on the SATs.

"My parents could tell me I had to go to college, but they couldn't necessarily tell me how to get there, or stay there," he said. The schools he dreamed of going to had to wait. He went to CCP, which he later realized was exactly the foundation he needed. He graduated from Temple University's Fox School of Business in 2010.

And now he's back at CCP, a place full of women and men just like him, aspiring to move past the generation before them and to set an example for the one coming next.

People who only have to look at these two men, the one in the boiler room and the one in the seventh-floor office, to realize how possible that is.

 

 


 


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