For a long time, Dwayne Fernández’s life was focused on other people. In his first chapter of adulthood, he raised six kids. When his nest emptied, he became a social worker caring for the mentally ill. Now, at 55, he says his life is all his. He works as a porter at the Clinton Hill Co-ops, a group of apartment complexes in Brooklyn. He says that buildings are less complicated than people.
Fernández is in charge of a handful of groundskeeping tasks that vary from day to day and season to season. He buffs floors, cleans stairwells, removes garbage, clears snow and makes sure no one comes or goes without a “good morning.”
This type of work is not new to Fernández, the porter of year. He did maintenance work for 18 years while he supported his family. But once his six kids had gone through school, Fernández says it was his turn.
At 45, he went to college, got a B.A. and began doing social work. His patients, who were mentally ill, required a lot of attention. He says he had patients who would get spooked and punch him, and one patient who put a fist through the bathroom mirror. Some, he says, were always trying to run away.
Fernández says he was happy to be doing something so important, but after 10 years, his time was up. “They tell you not to get emotional,” he says. “It’s impossible to not get emotional.”
People’s lives depended on him feeding them right, giving them the right medication and watching after them. “You might be off two days,” he says, “but you go home with it. You live with it.” It wore him down. “I can’t be chasing Mike down the block anymore,” says Fernández. “I’m outta breath now.”
Fernández says life at the co-ops is peaceful and simple. “I’m not trying to work my brain,” he says. “It’s relax time.” In his free time, he goes to plays, movies and occasionally out to eat by himself. “Gotta pamper myself!” he says.
Still, Fernández hasn’t stopped doing positive things for other people. As a member of the union 32BJ, he travels around the country and fights for workers’ rights to fair pay, benefits and safe conditions. “We rant and rave. We shout. And we make this happen,” he said.
He says he will always be trying to make positive change. “It’s a cause, it’s a purpose, it’s a reason.”