Wednesday, February 8

Cafeteria worker bringing joy and encouragement to campus community

By Emily Gibson

Contributor

Burgers and omelets are not the only thing Trevecca’s Apple Dining Hall grill cook serves up daily. His additional encouragement on the side is catching the attention of several individuals across campus.  

“He just really interacts with the kids in a way where it seems like it makes their morning,” said Marian Leach, Apple Dining Hall cashier.  

Kenneth James, 55, has been working as a grill cook for the TNU Apple Dining Hall for a year. James, a native of Chicago, came to Nashville in 2006 where he worked for many years in a factory before pursuing a career as a grill cook. When a friend told him about an opportunity at Trevecca, James said he was quick to apply. 

“At the other jobs, I was at peace, but my body was getting weary because I was getting older, so I was asking God to put me in a place where I could get some rest, still enjoy life, still earn money and still be able to communicate with people, so I came here, and I just smile all the time because I know He put me here,” said James. 

James considers Nashville and his current job at Trevecca to be his spiritual version of the promised land. 

“God always says He will send you to a place of milk and honey. So, I felt like this was my milk and my honey,” said James. 

James was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, in a small neighborhood known as the Bungalows, named after the percussion instrument. Bungalow playing became a common practice on the Bungalows streets after an elder man by the name of Melvin Brown brought the community together through his playing. James spent many of his evenings dancing alongside his neighbors to the bungalow tunes. 

While James’s living conditions were fair and he would even add, better than some, the Bungalows was not a place of prosperity or opportunity. James’s mother, Roberta James, stayed home to cook and care for Kenneth and his 3 siblings while James’s father, Willie Harris, travelled to churches as an evangelist and ensemble gospel singer. Despite living in a place of poverty, the James family never struggled to have enough food every day, and, according to James, come Christmas time, there were always presents under the tree. 

After graduating high school, James forewent college in order to work. 

When James turned 28, he left Chicago to move in with his sister, Rometta James, in Tennessee. James says he carried with him the lessons he had learned as well as the memory and teachings of his father. 

In 2007, at the age of forty, James’s father’s faith became his own, and James was baptized. One year later, James made his official residence in Madison, TN, and he has been living here ever since.  

Freshman Jadyn Marstella has been working in the Apple Dining Hall for a month, but her first interaction with James took place only one week after the start of school. While at the burger station, James met Marstella with a smile and proceeded to ask her how she was. 

“Even when I am having bad days and I see him, it always makes me feel a lot better,” said Marstella. 

Marstella said James reminds her of her grandfather in that he always has a smile and a kind word for everyone. 

While James may have a gift for encouragement, it is the student’s encouragement, he says, that gives him the motivation to get up every morning. 

According to James, he would rather take an encouraging word over a gift any day. 

“I may have a kind word for them, and that’s only because I’m elder, but they have a young word that keeps me young,” said James.

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