Green Wood Cemetery B2CC graduation day featuring all 2023 interns in front of restored Delafield Vault
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“Everything I Needed to Start My Life”: Building Representation in the Historic Trades Workforce, B2CC, USA

Green Wood Cemetery B2CC graduation day featuring all 2023 interns in front of restored Delafield Vault

“At times I know the students wonder why I pepper them with questions. ‘What is this made out of? How is this made? Why are we cleaning this? What type of bird is that?’” said Neela Wickremesinghe. It was a sunny day in Brooklyn, and the soon-to-be-alumni of the Bridge to Craft Careers (B2CC) program had gathered in Green-Wood Cemetery for their graduation after ten weeks of hard work.

“It is because I insist that they be prepared,” continued Wickremesinghe, the Robert A. and Elizabeth Rohn Jeffe Director of Restoration and Preservation at Green-Wood. “I insist that they pay attention to the natural and the built environment all around them to be transformed from a passive pedestrian to a historic preservation advocate. I hope I have convinced you to look and look and look at the art, history, and nature all around you and see how you too can add to their preservation story.”

Begun in 2015, B2CC has run programs at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, New York, and Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky, in addition to Green-Wood. Interns receive hands-on masonry cleaning, repair, and maintenance training, preparing them to enter the labor market as young historic trades professionals. Fifty percent of this year’s Green-Wood cohort had job offers in hand before the program had even finished, and all interns who took the union apprenticeship exam administered by the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (BAC) passed.

This spring, Wickremesinghe and the restoration team at Green-Wood mentored a cohort of twelve future heritage professionals as part of B2CC, which since its foundation in 2015 has offered young people hands-on technical training to prepare them for a stable career in heritage preservation. Interns honed their skills on the Delafield Vault; Joe Delafield, a descendant of those interred in the vault, attended the graduation ceremony in a gesture showing how meaningful it was to have his family’s monument cared for as part of the program.

The B2CC program is devoted to providing opportunities to underserved emerging historic preservationists. Engaging new historic trades and craftworkers who have previously made up only a fraction of the industry’s workforce is critical to B2CC’s success. The graduates of this year’s program at Green-Wood say that Wickremesinghe, who was named a Notable LGBTQ Leader by Crain’s New York Business in 2020, cultivated a welcoming space for interns of all identities. “To be taught historic masonry restoration by a queer South Asian woman in a class full of queer young people made me feel like I was enacting real change on the world. We not only restored an 1850s marble mausoleum but—for me, at least—also a sort of faith,” said one recent alum. “That so long as institutions are employing people like this, there’s hope for fulfilling careers for aspiring young craftspeople like me. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish next year.”

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