Why Representation Matters

by Saterria Kersey, PWD Public Affairs

When we started putting together the stories we want to tell during Black History Month, the story of Commissioner Randy Hayman—the first black person to lead the department in our +200-year history—seemed like the logical place to start.

Still, some may ask: What does it really matter if you have a black commissioner? While working on posts for this month, I had a personal moment that may help answer that question.

As a mom, I want my beautiful, brown-skinned girls to appreciate their unique stories and history and to know that, while there’s still work that needs to be done, we are proudly moving forward.

For me, I want them to embrace their melanin, curly hair, and unique features. So as Philly’s newest Police Commissioner, Danielle Outlaw, walked out in her uniform for her first day on the job last week, I could only smile when my 3-year-old daughter said, “She looks like me.”

Commissioner Outlaw is the first black female police commissioner here in Philly.

And she and PWD Commissioner Hayman are why representation matters.

My 9-year-old wants to be an engineer, an industry that lacks both women and people of color. And, while my 3-year-old wants to be a princess right now, she already knows that someone who looks like her is paving the way.

And that matters.

The Family Photo That Fuels Me

by Randy E. Hayman, Philadelphia Water Department Commissioner and CEO
Commissioner Randy E. Hayman holds a photo in his office. It shows four men and a boy, all well dressed in suits except the boy, who has a white shirt with a big collar and shorts. The oldest man is to the left, and it does younger as you go to the right.

Commissioner Randy E. Hayman with a family photo that documents four generations of Haymans. It sits in his office. Credit: Phila. Water Dept. 

As the first African American to lead the Philadelphia Water Department, I want to acknowledge those who came before me, especially in my family and the community where I grew up, people who persevered and became leaders—the people who helped me get here, despite the challenges.

A few years before I took on my position as Commissioner and CEO at the Philadelphia Water Department, I was recognized by the Washington Business Journal as one of the top minority business leaders in Washington D.C.

As a part of that honor, I shared a photo of my family with the newspaper.

It’s a photo I've kept with me at all the places I’ve worked:

Black History at PWD: Commissioner Hayman

In this photo is my great-grandfather, Phillip Hayman. Beside him are my grandfather, my father, and my oldest brother—he would be 84 today—and all three are named Robert Burns Edgar Hayman. (I joke that, while they gave me the less formal name with Randy, I still became a lawyer.)

My great-grandfather Phillip was born, if not in slavery, in the shadows of slavery. And yet he raised my grandfather and made it possible for him to attend Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Ark., focusing on Romance languages and graduating in 1908.

My father attended the University of Kansas and received a master’s and bachelor’s in psychology and graduated in 1930. My older brother went to the University of California Berkeley and was a biochemist who did important research on the impact of cholesterol on the human brain, decades before it became the focus of serious medical studies.

I’m not in the photo, but I went to the University of Michigan and Georgetown University Law Center, and today I am the first African American leader of one of the nation’s oldest and most respected water providers in one of the biggest cities in America.

Alongside my father, my stepmother, who herself earned an undergraduate and graduate degree, supported my two sisters and made it possible for them to go to college. One even received an Ivy League degree.

I think about that, and all they did for us, on a daily basis.

More to the story

Amazingly, the photo doesn’t tell the whole story. There’s a twist, too. A lot of times, people look at the picture and they’ll say, ‘Your grandfather was the first, he led the way.’

Actually, it was my grandmother, Pinkie Hayman (nee McDonald):

Pinkie McDonald, Grandmother

She graduated in 1907 with a degree in education—a year before my grandfather. And she helped him through college. I’ve seen the yearbook, and she’s wearing her white dress with a hoop skirt. She lived to be 100 and traveled around the world twice in her senior years.

When I look at our old family photo and think about their stories, I think about how it shows a dedication to education, and also perseverance and faith that the effort to learn will reap rewards—if not for you, for generations down the line.

I think about my grandfather, in that time not far removed from slavery, and I ask myself: How do you study Romance languages? when you know darn well, given the circumstances around you, you’re not going to be able to use what you learn to its fullest potential.

Then I look at my father and think: How do you, in 1930, before we’re about to go into the Great Depression, find the motivation to attend a major university and obtain two degrees?

The same with my grandmother: How do you, as a woman and a minority, say ‘I want to go to college?’ Where, in the early 1900s, are you going to use it? Where are you going to have an opportunity when African Americans are facing such discrimination?

And yet that’s what motivates me. They still did what they believed in and what they wanted to do. They didn’t let the limitations set by others dictate what they did with their lives.

Paying it forward

Today, with all that I have learned and all my experience from the places I have served, I now have a wonderful opportunity to use it and to share it to the benefit of others.

It’s why it’s so important to me that the Philadelphia Water Department works with our schools and universities to hire student interns and offers programs at the Fairmount Water Works teaching kids about science and engineering and what we do.

Student Internships with PWD

PWD hires students for positions in engineering, science, data management, administration, and trades. Students must be currently enrolled in an accredited high school, trade school, college, or other accredited institution to be eligible for a job with PWD.

Apply here!

I want to help that kid who may be like my brother: I want them to find the “biochemist” hidden in their dreams. Our parents’ support and the possibilities they exposed us to allowed us to unabashedly reach for the stars.

But there are some kids who do not have that and have not had that special exposure just yet.

So, we can give them exposure to science, technology, engineering, math, and all the other schools of learning needed to make the Philadelphia Water Department work.

I want our youth to appreciate that, with hard work, they can aspire to come to a place like the Water Department and become a Commissioner or seek even higher positions in life.

We want to reach the kid who says, “I’ve never even thought about that.”

And here, by being positive influences and encouraging that mindset, we all have a chance to do just that.