Viral Moment Airs Frustration from a Columbus ‘Left Behind’
Apparently, all it takes to get Columbus residents riled up is to say you don’t love Columbus.
When Kevin Williams wrote “I Don’t Love Columbus Because I Can’t Participate In It,” a 5000-word op-ed/thinkpiece on Medium, he was coming off yet another set of job rejections.
After three once-promising interviews, in which two rejected him and the other suddenly ceased communication without explanation, Williams had had enough.
The article criticized the picture that Columbus developers and leaders have been painting in the last few years for “young professionals” and New York City ex-pats, by detailing the issues in his own life as an example of the kind of people that get forgotten in those conversations.
Williams, who has turned to ride-hailing apps like Lyft and Uber as his main source of income, explained his job situation and the frustration he’s experienced from behind the wheel. Driving around Columbus has exposed him to the very different experiences of residents, from ecstatic developers raving about a “booming” city, to someone just leaving a homeless shelter.
“I just wanted to paint that picture of, just because things are good for you does not mean they’re good for everybody,” he says.
In his own life, Williams has struggled with making ends meet. He turned to ride-hailing after many years of piecing together multiple minimum-wage jobs in food service and retail, which ultimately didn’t pay very well. Now, as Lyft and Uber cut driver bonuses left and right, his outlook becomes even dimmer.
He says taking a dead-end job with little job security is the reality for many people in Columbus. He’s worked minimum-wage job after minimum-wage job since he was 16 years old. Now going on 27, he has no desire to go back to that.
“I don’t mean to dump on those people,” he says. “But a lot of those retail and food service jobs are intentionally designed to not give you what you need.”
The article gets into his degree — a Bachelor of Fine Arts — his struggle to find meaningful, decent-paying work, and the past few years in which he has gone on interview after interview, getting far in some, and always getting rejected.
The advice he gets, though well-meaning, at this point is redundant. He’s heard and done all of it before.
He’s met other people in his position that have also tried everything, but because of a lack of personal connections, the jobs just aren’t coming to them.
“There are a lot of talented and qualified and great people out there that are not employed that get left behind,” he says. “And there are a lot of people who aren’t talented and aren’t smart and really should not have the jobs that they have, but they are where they are because of connections. Everybody knows that.”
The article went “viral” in Columbus and beyond. Many people shared similar sentiments. Others offered words of encouragement, advice or help with landing a job with their own companies.
People also criticized Williams — for the degree program he chose, his work ethic; there were even racially-charged comments aimed toward him. Criticisms came all the way down to his choice in music streaming services or the money he spent on coffee. (“Buying a coffee every [now and] again won’t make me employed. My situation won’t be less precarious,” says Williams.)
He says he wasn’t surprised.
“So many people are used to hearing that their city is doing well. And I think a lot of people think it’s a reflection on themselves,” he says. “So to hear from somebody that maybe the thing that they really like is not the same for somebody else, it can feel really personal.”
But Williams isn’t hung up on negative comments. He says being angry at him for having Apple Music or buying the occasional cup of coffee won’t fix the systemic issues that Columbus has, which was the point of the article. Making the most of his virality, he says the next thing he writes will address just that.
He says there are a lot of things about Columbus to like, and he doesn’t want to take that away from anybody.
People want to feel like they worked hard to get what they have, and some do. But if there are some struggling to find work that allows them to live their life with dignity, there is a problem.
Giving those people a voice isn’t.
For more on Kevin Williams, follow him on Medium.