By Shaymaa Mohammed
He walked toward his podium and positioned himself on his chair behind it in a corner near the main entrance of the Worcester Public Library where he could see who was coming in and going out. I see him do that all the time as I work there as a Library Page: He watches people, always smiling, always welcoming.
His fingers embraced the coffee paper cup while his eyes were moving from one side to another, greeting people. He lifted the cup closer to his chin, which has few grey hairs, and took a couple sips.
Kaseem Hargrove, 39, came to the Worcester Public Library as a security officer two years ago and had almost ten years of experience in the field. Kaseem has a unique character that I hadn’t seen in other officers before him. He is a friend to everyone. He is kind. He is approachable. He cares about others. According to coworkers, the place has become safer and more positive since Kaseem’s coming to the library.
“Kaseem has changed the place drastically,” said German Salas, 52, a senior custodian. “He is very professional and keeps the peace with his positive character.”
When Kaseem started to work at the library he had a goal set in his mind that he would make a difference in this place. Kaseem without a doubt succeeded in achieving his goal.
“I definitely achieved what I came in to do. I’m giving back the library to the staff and the administration where it belong,” Kaseem said. “This is what I first told the administration when I first walked to this building.”
Iris Delgado, 55, the Youth Services Manager and a Librarian In Charge at Worcester Public Library, also noted the change in the library’s atmosphere after Kaseem’s coming. As LIC, her job is to make sure that people follow the Worcester Public Library Behavior Policy. LICs cooperate with the security guard to take care of any related issues.
“The library has changed with Kaseem because he takes ownership, is vigilant, and capable of dealing with an urban library setting,” she said. “He is a good match for this library too because he grew up in this city. Kaseem has a good sense of his responsibilities here and takes his job very seriously. That is why this place has changed.”
I approached Kaseem that afternoon. He was at his podium writing notes on a piece of paper. I greeted him. We walked upstairs to the third floor as our conversation continued.
“Security is something that I feel is my passion. I always like to protect people.” said Kaseem.
Kaseem said he loves his job. For him, it’s not only a job that supports him financially, but more of a passion he needs to fulfill everyday. Kaseem did many different kinds of jobs previously; he worked in constructions, warehouses, and landscaping. Kaseem never wanted to be a cop. But he knew that he likes to be around people and always wanted to protect them.
Towards the end of a February Friday in 2018, I saw Kaseem walking outside the library to make sure everything was normal around the building. Against the statue of Major Taylor located in front of the main entrance of the library lay a man unconscious. Kaseem called his name and asked him to wake up. The man was intoxicated. According to Kaseem, this man had been doing this for the last few weeks.
He would get drunk then go to public places and get kicked out. Kaseem put his plastic blue gloves on, went closer to the man, and shook him gently asking him to wake up; there was no response. Kaseem’s kindness didn’t allow him to kick this man out into the streets, so he called an ambulance to take him to the hospital until he woke up.
Two main factors led to Kaseem’s success: observation and respect. Kaseem walks around the building and observes everything around him; he observes body language and pays attention to the conversations around him, so he makes sure nothing is aggressive and out of the ordinary. When he sees an abnormal situation, he approaches people politely and asks them to change their behavior and act correctly.
“It’s not only that my eyes and ears are always on, but also my mouth; I have to know how and when I say things to people,” said Kaseem.
“Kasseem approaches patrons with dignity and respect. He does not talk down to the patrons,” said Doren Crawley, 49, a librarian in the Circulation Department. “He has a way with our patrons where they end up respecting him because they feel respected by him.”
Kaseem and I continued to walk on the third floor.
“It is very important for me as a security officer to keep touring the building,” said Kassem.
He explained that doing so makes him familiar and easily recognized by the patrons.
“Consistency– I keep moving around and make sure that people know I am approachable whenever they need me,” he said.
Kaseem paused the conversation as we walked to the second floor.
“Excuse me, sir! How are you doing?” he asked a patron who was sleeping on one of the second floor tables.
“I am okay,” answered the patron with wonder. His head was still laid down over his hands on the table.
“Just wanted to make sure you are okay, sir,” Kaseem said.
The patron smiled and straightened himself up.
“Oh! Thank you for being concerned,” the patron replied, then shook hands with Kaseem.
The conversation continued for a couple minutes as the patron talked about what he had had for lunch, and then he shook Kaseem’s hand for a second time and thanked him. Kaseem then turned to continue his tour.
Kaseem collected a lot of memories when he was working as a security officer for the Worcester Public Schools System. Many of these where lessons to learn from and turning points in his life. It was at that time that he discovered his passion to protect people. Kaseem remembers one situation that had a great impact on him.
When he was working for the Public Schools System, Kaseem used to supervise 8-10 guards who worked closely with him. Among them was a female officer who had an abusive husband. She trusted Kaseem enough to tell him about what her husband had done to her. Kaseem didn’t only listen to her but also kept a small notebook and recorded everything that she told him, just in case of a situation in which she would not be able to speak and needed someone else to speak for her.
A week later, the husband came to the school, and it happened that Kaseem was not available in the building on that day. The husband beat her on school property, and students and faculty tried to get involved; then the police came.
“That was one of the situations that was difficult for me — that it happened to her — because I was unable to be there and help her,” said Kaseem.
However, the police officers were very impressed by his logbook which helped the detectives in their investigations.
Kaseem deals with many different types of people. According to Kaseem, around 5,200 people of different ages come to the library every day.
“That’s 5,200 different personalities that I contact with,” he said.
Kaseem considers dealing with that amount of people to be a bit challenging. However, he believes that the key in dealing with people is not to be afraid of communicating and interacting with them. He also emphasized the importance of being humble.
“However it is, however tense it can be, you have to be calm,” said the security officer. “If you’re going to be a security officer, remember the security officer’s duty is to make sure that people are safe.”
Thus, as a security officer, Kaseem learned how to defuse situations. He knows how to stay calm while making other people calm. He also knows when to be firm and when to be permissive. He has good ears and eyes, and the wit required to find the best solutions for people’s problems.
Delgado recalls one incident when Kaseem’s firmness impressed her. According to Delgado, there was a couple who were having an argument in the quiet area on the third floor. As Kaseem was trying to ease the argument, a third person, who is a female friend of the couple, tried to intervene in the argument, which made the couple rage even more. Kaseem warned her and asked her to step out of the argument, but the women kept pushing herself in the middle of it, which created a huge amount of chaos. Kaseem’s patience ran out.
“He loudly and sternly took over her space and asked her to leave the building immediately. He was angry!” Delgado said, impressed by how Kaseem “overpowered (the lady) with his firm presence.”
This is Kaseem’s other side of his character that we, as employees, rarely see in the library.
“The way he handles situations has allowed the library to be a more safe and comfortable place for everyone. The manner that he deals with things nine times out of 10 de-escalates the situation before things get out of control,” said Crawley.
A little baby girl, around one and a half years old, approached Kaseem as I was talking to him in the children’s room. The little baby stretched her arms toward Kaseem, as if asking him to pick her up. She recognized him at a distance because she had met him before. Her pink coat was dancing with each of her tiny steps. She approached Kaseem, looked up to him, and smiled. Compared to her, he was a giant. He lifted her up. She rested her small head on Kaseem’s wide shoulder, then she started a conversation in her baby language that nobody understood but her. When they finished their conversation, Kaseem put her down.
She pointed at the computer screen that showed one of the Dora The Explorer games and yelled “Nina!” She looked at Kaseem and pointed to the screen and repeated “Nina!” Then she held the mouse. Kaseem bent down to help her. His hand landed gently on hers over the mouse so he could direct her to start the game.
Kaseem picked a sticker with two hearts from the desk behind him and placed it on the back of her palm, which made the young baby very excited.
She started to walk out of the children’s room looking at the sticker happily. The two ladies who attended her, one of whom is a coworker, Kaseem, and I all followed her.
Once we were near the stairs that lead to the second floor in the middle of the library, Kaseem and I parted from them and the baby kept waving farewell to us.
I asked Kaseem if his job affected his life in any way as he was looking at the security camera screens in the basement office (He calls these cameras “my friends.”). He paused for a moment and smiled.
Kaseem takes a lot from his job as a security guard and brings it into his personal life, which influences the way he raises his kids. He always tells them that it is important to pay attention to their surroundings, especially when they enter and leave a building.
“I teach them about being safe and aware” said Kaseem. “I do teach my kids: When you do enter buildings, pay attention to exit signs, and be aware of certain behaviors around you.”
Kaseem has raised five kids. He enjoys spending a lot of his time with his family listening to Hip-Hop, R&B and Soul music. He loves talking about basketball and playing it with them. He always looks forward to traveling to North Carolina, where his children and grandchildren are. He talks about them with pride in his eyes to see them grow up well.
“In this environment the people I deal with are folks who are homeless, folks that are down and out or feel that people don’t care for them,” Kaseem told me one day when I was talking to him at his podium.
“In a lot of these cases, I feel like I am more of a mentor or a counselor, just giving people the words of wisdom, letting them know that people do care,” he said.
A young man interrupted our conversation and was very disappointed. Kaseem told me later that this man had left his backpack unattended for more than 30 minutes and never showed up to pick it up. The backpack was reported more than once, so Kaseem had no choice but to take it and put it with the lost and found items. A bit later, the gentleman came looking for his stuff, and he was frustrated that his stuff had been moved away without his permission. The man came back to Kaseem at his podium and started to complain again. The man was profusely sweating, covering his face and wetting the collar of his green sport jacket.
“Why did you move them?” protested the gentleman.
“You can’t leave your belongings unattended, sir,” answered Kaseem patiently.
“You should’ve left them where they were, man!” said the patron with a very frustrated tone.
“I can’t, sir” said Kaseem with a firm voice. He looked directly into the man’s eyes then continued, “If you came to me and said ‘can you please watch my stuff while I go out really quick and come back’ I would’ve kept it for you.”
The man had nothing to say; he turned his back and walked out, exiting the building.
One of the services that the Worcester Public Library offers is a charging station. It is located in front of the stairs that lead to the second floor near the main entrance, very close to Kaseem’s podium. However, there is no place where patrons can sit and wait for their phones to charge around the charging station, so some patrons choose to sit on the stairs and wait for their phones to be charged, which is not allowed. Kaseem in his turn has to ask patrons not to sit on the stairs so they do not block other people’s way, and he has his own way on that as well.
Right after the frustrated man left us, another patron came in and put his phone to be charged then sat on the stairs like many others do. Kaseem politely told him that he is not allowed to sit in people’s way. However, Kaseem went to a corner behind the stairs, and he grabbed a chair and placed it in a spot where the man could see his phone without blocking people’s path. The man smiled as Kaseem was walking away from him.
“To get respect, you gotta have respect,” Kaseem commented later.
Of course, not all situations that Kaseem encounters are easy; times of difficulty must come. Kaseem recalls one incident that occurred last year in front of his eyes that he couldn’t have expected before it happened. He was touring the building as usual and stood by the welcome desk on the first floor for few minutes. There was a female patron who was being served at the desk and she was acting very normally. The minute she turned to walk away, she suddenly fell on the floor and went into a seizure.
“Normally there are certain signs about behaviors or somebody’s illness. This one, I couldn’t detect or determine what was really going on,” Kaseem said. “I had never seen this before!”
Kaseem dealt with the situation as best as he could by keeping the scene safe and calling 911. However, such a situation was new to him, which contributed to the difficulty of the situation. Regardless, Kaseem did some research about seizures and found out that there are many different types of seizures and started to learn about them. He does similar research for every new situation he encounters to prepare himself for future similar incidents so he would be able to deal with them the best he can.
“Kaseem cares! He creates relationships with patrons. He prepares himself for work even when he is not here by studying the best ways to deal with some of our library’s negative issues concerning patron habits, behaviors, and even health,” said Delgado.
Kaseem put his hands in the side pockets of his pants and walked slowly outside the building as the day was approaching its end. I saw him through the glass window of the AMH room, where books get returned and where I usually work. For a few seconds Kaseem looked at the sky. It appeared to be a long time to me. However, the very short moments of silence and peace for Kaseem were interrupted by the radio call:
“Could security please come to the first floor welcome desk?”
“On My Way!” Kaseem replied, then entered the building.