Monadnock Profiles: Lived experiences lead to continued conversations about race

  • Jim Guy of Dublin at the Dublin Community Center, where he is a board member. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • Jim Guy of Dublin at the Dublin Community Center, where he is a board member. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 2/17/2021 5:05:45 PM

The one message that stuck with Jim Guy ever since he was a young boy growing up in Cleveland, Ohio was the importance of getting an education.

His parents grew up in the 1920s, and life as Black people coming of age was anything but easy.

“They were subject to severe racial discrimination,” Guy said of his parents James and Josephine.

Yet they persevered, with James eventually beating the odds and becoming a doctor, and he wanted his only son to know that it would take hard work – “twice as much as a white man,” Guy remembers his father telling him all the way back to when he was in second grade. That was the path he needed to follow to a bright future.

“That’s a phrase that will ring in my head till the day I die,” Guy said. “It was hard to hear, but it was part of his experience.”

His father belonged to the NAACP in Cleveland and was involved in the Civil Rights movement. Guy was denied entry into the closest parochial school in his Cleveland neighborhood because they didn’t accept Black students, forcing him to travel further for a quality education. There was a school boycott when he was in high school “so you couldn’t help but see it,” Guy said. There were swimming pools and an amusement park he wasn’t allowed to go to either.

“Just growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, race was in your face every day,” he said. “It was pretty traumatic, but that just reinforced that idea, to get ahead, I had to go to college. If you have an education, that’s something nobody can ever take from you.”

The conversation about racism and the fight for equality was very prominent in his childhood home. And while decades have passed since those moments, Guy finds it disheartening to know that the issue of racial injustice is still something that needs to be talked about.

Guy moved to New Hampshire in 1985, but in his first 30-plus years living in the Granite State “nobody ever asked me to talk about race,” he said. 

“Race is a hard issue to talk about. People are going to get angry. People are going to get upset,” Guy said. “It’s not going to be comfortable. It’s not going to be fun.”

Guy wasn’t opposed to having those difficult discussions about an issue that directly impacted his life, but they simply never got brought up.

Then in 2018, Guy was approached by Allen Davis, a fellow Dubliner who had an idea for a community discussion called “Talking About Race: Staying Curious, Moving Forward, and Being Part of the Solution.”

Guy knew it was a message that had merit and if he could be a part of something to plant the seed for change, it was something he should do – no matter how difficult it could be.

“If it can help people appreciate what Black people have been going through, that’s all I can do,” Guy said.

In the years leading up to the talk with Davis, Guy had seen young Black people like Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice get shot and killed, and the list of young Black men and women being senselessly murdered was much longer.

As Guy put it, the racial anxiety in the country was at a high point and it appeared opening the dialogue about race, using his experiences, could make an impact.

“Things were getting worse and it just seemed like a good time to get involved and see if I could do something proactive,” Guy said. “Anything that could promote peace and justice.”

Guy was joined at that first discussion at the Peterborough Library by Grace Aldrich and Doug Sutherland, and over the last three years, Guy has shared his experiences as a Black man to countless audiences in an effort to both further the discussion and aid in the education of others.

“By telling stories that have happened to me about living as a Black man in New Hampshire,” Guy said. “It helps people understand the racial situation in the United States.”

Guy is thankful that he didn’t end up like Martin or Rice, George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery, but he knows he could have easily been another on a long list of young Black men killed because of the color of his skin.

“I’ve been really lucky in my life that none of the racial situations I’ve been involved in have been violent,” Guy said.

The idea that systemic racism doesn’t exist is “simply not true,” Guy said. He’s heard car doors lock as he approached walking down the sidewalk and been greeted with car horns as he walked down Route 101. They may not seem like much to most, but for a Black man living in a predominantly white state, it’s hard to not to wonder if his skin color played a role.

“In my experience with being Black has a lot to do with overt discrimination,” Guy said. “It’s sad, it’s frustrating and it makes me angry. I makes me feel really sad it has to be this way.”

And that’s why he decided to use his words, his lived experiences to begin difficult conversations that will one day lead to a better tomorrow for everyone – regardless of the color of their skin.

Because of his father’s constant reminders and relentless pushing, Guy took to his studies.

“I just had a knack for math and science, it was of interest to me,” he said. He got good grades and planned to pursue a college degree.

“My experience I wouldn’t say is typical,” Guy said. “When I graduated from high school, I had no doubt I was going to college.”

Growing up in the city with 1,100 students in his graduating class, Guy looked to get away from Cleveland to a smaller school. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech) fit the profile. He majored in chemistry and wanted to work in a laboratory. His father wanted him to go to medical school “but I had no desire,” Guy said.

He graduated in 1970 and landed a job at Lubrizol, a specialty chemicals company in Cleveland where he worked during the summer in college.

“When you’re 21 years old with a degree in chemistry, you just want to get a job,” Guy said.

He found the listing in the newspaper, through an employment agency. While Guy knew he was more than qualified, considering his previous work at the company, “at the time, companies were going out of their way to hire Black employees,” Guy said. “They welcomed me back with open arms.”

It was at Lubrizol that Guy discovered something – he hated working in a lab. So in 1973, he went to work for Pfizer, but on the sales side of the operation. His territory would include all six New England states, so it meant a move to Holliston, Massachusetts. He had never sold chemicals before, but he knew all about what he was selling.

“What was different for me was getting oriented to being a sales rep,” he said. “I was on the road every day, 40,000 to 50,000 miles a year.”

Three years later he went to work in New Jersey for another chemical company, but didn’t take to life in the Garden State. He returned to Massachusetts in 1977 and spent the next seven years working for Ventron Corporation, selling to research laboratories.

“The job required a lot more technical abilities,” Guy said. “You had to have some research background.”

Then he had an idea of starting his own company, producing all organic chemicals. He had a lot of experience in the sales and production side and at the time, because of Affirmative Action, businesses were looking to purchase from minority owned businesses. He reached out to Lancaster Synthesis in Lancaster, England with his idea. Lancaster had established themselves in the European organic chemical market, but had yet to branch out to the United States.

Instead he got a job offer to open an office in the U.S. for Lancaster, finding a warehouse space in Windham after searching around Massachusetts.

“It became abundantly clear setting up a chemical warehouse in Massachusetts was going to be difficult,” Guy said. “And there was a program to get people to New Hampshire.”

He hired two others to start and the business steadily grew over his 14 years with the company, so much so that there were 30 people based in the U.S. where he served as general manager of operations.

But unlike some of his first couple jobs where his race gave him a leg up in the hiring process, his hiring by Lancaster was based solely on his experience.

After a decade and a half, Guy felt the need to make another move. A friend of his in Toronto, Ravi Gukathasan, had started Digital Specialty Chemicals, which handled unique, air-sensitive chemicals, among other things, and eventually offered Guy a job. The position came with a 50 percent pay cut for Guy, so in exchange, Guy received a stake in the company. Since he would be working from home with his sales territory spanning the globe, traveling around the U.S., Europe, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Guy and his wife Rosemary Mack, were looking for that forever home. After looking in Concord, Manchester and Southern Maine, Mack suggested looking in western New Hampshire; that’s where they found an old Victorian built in 1890 near the center of Dublin.

“It needed a lot of work, but we decided to buy it anyway,” Guy said. The garage looked like it was one heavy snowfall away from collapsing, but it was perfect. Two years later they built a new garage with an office in the back. Guy spent more than 20 years with Digital Specialty, working his way up to president before officially retiring last March.

“There was just incredible interest. We dealt with chemicals that others didn’t want to touch,” Guy said. “The success was just phenomenal. Things just kept growing. I was very lucky.”

In retirement, Guys has taken up things like learning Spanish – via Skype. He had been on a Rotary trip to Nicaragua in 2019 and wanted to learn more of the language because he hopes to take more volunteer trips to Central and South America in the future, once possible.

Because of the nature of his job, Guy has been all around the world. And just before COVID hit, he took a trip that brought him to Antarctica via Argentina, checking the seventh and final continent off his list. But he hopes to continue his travel adventures to places like Greece and Turkey, New Zealand and Cambodia/Vietnam.

“There’s just so many place in the world I’d like to see,” Guy said. “I like to go to the places where the culture is so much different than what I’m used to.”

Guy has also got involved in his community, currently serving on the Dublin Community Center board of directors and is a member of the Monadnock Rotary Club, filling the role as president in 2018.

And it was in Dublin that eventually, after 20 years, he had that first conversation about race. The conversation has continued and in light of the murder of George Floyd, Guy saw a powerful movement for change that he hadn’t seen in many years.

“The reaction to the George Floyd situation was definitely a lot more pronounced than any of the ones before,” Guy said. That included vigils in Dublin and Peterborough in which Guy took part. “We have to make people aware of it.”

Guy thinks back to his parents and their view of the Civil Rights movement in the country. Life was  hard for them, but they did everything they could to persevere – just like he did. And with any hope, the work he’s doing now to open up the lines of communication about racial inequalities will mean that no other minority will have to work twice as hard to build a successful life.


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