At 93 years young, Hazel Ingram is truly one of New York City’s treasures.
Retirement is a nonexistent word for the mother of six, grandmother of 19, great-grandmother of 40 and great-great grandmother of 6 who still works cleaning the same building on Madison Avenue for nearly 60 years, working 40 hours a week.
“My employers are really surprised and they love me,” she said in a recent interview with the AmNews. “I kept the building rolling. I’ve very serious about what I do. I’m strictly business. I plan on working until the good Lord says stop.”
Her involvement runs deep when it comes to politics, and she plays a major role in electing America’s next president. Ingram is a member of the Electoral College in New York for the Working Families Party. There are only 29 Electoral College votes in New York State.
Wearing high heels and hip-hugging jeans, Ingram is also an activist. She’s been a member of 32BJ SEIU for 60 years.
“Without the union, I don’t think we could make it. Some of the things I’m seeing that’s happening in the buildings with these people and they are suffering, I don’t think they would be able to make it. Without the union, we’re lost,” she said.
Born in Georgia in 1923, Ingram came to New York in 1943 when she was in her early 20s. She currently resides in Brooklyn. Ingram’s grandmother was a slave who lived to be 108 years old.
“I remember her very well,” Ingram said. “They could never go into the front door, they always had to go in the back. She said it was very hard how they lived at the time. My grandmother was sold to somebody by the State of Georgia.”
She recalls one incident during the Jim Crow era when she was on her way to New York and she stopped in North Carolina to spend a couple of days with her aunt. When she got ready to leave, she got on the bus and sat down in the first seat.
“The bus driver said to me, ‘Will you kindly get up and walk back to the back where you belong?’ And I did,” she said.
Getting a front seat to Black history during the civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s, Ingram marched with 32BJ with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She also met Jackie Robinson and worked on the historic congressional campaign of Shirley Chisholm, who was America’s first Black women in Congress
“Yes, that was my girl,” she said with a bright smile. “We helped her get elected to Congress.”
Ingram grew up in an environment where there were few opportunities for Black people.
She explained, “When I first came to New York it was more like slavery than in the South. No one wanted to help you. When I got here I was on my own. Now things are more mixed with Blacks and whites together. There’s been a big change. Kids mixing in school, that wasn’t happening before.”
Continuing her involvement in politics, she said she worked “night and day” to get Barack Obama elected. She works very closely with the political arm of 32BJ and the Working Families Party. Recently she’s been a champion in the fight to raise minimum wage to $15 an hour and in the fights for affordable housing and health care.
“I think that was one of the greatest things we ever made in history with Obama getting elected. I worked very hard to get him elected. That’s the same thing I’m doing for Hillary Clinton,” she said.
Ingram added that another cause she is passionate about is stopping the police killings of Blacks across the nation.
“I think now we’ve got a big thing on our hands,” she said. “We have a ways to go.”
As far as her secret to living a long life, Ingram attributes her longevity to one specific thing.
“Pork. I’ve been eating pork ever since I’ve known myself and I’m 93 years old and I still eat pork three times a day. That is my secret,” she said.
Her advice to the younger generation: getting people to come together more. She admires the peaceful activism taking place in cities. “We just have to work together and be together,” she said. “Wake up, get up, stand up and stand together. That’s the only way we’re going to make it. Believe me.”