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6-Year-Old Peoria Boy Joins Western Avenue Construction Crew

Each day for the last several weeks, King Brownlee wakes up at 7 a.m. and rides his bike to the Western Avenue construction site near his house, determined to work alongside the crew members until mid-afternoon.

Brownlee, who is 6, says he hopes to become a construction worker when he grows up.

“I don’t know why I liked it; I just liked it because I was bored watching them every day. Then they gave me a jacket, and I started working the next day. We be working for a long long time, and I don’t even work and I be sweating.”

Brownlee’s mom, Tearia Smith, says Brownlee would visit the construction site often on his bike rides. Then one day he came home with a vest and said he was going to start working at the site.

Smith says she was supportive from the start because Brownlee is an energetic kid who loves talking to the construction workers, and she is grateful they took him under their wing.

“He’s just very active. He just loves to help. He’s curious about everything. Like they [his coworkers] were saying, he just wants to help with whatever they’ll let him do. But he’s the only child, so he just talks to them every day, and it’s so crazy because he gets up and he goes to work every day, and he loves it.”

At first, some of the laborers were hesitant about having a 6-year-old working on the construction site with machinery everywhere. But over time, finisher James Mankle decided it was best to keep Brownlee with them since he continued to ride his bike and visit with the crew each day.

Mankle says there was no stopping this determined little boy.

“He jumped in. He wanted to start working and showed some interest in it. And we said ‘heck, why not? let’s see what he’s got.’ You wouldn’t think a six-year-old would be able to hammer a pin into the ground the way he can.”

While on the job, Brownlee focuses on smoothing out concrete and beats in pins with the help of his coworkers.

Finisher James Risinger says he’s worked closely with Brownlee — teaching him how to properly run edges and use equipment.

“He does a real good job for a six-year-old kid. I’m really proud of him. We keep an eye on him and keep him out of trouble — keep him safe. He’s learning something- an inspiration to other people. That’s what we need more of: these people like this that’re getting into the trades for construction work because right now, it’s really tough to get people in.”

Risinger says he is hopeful Brownlee will continue to pursue construction when he grows up... because Brownlee’s ambition and courage are an inspiration to other children who are reluctant to begin working so young.

United Contractors Midwest laborer — Richard Loudenburg — says Brownlee always works hard and is ready for any challenge, even in the hot sun and the heat.

“It’s nice to see his enthusiasm for hard work. A lot of kids nowadays shy away from that stuff, and he’s never once backed down from a challenge. He just keeps it going. He shows up every day, He’s always grabbing a tool and getting involved, and it’s, ‘what can I do next?’ which is always an inspiring attitude to have of a young kid like that.”

Another Laborer, Pierre Ashford, says having Brownlee around makes the environment more fun, and he encourages other children to look for the bigger picture like Brownlee does.

“Kid (Brownlee) is one of those kids. He sees the bigger picture to be out here knowing how hot it gets, and what we have to go through. I would encourage them to have that drive to do anything that you want to do, and that’s the kind of attitude King has.”

Brownlee’s coworkers were so appreciative of King’s dedication that they came together and bought a new bike for him to ride to work each day.

They say they look forward to the road ahead for King Brownlee.

Jordan Mead is a reporting intern at WCBU. She joined the station in 2021.