Around the World to Find Himself

Story By: Frank Lopez, Rampage Reporter

In the southern most region of the Caribbean lies the island Trinidad, the more populous of the two islands that make up the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad’s tropical climate and beautiful beaches, along with its growing economy and its ethnically diverse and rich culture and history, make it a nation whose past is full of escalation.
In 1975 an administrative department worker in Trinidad and a stay-at-home mother gave birth to a son by the name of Cleon Blake. Blake’s father would go to work and his mother would stay at home taking care of Blake and his brothers and sisters, also attending to household duties. For a period of seven years, Blake’s mother worked as a school teacher until she retired to support his younger sister’s education.
Blake’s household had two different religious followings. “My mom was Anglican and my dad was a spiritual Baptist. It was a mixture of both religions,” says Blake. “One Sunday we’d go to the Anglican church and the other Sunday we’d go to my father’s church, the Baptist church. We were more or less raised Anglican because you’re confirmed Anglicans.”
The Blake family had a house on a farm where they had chickens and grew their own food. They did not have an over-lavishly rich lifestyle, but the Blakes never went hungry. “Wealth is more or less different as far as money. You can have money as far as the flashy stuff but we always had food because we had land, so we’d most likely live off the land,” says Blake. 
As a young boy, Blake enjoyed the cool climate as he relaxed on the beaches, vacationing on the countryside with his family, and traveling. He and his family would visit the market, where Blake would witness members of his family bartering with local merchants.
Along with pursuing his academic education, Blake was also taking courses in computer literacy. There was a computer lab that had around seven computers designated for computer drafting and design. After he finished with his literacy course, he’d stay after class and watch older students working with computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) systems.
“I got interested in the program and always wanted to do computer drafting and design, but never actually had the funds because it was such an expensive cost,” says Blake. “It was in the back of my mind to get into that field, but it was on the back-burner for a while, until I came to Fresno.”
Blake was taking an education course for Intuit, an American software company that develops financial and tax preparation software. He was never able to complete the course because he had to work in order to pay for the schooling. He eventually stopped going, but only put it on the back-burner for a while.
While living in Trinidad, Blake had a string of many different occupations. “I was just moving around. I worked for a beer company. I started off there as a merchandiser,” says Blake. “Then I moved from merchandiser to bottle production and then brewing. From there I took a bartending course through the company and was hired on to the cruise ships as a bartender.”
 From 1997 to 2004, Blake worked as a bartender on a cruise ship. He’d be away at sea, going back and forth between the Caribbean and the United States, for six months at a time. While he was bartending through the Caribbean Sea, his best friend introduced him to a friend named Dena. He, and the woman who would later become his wife, Dena, built a relationship over the course of five or six years. They married on a cruise ship in San Francisco in 2004.
After their marriage, Blake and Dena moved to Fresno to begin the rest of their lives together. Once in America, he had a bit of a struggle getting acclimated to his new life. “It took a little while to adjust. Different foods, mannerisms, temperature change in Fresno. I’m getting a little used to it, still prefer it a little bit cooler than normal,” says Blake.
It was during this time that Blake got a booklet in the mail from Fresno City College. He noticed that FCC offered classes in CADD and enrolled in them. FCC CADD instructor, Ronald Cerkueira, had Blake as a student during his first year. Students in Cerkueira’s class went over computer drafting and design, and working with machines that manufacture products made of various materials. Cerkueira remembers Blake as a student who would stick around after class so he can learn more. “He was a conscientious student, always working hard trying to do his best,” says Cerkueira. “He actually did an independent study and just became really enamored with it and he decided to do his own thing with it.”
FCC instructor and academic senate president, Claudia Habib, also had Blake as a student when he first started attending the college.
“Cleon was always such a nice and gentle person. He would try to do his best in what he was pursuing, and then go beyond that,” says Habib. “He would really get into his projects and always ask questions so he could learn more.”
One of professor Cerkueira’s class projects involved students using a laser engraving machine. Blake produced around 27 different projects with the machine and showed them to Cerkueira and people at his work. Everyone was so impressed with Blake’s work that he started pondering if he should get into the engraving business. Blake noticed there were a few engraving businesses in Fresno, but thought he and his wife could start their own business and make it available to a larger number of people.
Blake and Dena spoke to their family and approached them with their business idea. They were met with a little apprehensiveness at first, but they convinced their family that it would be a good business venture. They gathered all of their family savings and in June of 2009, Blake founded his business, Blake’s Engraving.
Blake has been running his business from his home and is working on expanding. “Still trying to get the word out there a little more, so it’s slow because everything right now is slow,” says Blake. “We try to keep in contact. We do a lot of stuff for the African American Museum, the Fresno Black Chamber of Commerce. We do stuff for the universities, personal engravings for schools, weddings, quinceañeras, and birthday parties.”
He is still continuing his education at FCC and is working on getting his associates degree in CADD. Even after he gets his degree, Blake says that he still plans on furthering his education so he could learn even more.
Blake’s life has been one of progression and escalation. From being the son of a farming family in Trinidad, to a U.S. resident who is in college and running his own business, Blake is the success story of a man who got his piece of the American Dream.
“Don’t give up,” says Blake. “As long as you’re willing to work and put your efforts into it, you can become successful.”