FAIRMONT – Originally from San Bernardino, California, Tanisha Douglas-Walker moved to Fairmont in the late 1990s.
She grew up in a stable home, attended school and after-school programs. Her favorite subject in school was history.
While in elementary school, Douglas-Walker wore the No. 22 playing linebacker for the 612 Madison Avenue Corporation Bulldogs football team.
She also enjoyed playing basketball at Windmill Park with her friends, going fishing, and riding bikes, especially with her best friend.
“He was an outdoor type of guy, always outside,” she said. “He taught me how to fish and play pool.”
As a 2011 graduate of Fairmont Senior High, Douglas-Walker attended Fairmont State University where she studied child development. Though she didn’t finish college, Douglas-Walker’s career path led her to different 9-to-5 jobs.
And while those jobs were not necessarily unfulfilling, Douglas-Walker simply wanted more. More money, that is.
When she thought of occupations where she could earn more money, she took inspiration from Kasean Jones, her best friend.
“I worked in the coal mines for about two years. She was asking who to contact to get into mining,” Jones said. “She took it upon herself to use my knowledge and run with it.”
But she also looked at her family tree as her great-grandparents lived in a coal mine camp.
“My great-grandfather hauled coal and mined using a pick and shovel,” she said. “Before all the good machines were in use that we have [now].”
Every day now, Douglas-Walker dons her red miner’s hard hat, the red color is used to indicate rookie miners who have less than six months of experience underground.
“She was very excited to have my first coal mining hat, a red hat,” said Jones.
And she’s satisfied she reached her goal.
“The pay is way better than any job I’ve had,” she said.
Now, Douglas-Walker has less than three months until she becomes a black hat, the color used to describe coal miners who have at least six months of experience underground.
Douglas-Walker’s coal mining career started in the Marshall County coal mine in Cameron. She worked there for about a month.
“My first ever job underground was drilling,” she said.
Her job was to drill a hole into the mine’s roof to place a bolt that would be used to prevent the mine section from collapsing.
“It was easy because it was what I was first taught to do,” she said.
Since her stint in Marshall County, Douglas-Walker started a mining job at the Consol Energy Enlow Fork Mine in Claysville, Pennsylvania.
“It’s closer to home,” she said.
Her drive time to Claysville is 45 minutes compared to the two-hour drive to the mine in Cameron.
One of Douglas-Walker’s first jobs in the Claysville mine was to remove a longwall panel.
Longwall mining is the process of removing one length – or panel of a mining wall at a time.
Her job was to remove the roof supports for the longwall, called longwall shields. This job is completed using a mule – a mechanized vehicle used to remove longwall shields.
Douglas-Walker, as any coal miner, may not face the same task daily.
“There are different jobs every day,” she said.
Douglas-Walker sees herself always working in the coal mines.
“I didn’t put any expectations on this job, that definitely helped me,” she said. “I thought, ‘Whatever comes with it comes with it.’ And [now] I love everything about it.”
In her time in the mines, she has realized there are few female miners, however, there are even fewer who are black like her.
“It’s a handful of women, maybe a handful and a half of black men, and then all white men,” said Douglas-Walker.
Yet she loves everything about the coal mining industry.
“I love the environment of the mines. Everyone is family down there,” she said.
“She doesn’t get treated differently as a black female working in a man’s environment,” said Enlow Fork Mine co-worker, Tyler Pennington of Morgantown.
Despite the odds, Douglas-Walker is on a mission to open the coal mining industry to more women and minorities.
“I want more women to know that if I can do it, anyone can do it,” she said. “I never saw myself doing it, but I’m glad I do. I love it.”
Still today, Douglas-Walker continues to have to support of Jones, her best friend of 23 years.
“She is a very outgoing person, always cracking jokes. She suits the coal mines well,” said Jones. “I think she’ll progress well in the coal mines.”