Preview

Exemplified by the power of the human spirit, life in the face of
death and the courage to Challenge a generation to release the shackles of
ignorance surrounding women and gender roles
All of this and more is lyrically conveyed in Cheryl Waiters'
autobiographical novel, BLOOD SWEAT AND HIGH HEELS.
Featuring award winning novelist DARNELLA FORD.
Profiled on ABC's GOOD MORNING AMERICA, Cheryl Waiters
holds the noble distinction as the country's first African American
woman to rise to the height of fame in her twenty + year career in a
male dominated field CONSTRUCTION WORK. With the winning
combination of North Country meets Erin Brokovich, Waiters escorts
the reader through a private tour of hell as she blows open the doors for
an unauthorized peek inside the world of Mafia-controlled cities, labor
unions, and life and death situations on job sites where women are
anything but welcome.
Haunting and intensely profound, Waiters' birth and formative
years are eloquently paired with historical movements that profoundly
changed the world —from J.F.K to Martin Luther King, the rise of the
Black Panther Movement, women's liberation and hippies toting "free
love and peace, Waiters exhausts the human imagination in eye-opening
expositions on American history and how they shaped and molded her to
build the New American City.
BLOOD SWEAT AND HIGH HEELS delivers a message of
self-empowerment for women of all nationalities and demonstrates
unyielding courage to transcend the impossible and the unthinkable. The
timeless genius of this story has not only captured an essential slice of
history—it has defined it.
Given such an achievement of literary brilliance— it is destined to
become an American classic.
blood sweat and high heels cheryl waiters

vii
CHER WAITERS
A third generation electrician successfully over came racial and gender
bias to become the first African American female to gain historic and
international recognition working in a non-traditional work environment
for females and minorities, CONTRUCTION WORK.
Cher Waiters historic debut occurred while building Jacobs Field,
The Cleveland Indians Baseball Stadium and the adjacent Gund Arena,
currently known as the "Q" the home of Lebron James and the Cleveland
Cavaliers. Cher was one of 144 women to work on a project of this size,
where very few women enter the field of construction. Cher appeared on
"Good Morning America" whose Joan Lunden was on a special assignment
to interview women working in non-traditional work environments.
During a trip to Europe, Cher learned that the Italians worshipped a
Black Madonna, remembering her fore-fathers across the Mediterranean
Sea, who built the Egyptian Pyramids. Cher returned home empowered to
continue to build the City of Cleveland, no matter what obstacles came her
way. She never gave up. Her projects include the Good Samaritan Home, the
Key Bank Tower, The Marriott Hotel in downtown Cleveland, The Great
Lakes Science Center, the Cleveland Browns Stadium and many more.
Earlier in her life, Cher Waiters was told by her uncle that women
did not do this kind of work. She was encouraged to go to school, get a
degree, and do" women's work?" Being born into a family of construction
workers and her love of math and science lead her to pursue a career in
Mechanical Engineering.
During the past 25 years, the fire of commitment under President
Carter's 1978 goal to hire women as 6.9% of the construction workforce,
that is, seven (7) women for every 100 men, on federally funded construction
projects has burned out. And now Cheryl Waiters book and movie will serve
as a wake-up call that women still number less than 3% of this industry, in a
warm, witty and sometimes funny narrative, Blood Sweat and High Heels:
The Journey of Cheryl Waiters, Electrician, Cher shares her struggles and
triumphs of how she fought gender based prejudice, overcame the obstacles
put in her way by resentful white and black male co-workers, clung to her
dignity and achieved success in this man's occupation.
viii

Most people have to write a book before they get publicity about their
experiences. Not Cher, Several years ago she was interviewed on popular
television programs "Good Morning America" by Spencer Christian and
"Today in Cleveland" by Del Donahue and Tom Haley. Viewers were
delighted with this slender, poised black woman wearing a hard hat and
a huge grin of pride about her accomplishments as she talked about
being the only female journeyman electrician of her sex among 2000
male construction workers who built Jacobs Field, the Cleveland Indian's
Stadium Cheryl received calls from people all over the world and was often
stopped on the street and asked how she could show and help others to
journeyman status and a position in construction work. This little woman
with a lot of brains and courage persevered over the nay sayers to become
an electrician and now earns a good living.
What one woman can do other women can do. Cher's story is an
inspiration to women of all races and skills and tells what they can expect
on the job and shows how to survive among macho men. Being an
electrician, carpenter, bricklayer or a welder is often grueling work, but it
can be very satisfying emotionally and financially if a woman knows the
rules of the game, what to watch out for and how to handle the pitfalls.
Cher's story will tell all that and the need to retain the many
opportunities made possible in this $400 Billion industry through federal
and state programs for the so-called weaker sex to get into the construction
industry. For far too long women have silently accepted that we are
physically, mentally, emotionally inferior and lack the strength necessary
to work side-by side with men to build our own homes and workplaces.
Cher's book explodes these myths that bad attitudes and conditioning
have created. The truth is that women can strengthen their bodies and
where brute strength is required, mechanical devices can be used to benefit
all concerned. As well as new regulations by NIOSH (National Institute for
Occupational Safety) regulations that limit every worker to lifting 50 pounds
at one time. Some women regularly carry children weighing that much.
Men just do not want women in their domain even when they know
they are capable, able and with proper training women can do their jobs
and can do them well.
For those who seek a non-traditional career and more money Blood
Sweat and High Heels can lead the many female heads of households
who are mired in poverty down a new path to success.
Blood Sweat and High Heels is unique because it is a personal
story from a single point of view and an expose' of what life is really
like 24-7 for a woman who struggles on a construction site for dignity,
respect and equality in treatment and pay.
ix
"Everybody has a life . . . but the true gift lies in the ability to express that
"life force" in a way that is thought provoking, entertaining, inspiring
and educational to anyone who might see that life. This life then becomes
more—it becomes art."
Cheryl Waiters

xi
Preface
GOOD MORNING AMERICA INTERVIEW
Featuring Cheryl Waiters
April 4, 1994


JOAN LUNDEN
It is Cleveland's new field of dreams . . . Jacob's Field.
Spanking brand new
Ready for opening day
Men and women have built it . . . now they wait for people to come.
Good Morning America!
I'm Joan Lunden
CHARLES GIBSON
I'm Charles Gibson . . . good to have you with us.
It is Monday, April 4th
This is baseball's opening day,
And a brand new ballpark in Cleveland
Ready for the first pitch of opening day,
With the Indians and the Mariners.
Cleveland has a new home, a new division,
A new era for baseball.
Also new, women in the construction gang
That built that ball park.
A little later in this hour Spencer Christian
With some of the women who labored to build
Cleveland's new field of dreams.
[Later in the hour]


CHER
Hi! I'm Cher Waiters.

MONICA
I'm Monica Jordan and we built Gateway.
CHER
Isn't it beautiful?


CHER AND MONICA
Good morning America!


CHARLES GIBSON
That's amazing that just two women built
That whole thing and got it ready for opening day today . . .
Gateway is the overall complex in downtown Cleveland,
And the critical part of it is Jacob's Field where the Indians
Will open this new baseball season, as we have been
Talking about this morning,
There is a lot new about the 1994 baseball season
That gets underway in earnest today, but as columnist
Tom Bosweld pointed out earlier—
A lot of what's new is really old, such as the modern stadiums in Texas and
Cleveland opening this season . . .
But stadiums that really pay tribute to the past and really a good example
is Cleveland's new Jacob's Field . . . with its natural grass and freestanding
scoreboard makes you feel like you're part of the game that really really is
very old, and of course baseball is, but the construction technology—while
it's new
So is the makeup of the workforce that built the
Stadium new.
Women now dawn the hard hats along with the men.
In a few moments Spencer Christian from Cleveland
With the new breed of workers who built the new, old ball yard.
SPENCER CHRISTIAN
And we'll be back from Cleveland's Jacob's Field
In just a moment with two of the female construction
Workers who helped build it when Good Morning
America continues.
FADE OUT.
1
Chapter 1
"Being born is like coming into the middle of a movie. You have
to find out what happened before you arrived and catch up to
where you are now."
Cheryl Waiters
This journey begins before time—at least before my time. It would
be impossible for me to dismiss the impact of all that came before me.
Undeniably, the current events of yesterday left a great impression in the
form of an "invisible dent" upon my human skin. Disregard the fact that
I have not yet been born—it is only a technicality. Sooner than you can
recite your first name backwards, I will be here. And undoubtedly, I shall
feel this "dent" upon my arrival.
But not yet.
I'm not yet here—
Remember?
It was the late 30's—an era memorialized by The Great Depression.
During this time, no man was beyond the reach of a twisted fate, and
even the fortunes of the wealthiest citizens ran bone dry all the way down
to the spit in their mouth. Deep pockets flipped outside in and became
incredibly shallow and as for shallow pockets—well, they just blew away
in the wind.
The face of strangers and friends reflected the hollow echo of
emptiness—empty hearts and empty bellies. Entire families waited in line
all day to hold a crust of bread in one hand. There wasn't enough food to
fill up two hands.
2
Cheryl Waiters, with Darnella Ford
It was a time when it would seem that Mother Earth had taken great
offense toward humanity. The sky stopped crying and the rain stopped
falling. In exchange, the people began to cry because everything started to
die. Farmer's crops dried up in a bitter drought, thus giving birth to a time
where the land delivered nothing but anguish and more anguish. This
period, known as The Dust Bowl or the Dirty Thirties, began in 1930 and
lasted till 1936. That's not to say that the Dirty Thirties were all bad. The
era did deliver some redeemable achievements to press against our beating
hearts amidst the pain.
The decade of the 30's saw the construction of the world's tallest
building, the Empire State Building in New York City. Picasso's "Guernica"
was the talk of the art world and Amelia Earhart disappeared into thin air.
Hemingway and Steinbeck were the celebrated authors of the time and
Gone with the Wind was released and took everybody's breath away. The
30's reigned supreme when the smallest planet in our Galaxy, Pluto, was
discovered. The miracle drug, Penicillin, was introduced in clinical drug
testing and Diabetics found a new reprieve with the modern day miracle
of Insulin.
There was yet another significant event which occurred during the era
of the '30's—and though it did not make the history books; it became a
pivotal catalyst to my arrival here on planet Earth—the birth of my father,
Charles Waiters.
Born in 1937 in Columbia, South Carolina, Charles was a Depression
Era baby. Therefore, it goes without saying that he was stamped with a
hunger for wealth. Branded by this insatiable passion for the finer things
in life—luxury was encoded in my father's DNA. Almost traceable, it was
part of his genetic code and this wild ambition would rule him for all the
days of his life.
Charles Waiters longed for the best of everything, and he would not
stop short of having it—all. The words "to settle" never made it to Charles'
vocabulary, therefore, he did not understand the meaning of the words
"to have less than one deserved." He was quick-witted and well-armed
with just enough of everything he needed to acquire everything he ever
wanted.
Yes, that was Charles Waiters.
The son of a well-to-do Mason and offspring of a family whose business
was construction—Charles had two brothers, Willie and Alfred. Now
most of the time Charles got along just fine, however, he never managed
Blood, Sweat, And High Heels
3
to get too far along without running up against somebody's comparison of
him against his brothers.
Willie was the smart one.
Alfred was the pretty one.
Charles was neither.
There were also two additional brothers and a sister, but they seemed
like "ghost siblings" whose impact upon the life of Charles was minimal.
He wasn't a bad looking guy but he was a long way from being pretty.
And by no means was he a dumb man—but he was a "double-wide
hop-scotch-jump" away from the category of genius. And it was from this
place that Charles had to learn to make his way in the world. In doing
so, he fell in love with gangsters. He had a thing for Frank Sinatra and an
affinity for Hollywood's portrayal of the mob. Instinctively, Charles knew
that if he couldn't be pretty or smart, that he could be a self-proclaimed
"elegant gangster" and ultimately, he could get paid. Like I said before—he
was tattooed with the thirst for wealth.
The Waiters migrated from the South to the North like many
Southern families—seeking their own middle-class version of Utopia, or
at minimum a less oppressive society from the white man's world. The
land of the North seemed to offer a seductive whisper to those who had
the ear to hear the melody of freedom. Grandfather Waiters heard the call
in 1948 and relocated the family from South Carolina to the promise of a
new paradise: Cleveland, Ohio.
Who knew?
The Waiters took up residency along Cleveland's Gold Coast and lived
on the "right side" of the tracks. A quiet, conservative and respectable
family—they lived under the intention of honor, however, the decade of
the 40's gave birth to a time when everyone encountered their own set of
challenges—good intentions or not.
It was an era of war, killing and bloodshed.
It was pure insanity that history buffs politely label as "global
conflict."
World War II.
It seemed to be a time when the sadness of the 30's was replaced by the
tears of the 40's—though not everyone was crying. In 1947, we saw Jackie
Robinson, the first African American baseball player enter the Major
Leagues. And then there were less notable accomplishments, though they
managed to change the face of America in their own way.
4
Cheryl Waiters, with Darnella Ford
Sweaters became a popular fashion statement, though there were
vicious debates on the "moral" aspects of a woman wearing such a
tight-fitting garment. The Roller Derby was in full swing as a professional
sport and boxing was gaining great notoriety with people from all walks of
life. And yet again, there was another event which quietly escaped history's
notice—the birth of my mother, Mary Dunham.
She was born in 1941 in Columbus, Georgia.
A beautiful high-yellow woman with a flair for "sexy," Mary also
migrated from the South to Cleveland, Ohio with her family when she
was a young girl. However, unlike the Waiters—my mother would live on
the "wrong side" of the tracks. She was the offspring of a humble people
with little financial means, but they did have a whole lot of Spirit—in the
form of religion and booze. It would be a stretch to call them conservative,
however, Mary and her family did believe in the 'Good Book' and the
'Good Lord' whenever it was fashionable to do so—which was mostly
on Sundays. But if you were to catch them on any other day of the week,
the whole damn thing was subject to collapse under the weight of a single
question:
What in the hell?
Mary's family was loud and they loved to have a good time.
Discipline was not a practiced lifestyle and short of everything—pretty
much anything else could go over without a challenge. And as my father
grew into early manhood and my mother blossomed into the peak of her
teenage years, their paths would cross.
Charles was from the right side, and Mary was from the wrong side;
however, they met on neutral ground—The Red Carpet—a hot spot in the
Cleveland nightclub scene.
Mary, who was 15 at the time, had gone to the club that night with
her friend, Louise, who was also 15. The two girls seemed to have a certain
destiny with Charles, a savvy nineteen-year-old, and his brother Willie,
who was the eldest at twenty-two.
According to Willie's version of the story, Mary and Louise were raging
with hormones and seemed a bit "fast" for the two young men. Charles
and Willie admitted to being hesitant to have any dealings with the young
women, however, "boys will be boys" and the biological call of a man's
urge to mate—at times make a difficult case for the argument of good old
fashion common sense.
Blood, Sweat, And High Heels
5
Six Months Later
The year was 1957 and a new decade had been born. Two pregnant
teenagers, Mary and Louise, stood in the middle of a chapel under the
harsh eyes of displeased parents in a quietly celebrated shotgun wedding.
It was a time of reform and great change, and not just for Mary and
Charles or Louise and Willie, but for everyone.
The stirring motion of unrest had begun to swirl all around America
in the 50's and as we edged toward the 60's, we tipped the scales toward
revolution. Our parents didn't start the revolution—they simply carried
out what had already begun by those who had come before them. It was
those of our grandparent's era who ignited the great winds of change.
Spirits had long grown restless, and change was everyone's destiny as Sam
Cooke predicted in his 1963 hit song, "Change is Gonna Come."
Change was going to come all right and by the 60's that change was
well underway. But prior to the dawn of a new day, Charles and Mary
Waiters were caught up in their own private revolution—becoming
teenage parents. A child in her own right, my mother was content to trade
her prom gown for a maternity dress and the single life for diapers and
baby formula.
Saddle up Charles, we're signing on to play this game for life!
Just following their wedding ceremony two suspicious men appeared
at the church.
"Who are those men?" my mother inquired.
"Nothing to worry about," Charles assured her.
"Man . . . don't you have no respect?" his brother, Willie pressed.
"I gotta do what I gotta do!" Charles insisted.
Though he worked as an auto mechanic with decent wages, it would
never be good enough for a pure bred like Charles Waiters. After all, he
did have royal blood coursing through his veins and it only responded to
the "finer things" in life, remember?
Following their wedding ceremony, Charles and Mary returned to his
mother's house. Short on money and even shorter on dreams, a small
bedroom would be their honeymoon suite. But they didn't spend their
first married night together in bliss. Instead, Charles excused himself
because his "other gig" was calling for his undivided attention. He was
taking it to the streets—for every "elegant gangster" knows there's no such
thing as an off day—even on your wedding night.
6
Cheryl Waiters, with Darnella Ford
Long and short of it—this was my parent's story.
This is how they began.
Not how they ended.
Their tale is woven with a trail of blood, sweat and tears.
Almost everyone's is.
Everybody has their own story to tell, including America, who was
birthing a tale of its own prior to my arrival—as these were the highlights
in American History during the 50's:
Eisenhower held office as the President of the United States.
The Immigration and Naturalization Acts were passed removing racial
and ethnic barriers on becoming a United States citizen.
Racial segregation was ruled unconstitutional in the U.S. Supreme
Court.
Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a public bus in Montgomery,
Alabama.
Alaska and Hawaii became the 49th and 50th states.
Jerry Lee Lewis said it best in 1957 when his words echoed throughout
America, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On."
The 50's were a profound era no doubt—but make no mistake when
rewinding the history books—it was the music that defined the era.
Transcendental by nature, music changed the face of racism. Powerful
musicians and innovators such as Chuck Berry brought the borders of
segregation all the way down to its knees. The ignorance of man, whether
it was self-taught or learned from another, could not withstand the beat.
Body and soul, black and white alike—we all surrendered to it.
We gave in to the sound of music, and in doing so—we overlooked
the color of the man who played it. Little white girls went crazy for
darked-skinned boys toting straight perms, guitars and fancy footwork.
It was nothing short of miraculous.
Music bridged worlds and in the process built new ones.
It transmigrated the soul of culture itself.
It changed the face of our planet forever.
And somewhere along the way—long after the Emancipation
Proclamation and during the raging storm of The Civil Rights
Movement—at the end of one rainbow and the beginning of another, I
entered the movie of life.
May 25, 1958.
My name is Cheryl Denise Waiters.
Blood, Sweat, And High Heels
7
I am Black and female.
Big disappointment.
Everybody was praying for a boy.
There will be hell to pay for not having a penis in this lifetime.
But I am fresh blood.
I am also the dream of America—temporarily. For one day, I shall
become the nightmare they all wish to forget about.
This is my tale.
These pages contain my blood.
My sweat.
And my tears.
My history as her story.
My story and your story.
This is our story.
Good Morning America.

Chapter 19
"And if there was ever an hour whereupon I needed to be more
than a girl, more than a woman, and definitely more than
me . . . that hour had surely arrived."
Darnella Ford

 

The very next day I was on my way toting a one way ticket to hell.
I was set up to meet with Local 38. First, I was given an agility test to
determine how well I could use my hands. I passed with flyer colors, so I
could move on to the next phase of the interview process. I was escorted
into a conference room along with my representative, Barbara, who
accompanied me to the interview. Upon entering the room, there were
three men seated around the table—a contractor and two representatives
from NECA. The NECA representatives were white men who wore stiff
suits and looked like they belonged to the CIA. The air in the room was
so thick you could cut it with a machete. Intimidation was the name of
this game. Once the interview process began, these "CIA" agents started
firing off a series of questions so fast that I could barely answer one before
another one was coming in its place.
"Do you think you can be an electrician?" was the first question.
"I don't know," I fired back. "Do you think I can become an
electrician?"
The room spills to silence—but only for a moment. They clearly
recognize that I'm no pushover, nor am I so desperate that I would lose
myself to acquire this position. Once noted, the interview continues with
more questions and greater intensity.
What makes you qualified to perform such duties?
Why would a woman want to work on a construction site?
Can you handle the pressure?
What are your qualifications?
144
Cheryl Waiters, with Darnella Ford
Why do you want to be an electrician?
I felt like a sitting duck in front of a firing squad. These were hard
ass men and I was two steps away from sinking beneath the floor—just
to get the hell out. This was intense beyond measure. I hadn't bargained
on this kind of party. It felt as though the walls were closing in around
me and I was being suffocated by a thick blanket of racism. What kind of
organization was this? I couldn't help but wonder.
The FBI?
The Mafia?
After the interview ended, I walked out into the lobby with Barbara,
I turned to her and asked, "What in the hell was that?"
In short, that was the beginning of the end. But when it was all said
and done, I impressed the hell out of them. I stood to the full measure
of whatever it was that I was supposed to be. They also fell in love
with my military background and engineering degree. I was born to do
this—and all of my advance preparation seemed to suggest that very
thing. Needless to say, it was a slam dunk. After the rigorous interview
process, I wanted to call Uncle Willie and ask him about Local 38 and
why he wasn't in it. I also wanted to explore the heavy vibe of racism
that I felt in the room—which seemed to dominate my interaction
with the men.
What was really going on? Was this the infamous beast known as
institutional racism, defined as "any kind of system of inequality based
on race?" Wikipedia Encyclopedia
Was this what Black Power Activist, Stokely Carmichael, meant
when he coined the phrase "institutional racism" back in the late 60's? I
had wanted to put a call into Al Sharpton and become better informed
on the nature of this beast. However, I would never get the chance
because the Union swooped me up in three days.
Welcome to the party.
In August of 1989, I became an official member of Local 38's
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Out of two thousand
members, there were approximately thirty women in the Union when
I joined. And less than 10% of all members were minorities—so in
essence, that was a double whammy for me.
Black.
Female.
And an outsider in a white male dominated fraternity.
Blood, Sweat, And High Heels
145
It was raw.
I was done and out done both at the same time, but I just didn't
know it yet. Interestingly, in 1978 president Jimmy Carter mandated
a minimal goal which dictated that all Federally funded construction
projects committed to hiring at least 6.9% women as part of the work
force. Therefore, out of every one hundred men on a project, there had
to be at least six female employees in equal capacity. Perhaps, this was
where the real nightmare began.
I would later discover that Uncle Willie had never joined the Union
because in his day, the Union bypassed minorities and shunned their
participation and membership. But by the late 80's things were (twenty
five years following the Civil Rights Act) supposed to be different—or so
they said. However, it was little more than smoking mirrors and grand
illusions. And that I would soon find out. But for the moment, I was
on top of the world.
Legit.
In the beginning, joining the Union was the ultimate high for me.
It almost seemed like the next logical step in the sequence of unfolding
events in my life. I had always bucked the system by challenging
limiting concepts of what a woman could do and be in our society.
In many ways, I came into this life with my "dukes up." As a child,
I saw that being a boy garnished special favor, so I tore down the gender
walls and did "boy things" to win love and approval. In the words of an
old Peter Cetera song, "We did it all for the glory of love."
I broke all the rules on being a girl. I rocked the boat as the only
girl in an all boy family. I shook things up as Air Force recruit. I pushed
the limits as an engineer major and damn near tipped the whole thing
over by joining the Brotherhood. I did it all for the glory of love! And
joining the Union was like hitting the "mother lode" in a long list of
accomplishments and achievements, which broke through the barriers
and restrictions of being a woman.
Upon acceptance into the Union, I was required to fill out a stack
of paperwork. Upon completing the forms, I was given a work order
for my first assignment, along with a voucher and a list of tools that
I would need to fill my toolbox. Wow! This was actually more exciting
than I thought it was going to be. I felt like G.I. Jane and was ready
to conquer the world. I made my way to the hardware store where I
surrendered my list and the clerk filled the order for me. In no time,
146
Cheryl Waiters, with Darnella Ford
my empty toolbox was full. I had officially traded my briefcase for a
toolbox.
Okay.
No problem.
The next day, I was sent to my first job. As instructed, I reported
to an electrical trailer armed and ready for work. Prior to my arrival, I
was instructed to wear jeans and boots—which I did. My boots were
flat, black and rode up to the knee. In my estimation, these boots were
sufficient enough to handle the "dirt and mud" of a construction site.
But I would soon learn upon my arrival that I was sadly mistaken.
When I opened the door and walked inside of the trailer, I
immediately spotted two, unfriendly looking guys—a black man to
my left and a white man, who was standing in front of a narrow table.
The white man was the foreman and his name was Jim Davis. The
black man was a worker, named Eddy.
"Hi . . . I'm Cher Waiters," I said with a little pep in my voice as I
handed him my work order. "I was told to report here for work."
The room spun to silence as the men stared me down under the
weight of a heavy scrutiny. Within moments, both men's eyes dropped
to the floor and they both began to laugh aloud at the same time.
What? I thought to myself. What's so funny?
"Didn't they tell you what kind of boots to wear?" the foreman
snapped. "You're supposed to be wearing Red Wings, not fashion
boots." He lifted his foot high in the air so that I could see his left boot
as he and the black guy shook their head and continued to laugh.
"Let's see what you have in your toolbox," he said turning his
attention to my tools. By this time, he had made his way over to me,
but the trailer was too narrow for both of us to stand in the same place
at the same time; therefore, I had to back out of the trailer and stand
on the steps while he reached his over-sized hands into my toolbox and
began to pull out one tool after the other.
"You call these strippers?" he laughed, handing them to the Black
guy, who seemed to be consistently amused by all that was going on.
"You call these side cutters?"
Eventually, he turned my toolbox upside down dumping all of the
tools out—all the while shaking his head.
"Didn't they give you a tool list?" he barked.
Blood, Sweat, And High Heels
147
"Yes . . . but it didn't specify what kind of tools to get," I offered in
my defense.
"You'll need a pair of these," he said reaching in his back pocket
and pulling out a pair of Klein side cutters.
"Okay," I said with a nod. I stood on those steps like a three year old
child. I felt humiliated, raw and small. My skin felt as though the flesh had
been picked off the bone—by hand.
"Let's go and do some work," the foreman insisted.
Blistering and outnumbered by the monstrosity of male ego, I allowed
the men to get ahead of me and I turned to follow them. As we walked,
the only comfort that I could find was in the fact that I was taller than
the black man. I could feel devastation setting in and as we passed by a
window, I happened to catch my reflection, and it was there that I saw my
tormented reflection.
I looked horribly sad.
I wanted to cry.
Wither.
Sink.
No . . . just die and get it over with.
But I couldn't.
At least not here and not now.
Only a girl would do that—and if there was ever an hour whereupon
I needed to be more than a girl, more than a woman, and definitely more
than me—that hour had surely arrived.
And feeling every ounce of insecurity that I had ever had in my entire
life as it rose to the surface, I quietly mumbled beneath my hard exterior
walls, "What have I done to myself?"
But there was no one to answer me and the answers would not come
for a long, long time. Therefore, in the interim—I followed quietly behind
the men and died one thousand deaths while smiling.
When we reached the jobsite, I felt the door opening to a whole new
world. It was a peek behind the curtain that women rarely, if ever, get the
chance to behold. I felt like a member on the team of scientists in Jurassic
Park when they first entered the grandiose world of dinosaurs.
I was amazed.
The structure was beautiful and even more impressive was the story
"behind" the building. A minister had spent years saving the money that
his congregants donated. With the funds he had acquired, he was building
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a nine million dollar apartment building, along with a conference hall for
the members.
Impressive indeed, I thought to myself as I smiled.
Once we entered the building the first thing my eyes caught sight of
was a tall, thin man who bent down, picked up a steel beam and carried it
effortlessly away on his shoulders.
Wow!
Now that's strength!
He looked like something out of a superhero movie as he quickly
faded out of my view. There were so many men with strong backs and
bulging muscles, dripping in sweat, grime and testosterone. They were
stretching, bending, reaching, pulling and carrying what seemed to be the
weight of the world on their shoulders. There was only one black male
worker on the whole job site Eddy and not a single woman or an ounce
of femininity within one thousand miles of here. This could have been a
woman's paradise, a cove of forbidden pleasures—if the ego-crazed men
who comprised the entire population of this place hadn't been straight up
assholes (for lack of a better word.)
The foreman led me to an area that would ultimately become the
meter bank room. He left me with Eddy and a list of instructions for my
co-worker. "Put in an eight foot trough, punch holes in it for the pipes
coming out of the ground and for those going up to the meters."
Generally speaking, the foreman lays out the work and his workers
carry out the plan. Some foremen work and others do not. And who you
end up with is the luck of the draw. And with that—Jim the foremen
disappeared. Eddy began to take measurements of the pipes to transpose
them on to the trough; however, I couldn't help but notice that his
measurements were off. Eddy can't add fractions.
"Hey . . ." I said offering help, "your measurements aren't gonna come
out right."
"I've been doing this kind of work for ten years!" he immediately
snapped. "You're just an apprentice, which means you're lower than whale
shit . . . so just zip it shut, sit back and learn something!"
Well, excuse the hell out of me, I wanted to say. Instead, I opted to take
two steps backwards and allow him the grace of "mucking" up the job.
This wasn't all that I stood back and observed. During break, Eddy and I
returned to the trailer. Upon entering, the foreman looked at me and said,
"You bring coffee?"
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149
"No," I quickly responded. "I don't drink coffee."
"Well . . ." he blurted, "you will if you're gonna be working 'round
here."
Eddy snickered beneath his breath.
"Say . . ." the foreman said to Eddy pointing at my toolbox, "Pick up
those tools!"
Eddy jumped at the command and began to pick up the tools without
protest. I was shocked. The white Jim sat back in his chair and kicked
his heels up on the desk. I observed in silence. It was almost short of
unbelievable—the master/slave mentality. There was submission without
questioning and a surrender of power without protest. The white foreman
was rude and desperately lacked manners. The behavior was grotesque to
watch and he seemed to be more cave man than anything else.
When break was over we returned to work. Eddy continued to muck
up the measurements and I continued to stand by and watch. He was
focused, determined and yet seemed desperately unhappy. In fact, all of
the workers seemed unhappy.
Everyone worked.
Some even slaved . . . and everybody waited on their pay.
Union jobs paid very well, indeed.
Later that morning when Mother Nature called, I went in search
of a restroom. Instead, I was directed to what is termed "the Redhead,"
(translation: portable potty). Needless to say, this portable restroom was
disgusting and reeked from here to high heaven.
Pee You!!
"What in the world have I gotten myself into?" I asked again for the
second time that day. By the time I returned to the area where I was working
with Eddy, the foreman had returned and noticed Eddy's measurements
were off. The foreman blew his stack and went to town in cussing Eddy
out 69 ways to Sunday night.
"You stupid Son of a Bitch!" the foreman shouted, "Look what you
did! Dumb ass!"
I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. Did the supervisors really
speak to their subordinates in such a derogatory manner?
Oh my . . .
"What have I gotten myself into?" for the third time that day.
Everyone on this jobsite (including the foreman) could stand to retake
a kindergarten class on etiquette. They walked harshly, talked harshly
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and breathed harshly. Under the weight of it all, I could barely breathe
myself.
In a single day on the job, I observed racism.
Sexism.
Harassment.
And discrimination all rolled into one.
These were the rules of the jobsite, but the main rule was a simple
one—there are no rules. Both the men and the job were dangerous. "Dumb
ass Eddy," as he was affectionately coined by the Foreman, was laid off as
a result of his incompetency.
Welcome to my world.
Again.
I had hoped that all I had witnessed upon this day wasn't "all in a
day's work." But somehow, I began to get a queasy, nauseous feeling
that somehow it was just that. However, despite all that I had witnessed,
I wasn't as horrified as I should have been. Somehow, I believed
that belonging to Local 38's International Brotherhood of Electrical
Workers—would protect me somehow. I also presumed that there
would be rules, guidelines and a protocol of etiquette to be extended
to all who belonged. I was also under the assumption that they were
working with me and for me . . . but never against me. In this way, I
was pitted above the drama (at least I thought so). Imagine the rude
awakening of a naïve, young woman who was destined to learn the
ways of this "unique" subculture and the underground world of Labor
Unions.
Every good story has an arch enemy or a damn good villain.
Welcome to the villain of my story.
Labor Unions have been defined as "legally recognized representatives
of workers in an industry. Activity centers around collective bargaining
over wages, benefits and working conditions for their membership."
Wikipedia encyclopedia
This sounds exquisite—at least in theory. However, my experience
with the Union suggests that there is much more to the definition than
could ever be recorded on paper.
They are a fraternity.
A brotherhood.
They think the same.
Act the same.
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151
And are the same.
Filled to the brim with FBI (translation: Fathers, Brothers and
In-Laws.), the Union is "organized labor" and operates in a very similar
fashion to the Mafia. The Cleveland Union was a tricky one. They
had a "separate but equal" philosophy. They segregated the minorities,
which was reflected early on in my dealings with the Union—in that
Black members had different training manuals than white members.
Whites entered the Union as Apprentices. Blacks entered as "Trainees,"
which was the truest definition of "lower than whale shit."
The whole set-up was gangster from the very beginning. And even
the "black teacher" (who had been hired by the Union to teach us)
threatened to flunk me and four other minority students out of his
class if we didn't pitch in and buy him a Rolex.
What in the hell?
In the face of such adversity, I organized a meeting at my house and
rallied with fellow students to overcome such blatant and unacceptable
treatment. On behalf of the minority students, I created the basis for
an argument to plead our case. It was Supreme Court Justice Thurgood
Marshall's "separate but equal" presentation, which we took straight to
the business manager of the Union and got the teacher who tried to
bribe us fired. But firing that guy didn't fix anything—it just ironed
out one wrinkle in a crumpled suit.
Everything was slanted with the Union. Their practices may have
appeared kosher to the untrained eye, but when scrutinized under a
microscope—the story was quite different. Read between the lines:
unfair to the hilt. When it was all said and done, the Union's "separate
but equal" philosophy was an illusion. Blacks and especially women
were separate—and unequal all the way down to our bone marrow.
And I was destined to learn this firsthand.
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Chapter 22
January 1992
"This ain't real and it definitely ain't what you think it is."
Cheryl Waiters


When I was laid off from Reserve Electric it seemed as though all
hell broke loose and my eyes opened wide to the truth of how this thing,
otherwise known as my professional life, really worked. Initially, the layoff
was shocking and devastating. As I was still an Apprentice (translation:
cheap labor), I was virtually guaranteed work, and rarely was an Apprentice
laid off. But here I was—a jobless skilled laborer standing in the middle of
what I referred to as "the next chapter of my life."
Note to someone somewhere . . . there's been a huge misunderstanding.
Nonetheless, I learned to stack up my pennies and add them up to
dollars. And with that being said, somewhere between unemployment,
sub-pay (a small monetary contribution to help one meet their expenses)
and short call assignments, which were jobs less than two weeks in length,
I managed to keep my head above water.
Barely.
In short, being in the Union (which I was) and working out of a Union
Hall (which I did) was not the kind of gravy train ride that everyone around
me assumed it was. This wasn't a corporate job; therefore "on-the-job security"
was and void. The system wasn't set up and designed to function that
way. Electricians work when there's a project to be worked on.
When an electrician is in between jobs, he or she must go to the
Union Hall where they sign in on the Union books. This ensures that they
are added to the list of qualified professionals who are waiting for a gig.
But an interesting thing about the Union is this—no matter what order
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you are on the list—if they don't like you . . . you don't get called. The
Union is clever enough to devise creative ways to keep you unemployed.
Politics played a heavy role in dealing with the Union, and in my
observation, minority workers were always the last to be hired and the
first to be fired. And the only stability one could hope for once they
made Journeyman was to become employed through a large corporation
(i.e., Ford, GM, the state government) or any other entity that employed
electricians full time on their roster. But everybody was trying to get those
jobs and pickings were slim. When I got laid off it was a wake-up call, and
no matter how grandiose the job sounded . . . it just wasn't real. Now, I
was beginning to understand Joe the foreman's words, "this is the best part
time job in the world!"
And with that knowledge—it was high time to get up, get out and
mix it up with some miracles of my own. To that end, I had decided that
in order to bridge the gap between jobs and to make my money "real" and
"steady"—that I would purchase a family home, rent it out and become a
landlord who would be on the receiving end of consistency.
Or so I thought.
I was in the midst of purchasing a three family home when I lost my
job, but by the grace of a miracle and a little help from my friends—I
was able to purchase a three family home in Cleveland proper. I was
thrilled about my new purchase and the prospect of being a landlord with
investment income. But before I could even boil my first cup of hot water
on top of my new stove—the shit hit the fan.
Uh oh.
Neighbors from hell.
Interestingly enough, this dysfunctional group of people occupying
the land next door to mine, were NOT a part of my closing escrow
contract. The man, whom I purchased the house from—didn't mention
a "peep" about what was really going on with the neighbors or with the
neighborhood. And what was going on was the whole city of Cleveland
was basically a ghetto and I had purchased a home on the outskirts of
hell. There was a hotel at the end of the block (read between the lines:
whorehouse) and a store with a big parking lot (translation: drug deals
going down in the back.) Not to mention, my next door neighbor had 21
people living in the same house—with 16 of those people being the most
disobedient, out of control, bad ass kids you ever wanted to see.
Holy Mother of Jesus!
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165
The adults who lived in the house were not the most upstanding
citizens. They made their living by pursuing the finer things of life
(i.e. selling crack Cocaine, cussing and fussing, collecting welfare and
intimidating the neighbors.) And from day one, we fought like the
Hatfields & McCoys.
"Move out!" my neighbors shouted at me from across the fence. "You
don't belong here! You belong in the country!!!"
Hell . . . maybe I did.
Their bad ass kids were like termites—tearing through my property
and eating it up. They vandalized my property by spraying paint on it,
putting their dog over into my yard and letting him dig it up. They would
try to break into my house, steal my mail and throw bags and bags of
garbage into my backyard.
Holy mother of Jesus!
With neighbors like this, what kind of tenants could I possibly get?
That remained the most pressing question—which was most in need of
an answer. My rental property was a revolving door and the tenants I
acquired matched the décor of the neighborhood.
Shitty.
My life had become a living hell. I was battling with the Union in
the daytime and fighting with those Mississippi Negroes that I called my
"neighbors" at night. I had the local police department on speed dial, but
unfortunately, when they did answer my calls—I was treated like I was the
one on the wrong side of the law.
When I was growing up, my father had always told me, "Missy . . .
there will be always be "Reggins" (the N-word spelled backwards) . . . stay
away from those damn Reggins!"
But it was too late . . . I had already moved next door to them!!!
And with each passing day, I fell deeper and deeper into despair. Still an
Apprentice, I took what work I could get on short calls—but I wanted
to make it right for myself. In the meantime, I had gotten wind of a new
stadium known as Jacobs Field, a ballpark which would soon be under
construction and the future home to the Cleveland Indians.
Yes!
Yes!
This is where I show them that I'm great and show them just what a
woman can do!
There was something about the project that I found enchanting.
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I'm going to make my mark with that project! I repeated over and over to
myself. But in the meantime, I was doing the best I could on short term
assignments. On one such assignment, I was working with a group of hard
ass electricians . . . and one of the guys on the site continuously referred
to me as "Bitch!" In fact, he never used my name at all. It was "bitch this"
and "bitch that . . ." So, one day I had enough.
"Bitch!" he called out to me.
"Your Mama!" I retaliated.
What?
What?
The male co-workers were in an uproar over my response, and
ultimately, they laid me off from this position. In that moment, it seemed
as though it was just another story to chalk-up in the books—but it turned
out to be a blessing in disguise.
After I was laid off, I returned to the Union Hall to sign in on the
books again, letting them know that I was available for new work. When
the Jacobs Field gig opened, I got a call and was sent to work.
Wow!
I would finally get the chance to show the whole world what I was
made of, however, upon my arrival to the jobsite; I discovered that there
was already trouble in paradise. The owners were threatening to throw
everybody off the job because "Jacobs Field" was behind schedule. In
addition, adjacent to Jacobs Field was the Gund Arena, which was the
future home of basketball superstar, Lebron James. Ironically, the Gund
Arena was also behind schedule.
My first day on the job, I hustled.
My second day on the job, I hustled.
I just kept hustling and allowed nothing to distract or deter me.
I felt as though I were building the whole thing by myself. The
Superintendent was so impressed that he offered me a transfer to the Gund
Arena—where I led a two man team and was instrumental in bringing in
both projects on time! In fact, when I was working on the owner's suit
in Jacob's Field, I had an opportunity to meet the owners personally and
even put in a humble request. "Can I get two tickets for opening day of
the Cleveland Indians?"
Well, no sooner than the words rolled off my tongue did the tickets fall
into my hand. I was the proud owner of two tickets for opening day where
president, Bill Clinton, was slated to throw out the first pitch of the game.
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167
These were the glory days.
I had gone the distance. And given the fact that that I was the only
woman who had worked on both Jacobs Field and the Gund Arena, I had
the chance of a lifetime brewing beneath my Red Wing Shoes. And sooner
than I had imagined—someone would come calling for me.
The only question was where and when? Well, the fantasy unraveled
like this:
The City of Cleveland had promised to have a "minority quota" on
the Stadium and Arena gigs. Therefore, in accordance with the law they
were to employ 6.9% female workers and 33% minority workers. To
make certain the city was in compliance, an organization known as the
"Hard Hatted Women's Organization" was set in place to monitor the
city's female participation in the project.
Shortly after my arrival, I was introduced to the organization's
representative—a Caucasian woman who hailed from New York City with
her own office on-site. She was a savvy businesswoman with a handful of
"know how" and a reasonably "good head" placed upon her shoulders.
Upon an introduction, we became "fast friends" in the sense that we were
both friendly to one another. Ultimately, this woman not only befriended
me—but she also believed in me. In fact, she supported me so much that
she made it easy for me to believe in her when she came knocking in
search of a $2,500 loan to help establish a Scholarship Fund for women
in non-traditional fields.
I believed in the cause so I offered my support by writing a check—which
came with three promises from the fast talking New Yorker:
1. To be remembered for my kindness;
2. To be repaid for my loan;
3. And to appear as a guest on the nationally syndicated show "Good
Morning America" who was planning to feature a segment on
Jacob's Field highlighting the women who had made contributions
to both the stadium and the arena (I was the only woman who
satisfied this requirement.)
At the end of the day—the New Yorker made good on her promise
and I attained one of the greatest highlights of my professional career
appearing on Good Morning America on April 4, 1994 in recognition of
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my journey as a female electrician in a male dominated trade, along with
my contribution to Jacob's Field.
Camera.
Lights.
And action.
On Good Morning America and as I stood in Jacob's Field . . . I took
my greatest bow.
The moment—
It was magical.
And the honor was more than I had imagined it to be.
I made my mark!!!
Following the completion of Jacob's Field, I became a Journeyman
and topped out in pay. I did what they never thought I could do! And who
are they? Well . . . just about everybody.
There truly was something "mighty" that lived within me.
I had poured out of my blood.
I had peeled back my skin and offered to the ground a hard days' sweat.
And now at long last, I was ready to put on some high heels and go on
about the rest of my life as a woman.
I am strong.
I am invincible.
I am woman.
I built a city and a home for King Lebron James. I had walked a
jagged road filled with adversity and had overcome a lifetime of pain and
disappointment. Emerging from the womb during the "best and worst of
times," I transcended the ignorance of a house filled with boys, a father
who didn't know better and a mother who could never seem to do any
better. I had fought my way beyond the borders of limited thinking on
what a woman can and cannot do. I broke barriers, tore down walls and
annihilated lifetimes of misunderstanding on the real value of a woman's
worth. I did it with the grace of an eagle and the strength of a giant. I am
a walking, breathing testimonial that a woman really can do anything that
a man can do in her own special way, and in most cases, do it better. And
ironically, sometimes the best "man" for the job truly is a woman—but
it's not about hating on another or stirring up competition between the
genders. It's about bringing the strength of each one to balance out the
weakness of both. That is the truest definition of unity . . . at least in my
book of Blood, Sweat and High Heels.