Saving Lives

2nd Call Provides the Tools for a Successful Career in the Trades – and Beyond

By Robert Fulton

Every Thursday evening, more than 50 men and women gather in the basement of the Abundant Life Christian Church on Normandie Avenue just south of Jefferson Boulevard in South Los Angeles.

The people in this room encompass a range of ages, ethnic backgrounds and life experiences. Many have spent time in prison, but some have not. What brings them together is desire to better themselves through the community-based organization 2nd Call.

According to its website, 2nd Call works to reduce violence and assists “in the personal development of high-risk individuals … and others who society disregards.”

John Harriel, Jr. sums up 2nd Call’s mission in three words: to “save lives.”

Learning to be Great
One of the roles of 2nd Call is to help job seekers find a career in the trades. Harriel, a long-time member of IBEW 11, a Morrow-Meadows superintendent and Local 11 Executive Board member, estimates he has guided between 400 and 500 2nd Call members into careers as union electricians.

But 2nd Call is more than just job placement. The organization – and don’t call it a program, as Harriel points out, there is no beginning or end – deals with life skills. Issues including unresolved trauma, self-esteem, dysfunctional families, anger management and goal setting are addressed.

Harriel (who is known as “Big John”) works as a facilitator for 2nd Call, leading the Thursday meetings and guiding discussion. Every meeting starts the same way, with attendees introducing themselves and saying how they’re feeling that day: “excited,” “grateful” and “tired” are among the most common answers.

After spending seven years in prison for drug offenses, Harriel applied his electrical skills and joined IBEW 11. He met 2nd Call founders Skipp Townsend and Kenny Smith, who were working on hard-core gang intervention. Impressed by their work, Harriel brought IBEW 11 to the table in 2008.

As Harriel explains, getting a job or career is one thing, but it isn’t everything. There’s learned behavior like being at work on time and listening to your supervisor, that some people missed along the way. Furthermore, anyone coming out of the prison system or deemed at-risk may have done their time or stayed out of trouble, but they may still be dealing with unresolved trauma and anger issues that 2nd Call addresses to better guarantee success.

“If you haven’t even been exposed to greatness, how are you going to learn to be great?” Harriel asks. “What we’re not going to do is make an excuse on why we can’t even try. That’s what 2nd Call does. It provides an opportunity for a person to come down and even think that they can try.”

In addition to life skills, 2nd Calls also helps those looking for a job in the trades with math tutoring and to develop interviewing skills.

Harriel stresses he only works with those who are committed.

“I deal with individuals who want to learn how to change because they’re seeking the knowledge,” Harriel says. “They want to do better because they don’t want to keep living the way that they’re living.”

The Unicorn
Sheyonna Grayson, known as “Big Shey” on the jobsite, is a third-year apprentice and IBEW 11 member working to be an inside wireman. Her family is filled with tradesmen, including her father, who is a member of Operating Engineers Local 12. Grayson likes staying active and working with her hands, and she has embraced the challenge of being an electrician.

Grayson has not been to prison, but has loved ones who have. “It’s heartbreaking, even from the family member’s side,” she said. “It’s a sense of being locked up still.” She started attending 2nd Call meetings, which set her on a path to IBEW 11.

“This is a brand-new experience for me,” says Grayson, an Inglewood native who spent time on the jobsite at SoFi Stadium. “I was mentally prepared for work because of 2nd Call. I know how to carry myself. I know how to do more than just try my best. I know how to thrive at work because of 2nd Call. 2nd Call didn’t just help me to get into the union; it’s helping me stay in the union.”

As an African American woman, Grayson sees herself as a rarity on most jobsites.

“A lot of times, I am the only person that looks like me,” Grayson says. “I have to prove myself every single day. Everyone is always watching me. I feel like I’m a unicorn at work. Can the unicorn walk up a ladder? Can the unicorn bend conduit by hand? Can the unicorn carry a whole bundle of conduit? Can the unicorn carry her ladder by herself? So, I’m out there to show, yes I can.”

“2nd Call helps me to stay focused and stay grounded, even though I am challenged and tested and not always welcome,” Grayson says. “It’s not easy to go to work every day, but coming here weekly gives me the strength to carry through until I come here again to get more strength to carry through some more.”

Grayson loves the stability, benefits and family atmosphere of belonging to the union. She’s currently on the job at the Consolidated Rent-a-Car (ConRAC) facility at LAX for Morrow-Meadows.

Grayson describes those in 2nd Call as hard-working people who are looking to do better.

“I can’t look at someone and tell their background,” she says. “None of our backgrounds matter.”

Fighting Fires
When Marco Wu was serving his 10 years behind bars, he was part of the prison system’s fire brigade, fighting blazes for pennies. That gave him perspective: If he could give it his all fighting fires in the sweltering heat for next to nothing while incarcerated, anything else would be a piece of cake.

Wu came out of prison hungry and determined to turn his life around. He learned about 2nd Call while working non-union construction immediately after release. He started attending meetings, and, through Harriel, caught on with IBEW 11. Wu joined the union in July 2021 and is currently a CW. His goal is to be an inside wireman, and he is currently on the job for Morrow-Meadows at OneLegacy in Azusa.

Wu says that 2nd Call helped teach him how to better deal with other people.

“I didn’t know if I could talk to someone, if I could trust them,” he says. “In order to work somewhere, you have to have some kind of trust in that person. 2nd Call helps me keep myself safe while doing my job.”

Wu credits 2nd Call with giving him the tools and structure to get in the union and thereby help turn his life around.

“The love here is genuine,” Wu said. “They’re not just here to help people that’ve been to jail. They’re here to give everyone a second chance. I haven’t seen any other program like that.”

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