Carpenter Latisha McQueen 50, has built a life around her trade, including having a hand in the new Old Colony Development. Both practical and thoughtful, she is as at home in beautiful buildings, including the Boston Public Library, as in construction sites.
“It hasn’t always been easy, but I do love what I do, and it gave me a way to support my son,” she said. “Carpentry in particular means understanding numbers, and math, and sometimes you get on a job that you know is going right, and you can feel proud to be part of it. Of all the trades, carpentry was the best because I love beautiful buildings.”
Life, beyond work, has had its share of challenges for Latisha, who grew up in Dorchester and graduated from Lexington High School, where she ran on a championship track team. Headed for college she deferred a year. “That was probably a mistake, and it is when things changed, and I had to figure out how to manage,” she said.
Figuring out how to succeed became her goal. Living in transitional situations with her son when in her twenties, she seized the opportunity to join an apprenticeship program, and that became a major part of her life course.
“There weren’t many women in the trades, and it just wasn’t seen as a thing to do, but that is changing a lot. You have to bring a sense of commitment, as in anything to be successful, but it can be difficult if you’re judged for being a woman, particular a black woman. But, for example, the Dewey Square building had as good a team as you could ask for, was a quality building, and had high expectations. I like that,” she said.
It is easy to imagine Latisha McQueen as a track star. Both determined and a team player, she is acutely aware of her surroundings and oriented toward reaching goals.
“It is always said that the trades provide a good income and retirement, and it is true enough, even though there are periods of being laid off and not the security that some have. But is a brotherhood and sisterhood and that means a lot. When I needed to be home for my son after school, the hours worked. Now, I’m in another part of life and want to support other women coming into the work,” she said.
It could be easy for Latisha McQueen to feel that she was alone with responsibilities, and a complex and demanding work environment not immune from bias. Instead, she is the first to realize that she has had support along the way, particularly from a sisterhood of women who saw her as the dignified, talented woman she is.
“Liz Carpenter was a trailblazer in the trades, and then my people at Metco in Lexington, Betsy Cargill, my houseparent showed up for me and cheered me on. It meant a lot. And my track coach, Lisa George, and counselor, Edna Jones, and then Karen Blandino, another carpenter, helped with Isiah (son) so I could work. Before all was my Aunt Mary, who taught me that you can go after what you want and get it. She was awesome and my mother also worked hard to keep a roof over our heads,” she said with a list that continues.
Latisha McQueen feels that she is entering a peaceful time of her life. She sees the imperfections in society as well as buildings but looks to the positive and beauty. Her son, a graduate of Newton North, is now well on his way in the Air Force, and her attention, though never far from him, is now on younger woman and men in the trades, and how they can flourish in an equitable environment.
“I found my nucleus with a sisterhood and brotherhood, and if you come in serious about what you want to do and are willing to work hard, it can be a good life,” she said. “Yes, I would recommend it to younger women if they are prepared.”
Latisha is only one proud member of Carpenters Union Local 327, and that is only one of the trades that has members working to build the kind of beautiful places she talks about and visits. Latisha McQueen has many gifts, and a hammer and nails is only one. She is able to live beyond adversity, appreciate mentors, and realizes the role model she can become. She also loves the City of Boston and has helped shape it in her own persistent and creative style.