Detroit Local 58 member Felicia Wiseman joined a diverse set of women who were featured recently in the Lifetime special, “Women Making History,” including Vice President Kamala Harris.
“It was an honor to be included on the same show as so many other accomplished women,” said Wiseman, who teaches at Detroit’s A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical Center. “Anytime I can represent Local 58 and the IBEW, I will.”
“Women Making History” aired on March 30 as part of the television channel’s celebration of Women’s History Month.
“Felicia is a great ambassador,” said Local 58 Business Manager Brian Richard. “She embodies the IBEW, and beyond just the duties of the job.”
The special included an exclusive interview with Harris as she talked about the influence of various women in her life. Interspersed with the vice president were stories of women, including nurses working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic; immunologist Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who worked on Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine; Nobel Prize nominee Amanda Nguyen, who got legislation passed to help sexual assault survivors; Native American activist Crystal Echo Hawk; and Andra Day, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her portrayal of Billie Holiday in the film, “The United States vs. Billie Holiday.”
“I could put a frame around the pictures and put them in museums, of the women I meet,” Harris said in the interview. “All the extraordinary people, some of who you will meet, some of who you will never meet, and you may not know their names, but they are doing extraordinary work.”
For Wiseman, a journeyman inside wireman, the experience was a great way to provide some much-needed visibility for women in the trades.
As she says in the one-hour special, “One of my passions has always been to expose young people, especially inner-city kids and especially females, to the path of, ‘This is how you become an electrician, this is how you become a tradesperson.’”
The wide-ranging backgrounds of the women showcased the numerous ways in which women are making history every day. And while some of those trailblazers are high-profile politicians and performers, many more are making a difference far outside the spotlight. But a common thread they all share is the experience of being a woman and a strong desire to forge new paths for the girls who are coming after them.
“I think we need to get to a place where this paradise that we always thought America was is really that paradise,” Wiseman says in the special. “People will be able to live how they want to live, be happy in what they’re doing and not have to worry about prejudice against them for whatever reason, and not being told that you can’t do it because you’re a girl. I want everybody to be able to have that kind of experience.”
The coronavirus has put the Randolph CTC instruction on hold, but Wiseman says she still keeps in touch with her students, even if it’s just phone calls and texts.
“I’m still mentoring, still trying to help my young people,” she said.
Wiseman says she heard that some of her students in the pre-apprenticeship program recently interviewed for Local 58’s formal apprenticeship, and they did well.
“It’s been hard during this last year to stay in touch, but the extra effort is worth it. I really love keeping in contact with my students,” Wiseman said. “At the end of the day, you want to be able to say that you’d do it all over again if you could.”
Wiseman credits International President Lonnie R. Stephenson with the opportunity to be included in the Lifetime special.
“It’s a testament to all he’s doing, in D.C. and elsewhere, that I was even considered for the show,” Wiseman said. “I’m grateful for that.”
Wiseman says her interview was conducted over Zoom and she wasn’t sure at the time who else would be included, or even if they’d use her in the final cut. It wasn’t until the show aired that she realized the full scope of the program – and that she was one of the featured participants.
“I was watching the show with my sister and I kept thinking, ‘Wow, wow, these women are really amazing.’ Then I saw myself,” Wiseman said. “My sister screamed in my ear, she was so excited.”
At one point in the show, Harris talks about the difference between charity and duty. Charity is giving to others when you have something to spare. Duty is having an obligation to help others regardless of your own comfort level, she said. It’s about something Harris’ mother told her, that while you may be the first to do many things, make sure you’re not the last.
“Some people just want to go work and go home, and that’s fine,” Wiseman said. “But there are so many opportunities available to you, especially in the union, if you choose to get involved. You just need to be bold enough to ask for it.”
At the end of the show Harris talks about her experience mentoring people and that she doesn’t hear “no.” That determination is something she shares with Wiseman.
“Felicia will never say no to anything if she’s asked to step up. That’s just who she is,” Richard said.
Wiseman, who can be seen wearing pearls in front of a Local 58 banner in the show, says one of the questions they asked her was what she thinks her superpower is. Her response was one that Vice President Harris could likely relate to.
“I think I can do anything,” said the Detroit native. “It’s not that I’m cocky or vain, I just know who I am, and I have faith.”
That sense of self, coupled with her sense of duty, makes Wiseman a valuable addition to the Lifetime conversation, especially for raising the visibility of opportunities women have in the trades.
“We’ve been doing a lot in terms of outreach and inclusion at Local 58, but a show like this is undoubtedly helpful,” Richard said. “If a little girl can see Felicia and know that they can be that too, that’s great.”
As Vice President Harris’ election has shown, representation matters. Now, young girls, especially girls of color, everywhere know that they too, can do anything, even run for office. Also, sometimes electricians wear pearls.