By Belinda Merritt
Relocating to Baltimore from Seattle in 2015, Shelley Halstead understood all too well the meaning of “reinventing yourself.” She had a vision and user experiences as a carpenter, former forest firefighter and corporate attorney to establish Black Women Build – Baltimore, the non-profit which was officially incorporated in 2017.
Black Women Build-Baltimore is a program that allows Black women to create intergenerational wealth and uphold the mission to preserve communities. The nonprofit program empowers Black women to obtain carpentry, plumbing and electrical skills to rebuild dilapidated and abandoned homes in the communities of West Baltimore.
Halstead purchased her first four houses on Etting Street in August 2019.
Participants are given the opportunity to own their renovated homes after completing the program. Halstead sees the potential in the deteriorated homes because of her carpentry skills and the belief that she- along with the program participants- can put homes back together.
“You have this vision to rebuild these homes and then you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I have to wrap my brain around it,’” Shelley said. “It’s a little daunting.”
While growing up, Halstead saw her parents giving back to the community. The family helped people where and whenever they could. She acknowledges that many women did not have that support or family involvement.
Halstead said being an attorney honed her writing skills, which are necessary to apply for grants. Fighting forest fires certainly may have taught her to be courageous in any situation and carpentry has given her the ability to be self-sufficient in many ways. Halstead credits carpentry as her muse.
“I’ve always wanted to do for myself,” she said. “It was really the most pragmatic thing to do- learn the trade to build something.”
Halstead says she sees herself as a carpenter by trade because it speaks to the work she is currently doing in the nonprofit world.
The program motivates and empowers women to be self-sufficient while being active participants in rebuilding homes and -more importantly- their lives.
At times, participants become overwhelmed with the commitment needed to complete the program. Halstead is there to prove they can indeed do the work and acquire the skills needed to complete their goal.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, Halstead reflects on a conversation she had with someone who stated, “There is nowhere on the planet where women are treated equally.”
Halstead felt a little discouraged but soon realized the organization she founded provides space where women are treated equally.
“We work with men that are subcontractors. They take the cue from us,” she said.
Participants benefit from seeing subcontractors come in and respect her directives and decisions. Halstead explained that seeing encourages other women to understand that they are “able to excel in a certain way.”
She added that modeling success for participants is just as important as “not letting them quit.”
“The only way we are going to succeed is if we stick by each other and we do it together,” said Halstead.
Currently, seven homes are completely renovated, two of which are currently under contract. One house is temporarily being used as the non-profit office until the community resource center is built. New participants are scheduled to start projects in April and September.
Halstead came to Baltimore to help rebuild and empower the lives of black women and prove there is value in restoring communities.
She is truly a remarkable woman and Baltimore is a better place because of her contributions.
Additional information is available by visiting www.blackwomenbuild.org
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