Meet Pa'Trice Frazier, a 34-year-old master welder and instructor.
- On being a black female welder: "It's like I'm a Loch Ness (monster) right now, or Bigfoot. What's alive but you don't see all the time? Like a baby pigeon. ... When's the last time you seen a baby pigeon?"
- From toe shoes to tungsten: "As a kid growing up, I thought I would be a ballerina. Straight up."
Pa'Trice Frazier saw a monopoly and wanted in.
It was 2008, and Frazier, then 22, was reading the newspaper with her gram in Gouldtown, N.J., when she saw a story about how the United States would face a shortage of welders in two years. Further research showed Frazier that few welders were black, and even fewer were women.
She couldn't find stats on how many black female welders there were in the U.S. because the numbers were so small nobody kept track.
They still don't.
"I was like, 'Whoa. It's a monopoly. I got to get into this monopoly,' " Frazier said. "There wasn't no females, there wasn't no brown people. I was like, 'Oh yeah. I got to be a part of this.' "
And within two years, Frazier became a certified welder. Six more years passed before she ever encountered another woman on the job.
Although women have been welding since the days of Rosie the Riveter, just 5% of all welders in the country are women and only 8% are black, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
"My first few years I was intimidated, very much so," Frazier said of working in the male-dominated industry. "And then I realized they was intimidated, and then it changed my whole perspective on everything."
Raised in South Jersey by her grandmothers, Frazier, now 34, is as fiery as the sparks she throws off while welding. Quick-witted and honest, she wears gauged earrings and has tattoos covering her arms, including a shark on her bicep. She wears large, Lennon-esque circle glasses and fully embraces her androgynous appearance ("let them guess for a while").
A graduate of Cumberland Regional High School, Frazier tried college for a while but found she was better with her hands.
Inspired by the stats she read in that newspaper article ("I like numbers. I move off of numbers"), Frazier enrolled in the Cumberland County Technology Education Center. She was the only woman in her welding classes.
After graduation, Frazier had a few local welding gigs but found it difficult to land jobs as an independent welder in the Philly area - a longtime labor union stronghold. So she moved to Atlanta, Ga., where she helped build everything from bridges to frames for digital touchscreen displays.
Her favorite job was working on the hand rails for Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the Super Bowl was held last year.
"Seeing the Super Bowl and people playing there and being safe and actually seeing my work, ... it's amazing," she said.
Frazier became specialized in TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding - a precise and detailed form of welding often used on engines, artwork, and thin metals - and at holding her own on job sites.
"You got to be good at s - - t talking," she said of working with mostly men. "Man, you got to be top."
In 2017, Frazier moved back to Sicklerville, N.J., to pursue her dream of owning her own welding business. In the interim, she was hired by Mark Cavo of Cavo Design-Build to help with a renovation at the Independence Seaport Museum.
Cavo, who hired Frazier for her TIG welding skills, said he doesn't often get female applicants.
"It's a rare thing to come across," he said. "But she got that steady hand."
Last year, as she worked on developing her business plan for her company, Weld Jointed, Frazier - who dreams of opening her own welding academy - took a job teaching welding at the Philadelphia Technician Training Institute.
"I confirmed to myself that I could do it," she said. "Not only do I have the skill, but I can relay the skill."
Dominique Morgan, 24, was the only female student in Frazier's class.
"When she walked through the door, I was like, 'There's somebody like me!' " Morgan said.
Frazier believes if there are more female welders and instructors, more women will view it as a viable career. She thinks women make the best welders because "our hand-eye coordination is so sharp."
"If I can do it - I'm 120 pounds, straight up - you can do it," she said.
Frazier is hoping to organize a welding seminar in West Philly this spring for those who might be interested in the career and for established welders looking to connect with each other.
Because of all the things she's built, what Frazier is most proud of making are her relationships with other welders.
"It's the connections I've made, that's what matters," she said. "It's such a small community, and we're all, like, kind of rebels, man."
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