On Saturday, June 2, at Rancho Cienaga Park, former gang members and former prison inmates, along with their building trade colleagues (Union Electricians vs. Union Carpenters L.A. County) competed in the first inaugural Community Softball Game, to solidify not only their careers, but to celebrate life and show support for each other regardless of their past.
The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 11, played against the African American Task Force (Southwest Council of Carpenters), in the inaugural Community Softball Game.
John E. Harriel, Jr. (AKA “Big John”), is the superintendent / Diversity manager for Morrow Meadows, one of the largest electrical contractors on the West Coast with over 2500 contractors. He is a former prison inmate and has over 23 years in the trade.
He co-founded the event with Anthony Fagan, coach of the Union Carpenters, who is superintendent for McCarthy Builders. “It took two years but we organized the Community Softball Game to show the camaraderie between the two trades and to build relationships by getting people out of their comfort zones.”
Fagan mentions that for some, just being in the area is a tense feeling due to past gang-affiliations. “There were approximately 100 years of accumulated prison time playing in the softball game, but in contrast, there also was approximately 150 years of combined union workers experience playing as well.”
The players come from diverse cultures and ethnic backgrounds. “Many are even from rival gangs, said Harriel coach of the Union Electricians, who is the co-founder of the event. Many, but not all of the participants are former inmates who reformed and found careers in the carpentry and electrician fields.
Many of the inmates are members of 2ndCall (A SECOND CHANCE at Loving life), where Harriel volunteers. 2ndCall is a community-based organization designed to save lives, by reducing violence and assisting in the personal development of high risk individuals, proven offenders, ex-felons, parolees and others who society disregards.
Harriel says 2ndCall helps all people.” It doesn’t matter if you were from the penn or not; these courses help everyone,” he said. Courses include anger management, dysfunctional families, low self-esteem, anger behaviors, depression, domestic violence, etc.
According to Fagan, the mission of the African American Task Force is geared towards mentoring African Americans with criminal backgrounds and “teachings on how to be leaders, to sustain and maintain their careers, and to become leaders in the carpentry industry,” he said.
“The game was a great success because of the two Union Trades coming together in the community and having a friendly game of softball,” said Harriel.
He says the game symbolizes the willingness of individuals wanting to build bridges; that can be a great way for outsiders to get a chance to see young men and women who are in the trades and from the community doing positive activities in the community.
In addition to the players, a community of supporters fill the stands. Industry reps from related fields come to network and recruit future candidates in various programs.
“Big shout out to my Local 11 Brothers and sisters and Anthony Fagan for coming up with the idea to have this game,” said Harriel.
The Electricians defeated the Carpenters by a score of 15-9. “We whopped that ***!” said Harriel. “So, they gotta lick their wounds, learn from their their mistakes and try again next year, in the second annual in June 2020.”
Both teams came together at the end; they signed bases and dedicated them, took group photos and selfies, and vowed to meet up a next year. “Our mission is to save lives and to bring awareness, and help people with challenging pasts to start and sustain careers in our fields,” said Harriel.
* This story has been updated with name correction.