My name is Cheyvonne Grayson and I am 28 years old and the oldest of 4 siblings. I grew up in South Central Los Angeles. Growing up, my dad kept me and my siblings busy. We were always fixing things, and active with extreme sports like snowboarding. I was even a boy scout. I actually started by first job at the age of 11 just for tips helping out at a family member’s store. My dad thought it was important that I got involved in activism and I did that around the Devon Brown shooting. He was a 13 year-old boy who was shot excessively by the police just 10 blocks from where I lived. Violence was very visible in my community. I lost 10 friends before the age of 18. There was a lot going on and I wanted to have a voice, so I got involved.
I am now a proud union carpenter. I started off construction by working in an oil refinery, and then I went on to labor and fire watch. I’m proud of the work that I do. It helps that my dad taught us a good work ethic; which is important in the construction industry. As a Black worker I felt I have to represent well for my whole race, because of the stereotypes we face. It’s like my boss expects me to be late, or expects me to be lazy, but I work hard to prove them wrong. Once when I showed up early for work, I got the comment “Oh, you’re early?” I used to work non-union and I see the difference having a union makes. I get better pay, more protections and I see more diversity on the worksite.
My first experience with discrimination was with the police as a child getting harassed at the age of 12, I was a victim of police brutality. My parents would worry about me when I left the house, they would tell me “be careful, and watch out for the police,” instead of “watch out for gangs”. Politicians need to be reminded that discrimination is still going on and it’s blatant; and it happens before you even get to the job. I’m judged by the color of my skin, when I’m just here to work. On the worksite, I’ve heard monkey noises as I walked by, and I’ve seen graffiti in the bathroom saying “go back to Africa”. Experiencing wage theft at my last non-union job was tough on my family. I couldn’t help out as much as I wanted to. There were a lot of immigrant and people with barriers to employment in the workforce which left of us vulnerable to being exploited; I worked overtime that I was not paid for.
I have had to humble myself for this type of work (construction). I hear a lot of racist and other inappropriate comments that I just have to brush off. I have had to be persistent; I got turned away in too many places before I actually got a job. I’m a member of the Los Angeles Black Workers Center (LA BWC) because alone we are just a whisper, but together we are a voice. I just want to help future generations set a good example.