Left photo: Keith Townsend, right, a Los Angeles Local 11 journeyman wireman, works with Local 11 apprentice Harry Oneel on lighting work at Kaiser Permanente’s new counseling center. Right photo: Tyrone Burgess, a Local 11 journeyman wireman, tackles another punch list item for the Kaiser Permanente counseling center project.

When it began to look as if the electrical work on Kaiser Permanente’s upgraded Watts Counseling and Learning Center in South Central Los Angeles might need a push to get finished by the project’s deadline, the site’s general foreman knew he could call on Los Angeles Local 11’s John Harriel Jr. for some additional help.

Harriel, better known as Big John, is chairman of Los Angeles Local 11’s executive board and a superintendent and diversity manager with IBEW signatory contractor Morrow Meadows. He’s also a longtime volunteer facilitator with Second Chance at Loving Life, or 2nd Call, a community-based nonprofit organization whose staff members emphasize mutual support while teaching life skills, career classes and trades to at-risk and proven-risk men and women.

“The biggest role of 2nd Call is to provide a pathway for facilitation and mentoring,” said Harriel, who often steers conversations toward careers in the trades. Like the IBEW, he said, “No one’s turning their backs on someone who spent time in prison or didn’t go to high school.”

The Kaiser Permanente project’s foreman, with signatory contractor Briggs Electric, had worked successfully on a previous project with Harriel and his group of Local 11 members who are also 2nd Call participants, known as the Wolfpack. The foreman knew that the job would get done.

So did Harriel, who understands how a career in the trades can provide a pathway toward a solid middle-class career, not to mention a much-needed second chance. A self-described one-time thug from South Central, Harriel was serving a five-year sentence in an Illinois prison when he was tasked to help an IBEW electrician who was working on site. Not only did Harriel learn a trade through this experience, but he also learned that the IBEW would not hold his past against him. After Harriel returned to Los Angeles in 1997, he was initiated into the IBEW and started working for Morrow Meadows, eventually becoming a foreman in 2004.

As a volunteer with 2nd Call since soon after the organization was founded in 2005, Harriel has worked with hundreds of people, helping them deal with such things as lifelong trauma, anger and depression while also teaching them personal development and career skills.

“Brother Harriel and the Wolfpack epitomize what the IBEW is all about in their continuous community involvement and showing how anyone can succeed given an opportunity and second chance,” said Ninth District International Vice President David Reaves.

For this Kaiser Permanente job, Harriel and his Wolfpack crew “were like paratroopers coming in. We had a team in place in eight hours,” he said. “It was a real testimony to the power of the Brotherhood.”

The original counseling center opened two years after the 1965 civil unrest that had been centered in Watts. It provides mental health and educational resources to all families from the neighborhood and nearby communities, even if they aren’t Kaiser Permanente members. The company had promised the community that an upgraded facility on 103rd Street would be open by early 2024.

With five weeks to go before Kaiser Permanente’s deadline over the summer, the Wolfpack assembled the project’s various and extensive punch lists, and then quickly set out to wrap up all the remaining task items, everything from roof lights to conduits, working 10-hour shifts six days a week to get the job done.

“For Briggs, it had been their first time working on this type of project,” Harriel said, and the work had been progressing.

“What is beautiful was the relationship we brought to the project,” Harriel said, noting that there was no finger-pointing or second-guessing. “We said, ‘How can we help?’”

“Kaiser saw this teamwork happening,” he added. “That gets us in good graces with Kaiser as a whole.”

What also helped is that most of the Wolfpack crew, like Harriel, is from that community, and some might use the building’s services at some point. “I never believed in being successful and then leaving my community,” he said. “I stay here and help them out.”

More recently, Harriel has been helping his Morrow Meadows colleagues with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

“We have to get people uncomfortable [to] help people from the community get in leadership positions,” he said. “Let’s let the tide rise all.”

(Learn more about Harriel’s journey in the March/April 2007 edition of the IBEW Journal and in the May 2020 and November 2022 editions of The Electrical Worker, all available at ibew.org/media-center.)