• Elliot Washor

“Are you with me now?”

Harbor Freight Fellows – Bottoms Up News

We had great talks with Fellows over the course of a week both with Pedro Ortiz and Josh Lo. In the photo below, Josh is with his mentor Alizar Abrahim. They are furniture makers. They use both old and new technologies to make all sorts of furniture. Josh told us how well he gets along with Alizar and how knowledgeable and resourceful he is.


“He’s taught me to use tools I’ve never had access to or even knew about. He’s made me a lot more comfortable using some pretty difficult tools.”


Because of our own past experiences Charlie and I lit up when Josh talked about how using a joiner is more difficult than it looks.


“It’s something you have to feel rather than just see. You can’t learn it from a book or a classroom.” Pedro discussed how books don’t get you to deal with problems that actually come up. The challenge and joy in the work is figuring out problems as they occur.



Maddie, a Harbor Freight Fellow from Peace Street at The Met in Providence is now out at sea for 3 months where she will be doing marine trades work with an emphasis on vessel repair, restoration, and systems. This is barrier breaking work for women of color in the trades at sea. Maddie Gillesie will be sending photos and blogs when she has internet access. I’m looking forward to watching all of this work emerge.

And now time for some senior fellows…


“Acceleration is a trend not a law.” “Slowness is fundamental to quality.”


Both of these statements fit when you are working on problems that arise in the midst of doing work. When you are trying to figure problems out, you don’t go fast. You mostly go slow to get the quality. This week quite by accident, I heard these stories from John and Mike.


I met John at a friend of a friend’s house Saturday evening. As we started talking, I felt I was meeting the real Forrest Gump. John is from Northern Florida. He’s a Vietnam Vet – Seabee. Early on in his life, he was a drummer and a mechanic. He was always messing around with his hands fixing things. After Vietnam, John went to law school and worked in DC at the Bureau of Indian Affairs. After a year or two, he leaves and goes to Australia; comes back and has figured out what really juices him has always been building things. Today, John works on rehabbing buildings with structural problems. Problems that perplex him and are different all the time. His response to what I told him about BPL and HFF was: Where were you all 60 years ago?

Later on in the week, I went to Mike, my chiropractor. We always talk or rather he talks and I listen while he cracks me. For some reason, this time he starts telling me, “Did I ever tell you I was a car mechanic? I worked on very difficult and moody foreign cars that had problems. Now he sees, his work as a chiropractor in a very similar way to being an auto mechanic. I solve problems through manipulation pretty much just like I did with cars.

This whole notion of working on problems comes up all the time in working with your hands in the trades and crafts. When you are in school, why are the problems so weighted on theoretical problem solving and not using your body?



Anthony Carnevale- A new report from the Center on Education and the Workforce


“Beyond the first phase, there have been notable disparities in vaccine access. In some states, vaccine centers are located mostly in White, higher-income neighborhoods where hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and pharmacies tend to be located. In addition, limited internet access, transportation issues, and inflexible work schedules have contributed to the lower likelihood that Black and Latino adults have been able to schedule and receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”


Before we were developing The Met, the proposed Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical School was to be a school offering entry-level certifications to become service and med tech workers for RI Hospital which was right next door. These students were to mostly come from South Providence, a community of color. RI Hospital is separated from the South Providence community by a vast array of parking lots – a sort of no man’s land that serve as a barrier between the hospital and the community. Prior to these parking lots there was housing on this land. Presently, the parking lots are there and are next to Rhode Island Community College which is yet, another barrier that is fenced in blocking access to the hospital. This was all intentional. But when we built The Met which is located next to the parking lots and RICC, we built it open to the community. We had no fences around our property and built the school with the street grid running right through the middle of the campus and our frontage facing the community. This was also intentional and was unlike RICC or the hospital where the backs of their buildings are facing the community. For years, I/we’ve argued with RICC to take down their fence. To this day, it is still up. When we built the Met we made sure there would be a medical, dental and psychological service building with its own entrance that the community could use because of the lack of access to the hospital.

I tell this story because of how intentional and insidious city planning and architecture can be with regard to the points Carnevale is making. It isn’t just that healthcare is placed in affluent communities. It is that it is placed there with the intention of keeping people of color out. There are loads of stories like this that went into the building of The Met, what we did about it and the fights we had all along the way. Decades ago, I researched this topic about using buildings as barriers, I found loads of examples of how schools, hospital buildings and the surrounding barriers are used to keep communities from having access. We kept speaking out. We didn’t concede. We did something about it.

As Churchill stated: We shape our buildings and then, our buildings shape us.


“Everything's cool, man. We're just two guys hanging out.” Louis Armstrong


Yesterday my buddy Don Ernst sent me an email that a friend of ours passed. Jack Bradley was quite the character. I used to go over to Jack’s house with Don and be awe struck. Jack was among other things Louis Armstrong’s close friend and photographer. In his house, he had tens of thousands of records, sheet music and memorabilia. Just as a matter of fact, you could pick up one of Pops mouthpieces from his trumpet on Jack’s kitchen table. Jack had great stories that you can’t find in books. Stories about Erroll Garner, Billie Holiday and of course Louis Armstrong. So many of these stories were about civil rights issues. One was about the Louis Armstrong commemorative stamp and how Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms blocked the stamp from coming out decades after his death because of Louis’ support of the Little Rock Nine. Jack took up the fight for issuing the stamp and eventually won. At the next Big Bang, if you are interested, come on over and I’ll relay some of those stories of Billie Holiday and others. Jack was an amazing guy.


Be Well!

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Elliot Washor

Co-founder of Big Picture Learning

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Harbor Freight Fellows is a trades initiative powered by Big Picture Learning.