Pa’Trice Frazier: From the ballet barre to welding bars

Pa’Trice Frazier is hot right now, I mean melting hot. At 38, the New Jersey native is the epitome of the expression, “Nevertheless, she persisted,” shining in a field that has been dominated by men for decades and winning praise and acknowledgment for her skills as a master welder and teacher. Frazier has marked her place in history as one of the few Black female master welders in the country. In 2020, Pa’Trice was recognized as the first Black Female Weld Instructor in the Philadelphia region as she launched the Weld Jointed Academy, which prepares students to become certified with the American Welding Society. 

Women only make up about 5% of all welders, and that number shrinks even more when we’re talking about women of color and LGBTQ+ folks. 

“It was hard in the beginning, not being invited to dinners or parties,” Frazier said. “It got ugly at times with verbal and physical threats, but I just had to push through it. Women are the best welders if you ask me, we’re used to using our hands, we braid our hair, we put on makeup, we prepare dinner, we sew, our hand eye coordination is sharp naturally, and those are skills you need as a welder.”

Frazier has worked on big projects like the Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the Marta Buckhead Bridge, and the Independence Seaport Museum.  We spoke to the ‘welding advocate’ about life behind the heat shield and finding your path. 

Okay, hang on while I get my recorders going. I don’t type very well so I have to tape it, thank goodness for computers!

Right? Oh man, I remember using actual typewriters, that was crazy!

Yeah, and the little containers of Wite-Out that you had to use when you made a mistake. Having to blow on the paper to dry it. 

[Laughing] Talk about it! 

So where are you from?

I’m from South Jersey, Cumberland County. I’m a Jersey girl. 

Me too, but I’m from up north.

All right girl! Come on now!

Tell me a little about your family.

I’m the only child from my mother. My father has other kids, but we’re not in touch. I was raised by my grandmothers. They were my parents. I live with my one grandmother now, she’s the only one still living. I was named after her. She also gave me my drive and charisma! 

So you were raised by your grandmothers on both sides?

Yes, and my great-grandmother who passed away not too long ago. 

So you were in a very female centric household. 

Yaaas! And with a whole bunch of Aunties as well. I was around older women a lot. Because their kids were having babies, my mother was young when she had me, they took care of us. 

How would your great-grandmother describe you?

She would call me a gentle giant, which was funny because I was really little, but she said it to make me feel big. I was a people person, someone who was always trying to help people. I’d give out snacks to the kids in the hood and I was always trying to help my classmates. I always wanted to give things to those less fortunate. My great-grandfather was a millionaire [by today’s standards], he was a tradesman too, and he took care of my great-grandmother. They built homes and had property and were very well off. He was a good man and made sure that his kids learned a little bit of skills. 

What kinds of things were you into?

I was a ballerina! I was really into dance and danced ballet for about 12 years. I also played basketball and did both until one day I just stopped dancing. As I came into myself, I stopped playing ball too. Both of the things I used to love and was really good at just didn’t interest me anymore. 

What do you think happened?

I started dating women! I discovered women and that was it!

I know the feeling! What was a favorite family tradition?

Our holidays were dope! No matter the holiday, we’d celebrate for 3 to 4 days. I think my favorite part was everybody singing at the table. Sometimes they’d sing so long the food would get cold! The family on my father’s side especially were very musical. 

What did your parents do?

My father is a master painter [and my] mother has a masters in journalism. She graduated from Temple. Because she was so young when she had me, we kind of grew up together. 

Did you go to college?

I went to community college just to play ball. They gave me a scholarship and it was dope, but I was never really a schooly girl. I was more of a hands-on person. I liked to build things. But college was also when I first really stepped into the world, you know what I’m saying, and that’s where the females came in. And forget college, I was hanging out with the girls! 

My interview last week was with an artist, and we spoke about the fact that she’d always wanted to take shop classes but was forced to take home economics. And that I was the only person in my school to flunk home ec!

What! What! That’s funny, no, I definitely passed home ec. I was like, “Yo, we are going to cook, we’re going to eat, we’re doing it.” But any of the other classes, English, math, actually it wasn’t so much the classes, I just didn’t like the controlling of me. That bell going off and having to follow orders, I never liked that. The regimen of it all. I felt like I was getting trained for something I didn’t sign up for. 

Got ya.

But my mother was big on education and was pushing for me to go that way, and once that way didn’t happen, we never got back to the same relationship. That and the fact that she wasn’t into any of this “gay shit” at all. She’s not supportive at all, she just doesn’t deal with it. 

How about your grandmother?

My Grandma? Oh, she’s dope. All my grandmother’s were dope. They knew before me, so I never had a coming out party. They were very protective, they were like, “It’s cool, just survive, because the world outside this house isn’t always going to accept you.” 

What was an early sign that you were gay?

As soon as I learned how to write, I used to write little love notes to the girls I liked, little poems and things. And their parents used to come to the house to complain. My grandmother said, “I’m not going to tell you to stop writing the notes, but stop SIGNING YOUR NAME!” Because I used to do this big signature, [with a flourish] “Pa’Trice Frazier!” 

That’s funny! 

Yeah, I mean it’s something that’s just in you, some people like strawberries, some people like blueberries. It’s just in your DNA. 

You’re preaching to the choir. I tried to buy my teacher a negligee in 2nd grade.

Talk! I mean for real, we know what we want at a young age. Come on! I was the same way. 

So how did you end up in welding?

I was 24 and I was lost, I wasn’t doing anything and I was a loser! I just sat around, and one day I was reading the NY Times and there was an article that said that America needed 200,000 welders. It also said that the industry was something like 97% white men and I thought I gotta get in there. This is a monopoly, I like monopolies. They get my blood going, so I looked up a school, borrowed my neighbor’s dirt bike and asked them at the school if the stats were true. When they said yes, I enrolled that week and soon after got my American Welding Society certification.

What was the hardest thing about school?

Just figuring out what I was doing and wondering where it was going to take me. Is this going to pay off? Why am I here? Once I get certified, who’s going to hire a little Black lesbian? I was 120 pounds soaking wet. The school was really supportive, but just like outside of my grandma’s house, I didn’t know how things would go in the world outside of school. 

What was a favorite thing that you made at school? Or did you go straight into welding pipes?

We did both, mostly welding things in different gauges from light to heavy. For something more artistic, I made a flower, a metal rose, while the guys were making cars and shit. But it was more shop training, getting us ready to be out there. 

What was your first job?

I got hired to do a job at an energy plant in Chester, PA. They turned trash into natural energy, and there were big, huge conveyors that looked like a slide that we had to repair. I had to put on my bungee and hook up my frog, so that I didn’t fall. The conveyors went up 2 to 3 floors, so you had to be careful, but it was a good job. Nasty, because we were working around trash, and trash means rats and bad smells and dirt, but a good job. I was there for about a year and a half. 

How did you get the job? 

You know what, persistence. I filled out an application online, and they didn’t call me so I drove there. I figured once they read my name and saw that I didn’t have any real experience… well, I just figured I needed to get next to these people and talk to them face to face. It would allow me to do what I couldn’t do on paper and that is to negotiate, ‘You’re paying this amount for the job, I’ll take this amount because I’m good but I need the experience.’ And it worked! I got the job! 

Bravo to persistence. 

After that, I got a job in Atlanta, Georgia and that’s when my welding career really took off. It was in 2011, and they were remodeling Atlanta, so there were a lot of rebuilding projects going on. And Atlanta was the gay hub, so it was incredible and kind of a culture shock, seeing so many Black people. It’s like, where did y’all come from? It was great and the work was constant. 

What’s the hardest thing about welding? 

Some of the politics in the companies that you’re working for. As far as the actual welding? Hmmm, I guess it’s… you know what? Shit, I love welding, ain’t nothing hard about it. I’m still in love with it.

What were some of the favorite projects that you worked on?

The Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the Spanx Headquarters in Atlanta and the River Alive Exhibit at the Independence Seaport Museum are the first things that come to mind. 

What are some of the things you like to do when you’re not under a welding helmet?

I like people, so I enjoy festivals and open mic nights, but I’m also a nature girl, so I like hiking and fishing and crabbing. I just like being outside. I’m like an old lady, I could sit in a rocker on the porch all day and be happy breathing the fresh air. I’m a Taurus, so we’re an earth sign. 

I knew I liked you for a reason! April bull here.

Come on now! May for me. 

So let’s talk about “Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge.” You’re on the show. What was that like?

It was fun. We shot it in Europe, in London. I just got back about a month ago. I was on the first episode. I usually don’t go into things where I’m shone, I’m not really into the spotlight, but I did it for the representation, to let people see people like me on TV. I grew up with hot wheels, so that was nice, and the people I worked with were beautiful, master builders, painters, designers, all at the top of their game. But I just wanted to shoot it and get back home. I will admit though, it was dope seeing it on TV. 

Did you enjoy London?

Actually, it was kind of depressing, and the people weren’t very nice to me. 

Yeah, when I was in England, I was shocked at how rude people were. I thought they were supposed to be the models of civility. 

Thank you! It was horrible. I couldn’t get waiters to serve me in restaurants, Ubers didn’t want to pick me up. It was crazy. And I’m a beach girl, so I knew England wasn’t going to do it for me. There’s no damn sun there. Give me Mexico, give me the islands. Although my favorite place? That’s America for me baby. We have freedom here that you don’t find in a lot of other countries that I’ve been to. And Philly is my favorite city out of them all! 

I love this city too. So what are you up to now?

The past few years I’ve mostly been teaching and touring the country giving lectures and doing seminars about welding, especially with women and minorities. There’s so much opportunity in this field. I was in the business for 7 years before I met another woman welder. I became the first Black female welding instructor, and I’m still the only one, which is sad. Like, dang, no one else wants to teach this? So I started a company, WeldJointed, to try to help bring more diversity in the welding industry. I need to get other people out there so they can get the contracts. You know, don’t call me, I’ve got somebody I can send you. That’s where my head is at now, I want to give other people the welcome stage. 

You mentioned that you have art pieces in a few museums. Where can people find them?

The best one is at the Independence Seaport Museum. It’s part of the River Alive Exhibit. It’s my favorite thing. It got some kind of award from the governor, so now I’m an award winning welder!

Nice! Okay, let’s go for some rapid fire questions. Favorite flavor of ice-cream?

Rainbow sherbet.

What song always makes you happy when you hear it?

New Birth’s “Wildflower.” 

What do you have on the horizon? 

I’m all about representation. Miller Electric has been working with me. They had huge billboards in Atlanta with my picture, and at the stadium that I helped build there’s something there too. I have a lot of contracts to help me spread the word. And I want to learn something new. I’ve got the welding thing down. It’s time to try something else, whether it’s learning how to play the guitar or do photography. It’s time to grow as Pa’Trice the person, not just the welder. 

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