The first African American woman to become a master plumber

Adrienne Bennett is America’s first female African-American master plumber. She was contracted to design the plumbing system in Comerica park, home of the Detroit Tigers. Up next, Adrienne explains the complexities of her work, and shares a preview of her current project.

TRANSCRIPT

Adrienne Bennett is America's first female African American master plumber.

She was contracted to design the plumbing system in Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers.

Up next, Adrienne explains the complexities of her work and shares a preview of her current project.

Plumbing, a lot of people don't realize, is not just some plumbing of a plugged toilet.

It's just not when a turn a faucet on or go to a drinking fountain, you get a chance to sip some water.

We actually protect the drinking water.

That is the number-one goal for the plumbing industry.

I love this industry.

As difficult as it is, challenging with the weather, and you're eating dirt, eating dust.

You know, you -- you come out looking like, you know, this dirt ball.

But it's the end product.

I can stand back.

My children can stand back and say, 'My mom did that.

She put the plumbing in that building.'

And that is the reward of it.

Plumbing has such a vast avenue.

And I've been blessed with the fact that once I completed plumbing apprenticeship, I became a plumbing inspector.

At that turn, I had to learn and know the code book.

You have to understand why the water does what it does, why this pitch on the pipe, why the atmosphere affects this and affects that.

It all plays into science.

And you have to understand the theory of it.

And that's why it takes you five years.

No.

It takes you 20 plus years.

I'm still learning.

The younger of the Bennetts wanted to know what it's gonna take for us to open up the company.

I said, 'You sure you wanna do this?'

He says, 'Very much so.'

He came up with Benkari.

It's a combination of two family names, Bennett and Bakari.

We are the only woman-owned plumbing company in the state of Michigan.

Not such as a master plumber, but as a woman.

I think the industry as such has been difficult.

Um, it's -- it's a male-dominated industry.

There's no -- no way about it.

So it's been a struggle for her to -- to get involved, to get the notoriety that she deserves.

So, from that standpoint, I've noticed probably a more ambitious nature than the guys I'm used to working with.

The project that we have today, this is, uh, Goodwill Industries.

It's gonna be a new welcome center.

They're in the underground phase.

They're putting in the storm, which takes the rainwater from the roof line and conveys it away from the building.

The sanitary is what picks up the waste from the toilets, the hand-washing sinks, the kitchen sinks, and conveys it away from the building.

The underground is required and necessary because without it, the water would just dump on the floor.

So this is -- this is the part we don't see.

This is under the floor.

So it's... This is gonna be buried in the dirt.

They're gonna pour a concrete floor over it.

So once it's tested and inspected and approved, it will be covered up, never to be seen again, hopefully.

And then you will see the stub up through the concrete floor.

As you elevate in the company, a lot of master plumbers don't do the work anymore.

They may be an estimator.

Or they may just do what I do.

They shuffle papers.

Or they go on and develop the business.

A.K. Bennett, he's the project manager.

We have Ronald McCullen.

He's our senior, uh, consulting engineer for the company.

We have Alondre Barry, who is our plumbing superintendent/estimator.

After 35 years, they come to me for questions, with questions.

And I answer them the best I can do.

They feel I have a lot to offer.

Benkari is definitely a family.

And we care about the success of the company.

And all of that is fun with growth.

Each new job we get, that's fun.

That's, you know, that's entertainment for us.

You know, how big of a job are we gonna get?

What new contract are we getting?

What are they working on?

When we get the blueprints, you know, look at what's on the blueprints.

But all that's fun because we're still learning.

The most recent award I received, it came from within my industry.

It was from the National Association of Women in Construction, NAWIC, the trade branch, which I'm a member of.

And it -- it's a truly an honor for them to have honored me with the Detroit Crystal Vision Award Woman of the Year.

It's awesome.

I think that youngsters in general, women and men alike, they see what she has become and struggled as she's gone through.

And I think she lends an enthusiasm.

She's a great inspiration for anyone who is interested in improving themselves.