Meet Adrienne Bennett, the first Black woman master plumber who now has her own contracting company

Dollita Okine March 19, 2024
Despite criticism, Bennett became the first black female master plumber in the United States when she was 30 years old. Photo Credit: CNN, Adrienne Bennett

Adrienne Bennett distinguished herself as the first Black woman to become a master plumber in the United States. Originally from Detroit, Bennet excelled in math and science and initially intended to major in engineering and metallurgy in college. However, after encountering a racist incident, she lost faith in higher education.

She wandered around doing random tasks for a few years, advocating for individuals receiving state assistance. At a 1976 political event for Jimmy Carter, Gus Dowels, a recruiter with the Mechanical Contractors Association of Detroit, asked if she would be interested in working for $50,000 a year while she looked for her next profession. Dowels wanted to recruit minority women into a federally-sponsored apprenticeship program for skilled trades.

Bennett pondered the offer and at the age of 22, the trailblazer took the test for admission into the Plumbers’ Union, Local 98’s five-year apprenticeship program.

Being the only woman on site with numerous men meant that she would frequently be bullied and harassed throughout her career path, and she was frequently pressured to quit.

She told CNN, “I always wore a very heavy toolbelt around my waist. I did this for protection because men would try to grab at me inappropriately.”

“Many times, I was the only woman with as many as 100 men on a construction site.”

Bennett, the fourth of eight siblings, attributed her work ethic and discipline to her education at a parochial school. “I was taught as a young child that you finish what you start and you do a job well,” she remarked.

Despite criticism, Bennett became the first Black female master plumber in the United States when she was 30 years old. This was after she had logged the required 4,000 hours of experience she needed to qualify for the master plumber exam and had taken the test. After receiving her state license, she became not only the first black female master plumber in the state of Michigan but also in the United States.

Throughout her extensive career in plumbing, she has worked as a journeyman plumber, master plumber, project manager, plumbing inspector, and code enforcement officer for the city of Detroit, to name a few positions.

Her experiences soon earned her the position of the founder and chief executive officer of Detroit-based Benkari LLC as well as an independent contractor. She started the commercial plumbing and water conservation company Benkari in 2008 with her son A.K. Bennett as her business partner when she felt she had reached the peak of her career.

“I’ve been a journeyman plumber, a master plumber, project manager, plumbing inspector and code enforcement officer for the city of Detroit for a decade. There was no place left to go but become an independent contractor. It was the final frontier,” she expressed.

Her company earned major contracts including work for the Little Caesars Arena and the Anthony Wayne Housing Development while being actively involved in Detroit’s rebuilding.

She also came to serve on Lawrence Technological University’s Architectural Engineering Advisory Board, helping future generations of tradespeople.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: March 19, 2024


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