When we mention Mercy Shammah to anyone with ties to carpentry or the outdoors, their ears perk up. Mercy leads and empowers LGBTQ community members and people of color (POC) to improve their homes, teaches female-focused classes at Portland's Rebuilding Center and founded Wild Diversity, an exciting new resource that promotes healing through the outdoors. Recently, we chatted with Mercy about what led to her career in carpentry and how we can all lift up POC, female-identifying and LGBTQ people.
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
I am a residential carpenter. I work on my own, for myself. I usually do any small-type carpentry, from being a handy person in people's homes to building bookshelves to renovations to exterior work to decking to build-outs to extensions — a lot of exciting stuff!
Do you specialize in any aspect of the carpentry process?
That’s the pleasure of residential carpentry. You get to do everything, from framing to fine finish work.
What led you to choose carpentry as a career path?
I trained with Oregon Tradeswomen. It’s been an exciting journey since then. At the time, it was a general pre-apprenticeship program. We didn’t do a lot of specialty work but we did a lot of carpentry because that translated well with the introduction to trades and the atmosphere of a job site. I went in wanting to be a carpenter and I fell in love with it even more. At the time, I was already building and renovating a lot, so it really spoke to me.
Have you always independently worked or was there something that triggered that for you?
I worked with companies for the first year and a half. It wasn’t really where I wanted to be. I wanted to work within my community, which is the LGBTQ community, with people who value diversity, not as a number or a quota game. Working for a bunch of rich people outside of my core group felt like I was one in a million. It just felt like a job. Whereas working within my community, I felt I was truly helping people within their homes, where their security lies, their sanctuary. It gave more purpose to carpentry.
Are there traditional or stereotypical aspects of working in an occupational trade that you want to dismantle as a leader in carpentry and the outdoors?
Wanting to work in my community as a queer female doesn’t come from a constant fight with the enemy, but more of a promotion of community members. My passion lies in supporting others, not necessarily tearing anything down. I do a lot of work with homeowners: I'll work part of the project with them to show them how to do stuff and educate them on how to use tools.
The Rebuilding Center in Portland promotes this. I really pushed for the Center to cater to LGBTQ and do very specific LGBTQ carpentry classes, and I’m teaching all their women’s classes. That feels great because these people get out of their comfort zone and get the idea out of their head that they can’t build because they never have or because they’re women. Men don’t think about that. They’re like 'I can do it because I’m a man.' I say "You have two hands: that’s all you need right now, to work on your home."
You’ve been in Dovetail Workwear since the beginning- you were one of our first wear testers! How does it differ from other workwear you’ve worn?
I would say, without a doubt, pockets. They don’t have those lady pockets. I’m so serious about that. I can stick more than my second knuckle in! I can put my whole hand or my phone in and they won’t fall out. Just making pockets on women's pants that say 'you’re a woman, but you might also use these because you probably don’t carry a purse around all day.' That is hands down my favorite feature.
Mercy’s amazing organization Wild Diversity strives to create an accessible, safe and welcoming outdoor community for POC and LGBTQ outdoorists. Learn more here.