SMART sheet metal locals across the country mobilized for the first-ever Belonging and Excellence for ALL (BE4ALL) toy drive in December 2022, which served the dual purpose of distributing gifts to those in need and spreading the word about our union’s best-kept secret: the benefits of a career in the unionized sheet metal industry.

“One of the initiatives that we decided to get involved in this year was to start a toy drive, or at least partner with our locals and our contractor industry partners that are already involved in toy drives,” said SMART International Organizer and BE4ALL Committee member Josh Garner in an interview with SMART News. “We wanted to provide them with a gift tag that has a QR code on it that takes the recipient of these gifts to a landing page where they can learn about what it is to become a sheet metal worker, they can learn about our trade, they can learn about our industries.”

Watch Garner discuss the BE4ALL toy drive on SMART News

The BE4ALL Committee designed a template for the gift tag, which included the QR code linking to a website designed to appeal to prospective sheet metal workers of all ages. Locals then requested either printed tags or emailed templates to be printed on Avery labels and affixed to gifts. Additionally, locals and contractors were encouraged to collect union-made, construction-themed toys, maintaining a cohesive theme for the event.

Garner explained that, as union members, SMART sheet metal workers are already involved in the community, giving back via their essential labor and through year-round community service. The BE4ALL toy drive offered the opportunity to further those service efforts while providing more information to the general public on what sheet metal workers actually do.

“We have a lot of young parents who may be looking for that opportunity to provide a better life for their families, their children,” he told SMART News. “This gives us an opportunity to bring awareness to our industry, to our trade, and hopefully pay it forward and pass those opportunities on to other individuals as well.”

The principles of solidarity and lifting people up are core to SMART and the labor movement at large. The BE4ALL toy drive embodied those values and demonstrated the fact that all workers benefit when we act to support one another.

“When you’re able to be involved in an initiative like this toy drive and you’re able to give back – there’s not a better feeling, there really isn’t,” Garner added.

The BE4ALL Committee met on November 30 in Chicago, Ill. Facilitator Dushaw Hockett opened the meeting by emphasizing the importance of practicing BE4ALL’s principles of welcoming and belonging. He then invited committee members to overview some of the short-term victories already achieved.

ITI Administrator Mike Harris detailed the committee’s success designing, assembling and distributing menstrual product bathroom kits to every JATC in both our countries. In addition to the kits themselves, sheet metal shop drawings from SMART Director of Special Projects Louise Medina and SM Local 265 (DuPage County, Ill.) will be used to create menstrual product dispensers in JATCs across the U.S. and Canada.

“It’s exciting to see something from inception to actually being delivered,” Harris said. “We’re proud to be a part of it.”

Harris also summarized the ITI’s first “train-the-trainer” course on bias and belonging, which included instructors from 12 JATCs and charged those instructors with teaching the same course to their apprentices within 60 days. The intention, Harris pointed out, is for individual JATCs to eventually continue the bias and belonging trainings with their own members

Along with successful ITI initiatives, SMACNA and SMART produced 10 pieces of member-facing BE4ALL content in 2022, including videos, articles and podcasts, as well as pilot “Learning Journeys” meant to increase knowledge of subjects like Hispanic Heritage Month, Indigenous People’s Day, LGBTQ Pride Month and more.

View coverage of the November 30th BE4ALL meeting in episode four of SMART News.

The November 30th meeting marked the first in-person gathering of the BE4ALL subcommittees, tasked with implementing BE4ALL action items. The five subcommittees — Rapid Response Protocol + Toolbox Talks; Training — Bias and Belonging; Learning Journey + BE4ALL Calendar; Sheet Metal Industry Minority Caucus; and Pedal to the Metal Campaign — each reported on the work completed so far, from developing initial toolbox talks, to designing and distributing a 2023 BE4ALL calendar, which has been sent to JATCs, union halls, SMACNA chapters and contractors. The committees then outlined next steps: expanding Learning Journey offerings, developing SMART and SMACNA minority committees, broadening recruitment efforts to previously underserved areas and communities, and more.

“It’s so important for members to see: ‘People are investing in me, specifically me, to make sure I belong in the workplace,’” Local 36 (St. Louis) apprentice and BE4ALL Committee member Sheena Houston said of BE4ALL’s work going forward.

Importantly, this work is ongoing, both for those on the committee and for all members of SMART, SMACNA and the ITI.

“This is forever work,” Hockett reminded committee members, “and we have to be obsessive about the little things along the way.”

Last year, SMART, SMACNA and the International Training Institute (ITI) launched the Belonging and Excellence 4 All (BE4ALL) campaign. BE4ALL envisions a sheet metal industry where ALL workers and contractors feel seen, heard and welcomed. To achieve this vision, it is not enough to talk about it. We have to build it. To do this, the campaign has adopted a 10-point action plan. An important part of the action plan involves transforming how we relate to one another as workers and team members. Fundamentally, the goal is to help us all to be better human beings to one another. To make this vision a reality, our goal is to get every SMART member to commit to doing the work of individual meetings, relational diversity and intergroup contact.

“Fundamentally, the goal is to help us all to be better human beings to one another. To make this vision a reality, our goal is to get every SMART member to commit to doing the work of individual meetings, relational diversity and intergroup contact.

Research in the area of intergroup contact also supports the work of BE4ALL. Intergroup contact involves a person stepping out of their comfort zone in order to engage people who are different. Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford social psychologist and winner of the MacArthur Genius Grant, states that “[p]ersonal connections can override the power exerted by implicit bias.”

SMART General President Joseph Sellers spoke about the importance of this work at the SMART leadership conference in San Francisco last August. In a podcast session recorded with the leadership of SMACNA, he reminded participants that “we’re a craft of mentoring,” and stressed the importance of investing one-on-one time and energy in the emotional and technical growth of other members, particularly those with different lived experiences than our own. He also highlighted the need for us to get to know each other across lines of difference.

Individual Meetings

General President Sellers’ push around this work is supported by both research and practice. Veteran community organizer Michael Gecan makes the case for doing what he calls “individual meetings.” These are short conversations — around 30 minutes or so — in which we take the time to understand another person’s hopes, dreams, fears and why they do what they do. Gecan argues that “when you develop the habit of doing individual meetings, you stop thinking of people as ‘the poor’ or the ‘rich,’ or the ‘establishment’ or even ‘the enemy.’” Ultimately, these meetings allow us to see people beyond stereotypes and recognize them as full human beings, with all the diversity that comes with this.

Intergroup Contact
There are several ways to practice intergroup contact. In the workplace, the strategy may involve regular lunch meetings or check-ins with coworkers in which two people get to know each other beyond job titles and roles. In private life, intergroup contact could take the form of participating in a diverse social club or community association. The type of activity — whether a lunch meeting or community gathering — is less important than its characteristics. According to Professor Linda Tropp, for intergroup contact to be effective, contact between two or more people must have three core characteristics. First, the contact must be ongoing versus a one-shot deal. Second, it must be meaningful and substantive versus transactional. Third, it must be friendly and welcoming, not hostile. Tropp notes that when intergroup contact is practiced effectively, it facilitates several important outcomes, including an increase in psychological investment and a deepening of empathy.

Relational Diversity

In addition to the above research, a more recent study has introduced the practice of “relational diversity.” In a National Public Radio (NPR) article titled “Talking to strangers might make you happier …,” researchers note that the more diversity you add to your social circles, “the happier you are and the higher your well-being.” Bottom line: There are individual, group and workplace benefits to deepening relationships across lines of difference.

But let us be clear. Doing this work does not mean that all conflict will disappear. What it does suggest is that when conflict arises, people are more likely to give each other the benefit of the doubt. And they are more likely to have enough relational tissue with the other person that they can effectively work through conflict. That said, how does one practice individual meetings, relational diversity and intergroup contact?

The following are 12 questions or prompts that can be used in every day, one-on-one and small group situations. Think of them as conversation starters. They are:

1. What brought you into the sheet metal industry or this line of work? What keeps you here?

2. Where is home for you? Or where do you most feel at home? (Home does not have to be a geographic place.)

3. What’s the story behind your name?

4. What are your plans for the weekend? Or what did you do this past weekend?

5. What’s one thing you wanted to do and/or be when you were growing up?

6. What movies/television shows are you watching these days? Or what books are you reading? Are there any you would recommend?

7.What are your goals or resolutions for the new year?

8. Do you celebrate _________ holiday? If yes, how do you celebrate? If no, would you be willing to share why?

9. What music are you listening to these days? What’s the title of your “medicine” song or “motivation” song, that one song that does something to you whenever you hear it? What meaning does the song have for you?

10.If videoconferencing, say: “If you’re willing to share, I would love to know who the people are in the pictures behind you.” Or, “what’s the meaning behind the painting/ object I see on your desk?”

11.Who are the people who shaped and molded you into the person you are today?

12. How are you doing? Or, what’s going on? What’s one new or interesting thing that has happened in your work life or personal life over the past few days/weeks?

Imagine if we can get thousands of people across the sheet metal industry to do the work of individual meetings, relational diversity and intergroup contact, and to do it every day. It would be something never done before. It would be transformative. This is how we practice being better human beings to one another.

BE4ALL is a bold, multi-year effort to transform the sheet metal industry by ensuring our work environments are welcoming to all workers and that we achieve the highest standards of performance and excellence.

To make this vision a reality, BE4ALL has adopted several strategies. In the last issue of the Members’ Journal, we introduced the strategy of micro-affirmations. In this issue, we want to share the seven components of a courageous conversation.

A courageous conversation is an exchange between two people. Usually, the conversation is initiated in one of two situations: a) When we feel that we’ve been wronged by another person; and/or b) When we’ve done or said something (real or perceived) to wrong another person. The seven “A’s” are appropriate for disagreements or tensions around ideas, opinions, beliefs and personalities. They’re not necessarily appropriate in situations involving physical altercations, harassment or discrimination. In these situations, please consult your union representative.

Ultimately, courageous conversations are a tool for resolving interpersonal conflict and/or disagreements in the workplace. But, beyond this, they support us in being better human beings to one another. The following seven components can be practiced in sequence, or you can pick and choose which ones are more appropriate to your situation. They are:


Initiating a courageous conversation is hard. This is especially the case if you feel the other person is wrong OR that you will lose something (i.e., the other person will see you as “weak” or “giving in”). Therefore, it’s important to prepare yourself — mentally and emotionally — before the conversation so that you have energy to draw on for what can be a long and uncomfortable process. Preparation may include listening to music, going for a walk/run, etc.


Share with the other person at least one thing you genuinely appreciate about them. It can be something they’ve said or done, or it can be some special quality, talent or gift they have.


Share with the person ways that you may have contributed to the problem or tension. If this isn’t relevant to your situation, you can skip this step.


Share with the person ways something they may have said or done impacted you. Share the feeling of the experience, NOT your evaluation of the experience or the person.

5. ASK

Whether you were the person wronged or you wronged someone else, ASK the other person a few probing questions as a way of approaching them from a place of understanding and curiosity.


After the person shares, paraphrase or summarize what they shared by stating:

“What I think I hear you saying is …”

Affirming DOES NOT mean you agree with the person, it just means you are listening with the intent to understand.


Both people agree on a new way to move forward (i.e., “let’s agree that, in the future, we’re going to ___________.”) OR ask the person for their ideas and support on how to move the relationship forward.

For more information on the seven A’s or if you have questions, please contact Dushaw Hockett at or 202-360-7787.

From left: Dushaw Hockett, SMACNA past President Angie Simon, SMART General President Joseph Sellers and SMACNA CEO Aaron Hilger.

The October 2022 episode of Talking SMART focused on the Belonging and Excellence for All project, also known as BE4ALL. As a joint effort of SMART, union signatory contractors in SMACNA, and the International Training Institute, the project is tasked with working to ensure that all members, particularly those from historically underrepresented groups, feel welcome and experience all the opportunities that come with being a union member.

In short, Be4All is a bold, long-term effort to transform the unionized sheet metal industry by creating workplace and business environments that are welcoming and foster belonging for ALL workers and contractors.

We have a special guest host this episode – Dushaw Hockett, founder and executive director of Safe Places for the Advancement of Community and Equity (SPACEs), a Washington, DC-based organization that is working with SMART and SMACNA to move forward with the Be4All project.

At the SMART Leadership Conference in San Francisco in August 2022, Hockett sat down with SMART General President Joseph Sellers, SMACNA CEO Aaron Hilger and SMACNA past President Angie Simon to discuss how both organizations are working together to build a thriving industry where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, everyone feels welcome, and sheet metal workers and contractors work together to achieve the highest standards of excellence in their skills and crafts.

Return to Talking SMART index page.

Talking SMART is a member of the Labor Radio Podcast Network — working people’s voices, broadcasting worldwide 24 hours a day.

In December of last year, SMART, SMACNA and the International Training Institute (ITI) launched the Belonging and Excellence for All Campaign (BE 4 ALL).

We know that many of you have questions about this work, so we’ve taken the time to share a few answers.

Think of this article as a formal introduction. Brothers, sisters and siblings, please welcome BE 4 ALL.

1. What is BE 4 ALL?

BE 4 ALL is a joint effort of SMACNA, SMART and the ITI. The vision for the work is twofold:

A. To create a diverse and inclusive unionized sheet metal industry that is welcoming and fosters belonging for ALL people; and

B. To sustain a thriving industry in which:

  • We recruit, train and retain the best talent; and
  • Workers and contractors strive to achieve the highest standards of performance and excellence in their technical skills and crafts.

2. The term “belonging” is new to me. What does it mean? And how is it different from diversity and inclusion?

Here’s a helpful way to think about the difference between the three terms:

A. Diversity means that everyone – regardless of their race, gender identity, age or other identity strands — is invited to participate in and benefit from our industry.

B. Inclusion means that everyone has a seat at the table and a way to make their voices heard

C. Belonging goes much deeper than diversity and inclusion. It means two things:

  • That when people come to the table, they feel that they can bring their full, authentic self – ALL parts of who they are as a human being; and
  • Belonging is also about building the table together. It’s about co-creation. To put it another way, transforming our industry and ensuring that we remain relevant and competitive will take all-hands-on-deck. We will only be successful if we’re working on this endeavor TOGETHER. BE 4 ALL is the vehicle for how we do this.

3. BE 4 ALL is a fancy name. It sounds good on paper. What exactly will the initiative do on a day-to-day basis?

For 2022–23, we have a four-part agenda for our work. The four parts are as follows:

A. Assessment — Survey and interview members and leaders across the industry to better understand their hopes, wants, needs and fears related to the BE 4 ALL work.

B. Awareness — Conduct training sessions for International staff and JATC coordinators focused on strategies for reducing bias and increasing belonging.

C. Alignment — Work with SMART’s newly formed BE 4 ALL Committee to convert findings from the assessment process into concrete action steps, and meet quarterly with SMACNA and the ITI to explore ways to collaborate across the industry.

D. Act — Begin implementation of the action steps.

4. Is BE 4 ALL only for women and people of color? How do ALL members benefit?

Without question, BE 4 ALL is for ALL members and contractors. We believe that EVERY human being (with an emphasis on the word “every”) should experience belonging (see the definition under bullet #2), regardless of your race, gender identity, etc. But we also know that this is not currently the case for some groups. So BE 4 ALL may need to tailor and target programs and strategies to ensure that particular groups have what they need to reach the universal goal of belonging. But make no mistakes about it, BE 4 ALL is for the benefit of ALL members.<

5. Is this work about attacking white people?

The short answer is no. We’ve all heard the reports. Across our countries, meetings turning into shouting matches. People blaming and shaming each other. This is NOT what BE 4 ALL is about. Yes, the work of belonging requires us to have hard conversations sometimes. But it also requires that we treat each other with dignity, respect and compassion. It requires that we see our common humanity in other people.

6. Talk to me about results. What do we hope will be different as a result of this work?

We’re still in the planning stages. But over the next few years, we expect to begin seeing results in five key areas. They are:<

A. Expansion — Expanding and diversifying the pool of people from which we recruit.

B. Recruitment — Proactively recruiting new members into our organizations.

C. Training — Equipping members with the skills, tools and values they need to be successful.

D. Retention — Creating the type of work and business environments where people want to stay — and where they can imagine a long career of service and contribution.

E. Advancement — Helping members climb the ladder into leadership positions or other opportunities.

7. How long will it take for BE 4 ALL to achieve its goals?

BE 4 ALL is not a quick fix project. As one person recently put it, this is “forever work.” That said, to truly transform an entire industry will take years. However, we plan to set annual benchmarks to ensure that we’re making progress along the way. Stay tuned for our plan for 2022–23, which will include measurable goals.

8. What’s the structure of BE 4 ALL? How is it organized?

BE 4 ALL is guided by a diverse committee of members and leaders from throughout SMART, including apprentices, journey-level members and union officials. The committee makes recommendations to General President Sellers and General Secretary Treasurer Powell.

SMACNA has a similar structure.

The leadership and committees for both SMACNA and SMART, along with the ITI, meet quarterly to plan and coordinate BE 4 ALL activities across the industry.

9. Is this work about “lowering standards” or hiring people who are “unqualified?”

Absolutely not. At the recent Partners In Progress (PINP) Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, Tim Carter, Northwest Regional Council president, and Julie Mueller, executive director for SMACNA’s Western Region, shared that they’ve seen a “dramatic reduction” in the apprentice wash out rates for women and people of color. They reported that they achieved this by “raising the bar,” not lowering it. Specifically, they improved the quality of training and support provided to apprentices to ensure that each person had what they needed to perform at the highest standards of excellence. Their approach reinforced two things: a) this work is NOT about lowering standards; and b) the work of belonging does not view people as inadequate or deficient. It sees talent and potential in all human beings. And it’s our job to nurture it.

10. Why are we even focused on this work? Can’t we just treat each other like human beings?

This is an excellent question. Yes, in the long term, the goal is to build workplaces (and a society) where we celebrate our shared humanity and where we appreciate ALL the ways that human beings are diverse or different. But in order to reach this goal, we have to remove the barriers that get in the way. These include the biases and stereotypes about each other that we’ve ALL internalized (oftentimes unconsciously) over the course of our lives. These biases and stereotypes may stem from the places where we grew up. Or the schools we attended. Or the families in which we were raised. So yes, getting to the point where we treat each other like human beings is the ultimate goal. BE 4 ALL is the pathway for how we get there.

11. If I want to get involved or support the work of BE 4 ALL, how do I do that?

If you want to learn more about BE 4 ALL, or if you’re looking to get involved, please reach out to Donna Silverman, assistant to the general president, at

Americans of every background, color and gender believe in the sacred promise of equal justice under the law. For generations, Black women have been locked out of the opportunity to serve on the Supreme Court. With the nomination and confirmation of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, we are taking a step towards making our justice system one that respects and reflects the very best of every kind of American.

Judge Jackson has served in prestigious judicial positions with distinction as a champion for everyday Americans, carefully applying the law for working people across race, place and origin. Her confirmation on the Supreme Court is especially meaningful in a time when a wealthy and powerful few have attempted to trample our rights or deny our freedoms. This is done deliberately by pitting working Americans against each other on the basis of our race, gender and ethnic identity. 

No matter our color, background or party, Americans believe that Justices on the Supreme Court have a duty to serve our country faithfully and uphold the sacred promise of equal justice under the law. Judge Jackson has shown her propensity to uphold these American values time and time again. Her diverse background as a graduate of a public high school and a former public defender gives her a unique perspective on the life of everyday Americans that few of the current justices have.  While we celebrate her confirmation, we know that more work needs to be done to open up similar opportunities for others.