Published on March 31, 2022 in Women United Spotlight
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re talking to women who support their communities in collaboration with United Way for Southeastern Michigan. We’re discussing their experiences, sharing their passions and motivations, and shining a light on the women who have inspired them along the way.
Below, we talk with Angelique Peterson-Mayberry, DEI Strategist for manufacturing employee experiences at Ford Motor Company and president of the Detroit Public Schools Community District Board of Education. Angelique has been involved with United Way for more than five years and is a cabinet member and co-chair of the labor subcommittee.
United Way: Angelique, you’ve been at Ford for a long time and you’ve held quite a few positions there. Tell us how you got your start.
Angelique: I actually started at Ford in the housekeeping department when I was 19. Some people thought it was degrading because I was tasked with “just” keeping buildings clean, but I never felt that way. I always took pride in seeing the results of my work and the fact that others were benefactors of my “prideful” work. I knew, however, in the housekeeping department wasn’t where I would eventually land, but I felt like it was a great place to start and get my foot in the door. I can look back on that time now and say that it definitely was.
United Way: So, you knew you were destined for more. What advice would you give people who might overlook starting out at an entry-level job or even look down on the people in those roles?
Angelique: I have always said that we need to respect everyone in the “food chain” as they all have a purpose. We can’t all start at the top. I think COVID has made us all stop and look at the importance of every role – to see that every job takes skill. We’re even moving away from the unskilled or non-skilled terminology at Ford so that everyone can take more pride in the work they’re doing and see that they’re valued no matter their department or position. Now, when I go into schools, I always acknowledge the custodial and cleaning staff because I was once where they are and I know the importance of their work. I tell them to be proud. Whether the job is a stepping stone or even if it’s a final destination, everyone should respect and appreciate the fact that you’re there.
United Way: Let’s dig into your own journey a bit more. How were you able to transition into other roles at Ford and UAW?
Angelique: I’m really proud of my journey and wouldn’t change one step in it. Even when I worked in housekeeping, it was a union job, so I was compensated REALLY well. I was able to own a house and several cars by the time I was 21 years old. I navigated through different spaces at Ford – shipping and receiving, and then moved to administration roles and became the first Black and first female trustee at UAW Local 245. In 2013, I was at a Labor Day parade where I introduced myself to Jimmy Settles, former Vice President at UAW-Ford. I told him that I’d love to come and work for him. When he asked what I would do, I didn’t hesitate to tell him that I would be a liaison between the amazing work that the UAW Ford team was doing and the community. The next day, I scheduled an appointment with his secretary and by the following year, I was doing exactly what I’d outlined during that introductory conversation.
United Way: Wow. That’s pretty impressive. Is that something you encourage others to do – be bold and ask for opportunities or take risks?
Angelique: Absolutely. Some people are afraid of hearing no, but you never know what response you’ll get unless you ask. And in a lot of cases, it even helps to be persistent after the no. My goddaughter got turned down for the volleyball team last year and she just wanted to walk away. I told her to go ask the coach what she needed to work on to try again next year. The coach said very few young people did that. He gave her a few pointers and this year, she made the team. I say that to anybody – if there’s something you really want to do, just push. Don’t let a no be a barrier between you and what you really want to do.
United Way: That’s amazing. Congrats to her. You’re certainly an inspiration to your goddaughter and a lot of other young people. Do you consider yourself a mentor?
Angelique: I’ve been a mentor with the Intonjane Training Institute, under the leadership of my pastor, Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony, for 22 years. The training takes place at James E. Wadsworth Jr. Community Center (JEWJCC) for three different age groups: six to nine; 10 to 13; and 14 to 17. I used to work with the oldest girls, but then I switched to the middle group because I recognized it as the most transformational time in a young girl’s life. Not only is she going through changes with her body, she’s going through changes with her peers, in her mind, with her emotions, etc. I think that if I can help cultivate and mold them at that stage – building on what their parents are giving them – then I can help them when they get to the next level. It’s extremely gratifying.
United Way: Most great mentors have at some point been mentees. Is that the case for you?
Angelique: I have amazing mentors – people who show me unconditional love and support. People like Jimmy Settles who took a chance on me, my Pastor Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony and the associate pastor at my church, Mayowa Reynolds, who is also a principal at one of our Detroit Public Schools. Although they’re some of my biggest cheerleaders, at the same time, they tell me when I need to check myself, to expand my thoughts and when I need to focus. When you have a mentor who can point out both the positive and the negative, it helps you become and maintain being a more balanced person. Who I am today is a result of great mentors and the support of my family and my “village.”
United Way: Family support is pivotal. Tell us about the family members who have inspired you.
Angelique: My mom – she worked two jobs to support her three girls. She was also heavily involved with UAW. I remember going to labor walks and union meetings as a very young kid, and I took in what I was hearing. It became a part of who I am. When I got older, I exposed my kids to the same thing. I knew my son was paying attention, too, when he got to eighth grade and wrote a paper arguing in favor of collective bargaining. Later, he wanted to stage a walk out at his school in support of teachers and students who had complaints about building conditions. I asked where he got that idea, and he said, “I got it from you. You’re always standing up for me and my sister. You should stand up for other kids too.” From there, my campaign for schoolboard was born.
United Way: That’s a great story. Speaking of your campaign for schoolboard, you’re up for re-election soon. What is it that continues to drive and motivate you to be an advocate for public education?
Angelique: I’m a product of public education and a benefactor of the people who fought for my education. Now, we owe young people the same type of fight, the same integrity and the same grind that people did for us. We made a lot of progress – reduced teacher vacancies, increased attendance and increased pay for teachers and staff. Our academics were on the rise as well outpacing other districts with state testing. Then COVID hit and impeded our progress. Now, I understand we can get back there and exceed what we put in place before the pandemic. If I can be a part of the continued transformation and create excellence in our school district, I need to do that.
United Way: Thanks so much Angelique. Any last thoughts to share?
Angelique: If you are in a position to advocate for someone or something, do it. The time has come and gone for any of us to stand on the sidelines and watch others do the work. We no longer have the luxury of doing that. Advocacy is a participatory sport and we need everyone to play a part! The need in our community, in our state and in our world is too great. If not you, then who? And if not now, then when?