Well before he founded the National Black Contractors Association for which he’s known, Abdur-Rahim Hameed got his first taste of the construction trades as a 6-year-old when his mother handed him a hammer while she was building a pigeon coop.
“I was fascinated by building,” Hameed said. “My passion was always to be a carpenter.”
When he was 11 years old, Hameed built a clubhouse that he later turned into a three-room “psychedelic shack” where he stayed with his brothers.
The shack had a trap door in the back.
“I’d sneak out and go hang with my friends,” Hameed said.
Inspired by Malcom X and Muhammad Ali, Hameed at the age of 16 joined the Nation of Islam and ultimately changed his name from his birth name of Donald Ware.
“That movement gave me the fight and the will to want to fight against economic injustice and for equality,” Hameed said. “We came out of the Jim Crow laws, the civil rights movement and into the days today of Black Lives Matter.”
Tearing Down Barriers
Hameed’s father, Henry Ware, was a sharecropper from Dallas. His mother, Cornelius Harris-Ware, was a housekeeper.
One of Hameed’s first jobs was working as a shipyard welder, work he said he took because his math skills weren’t sufficient to become a carpenter. But he never lost sight of his goal and honed his skills through a carpentry apprenticeship.
“When I became a carpenter, my feet hit the ground and I took off running,” Hameed said.
After leaving the shipyard, Hameed was secretary of the Carpenters Union and a carpenter apprentice at the Meister Company, which developed property in Rancho Santa Fe and Lomas Santa Fe.
By the time he was 27, Hameed said, “I was a young builder and I was building several churches in the community. I worked for many years building churches, a lot of room additions, patios, et cetera.”
He was the lead carpenter on the construction of Bayview Baptist Church, was the framing contractor at Christian Fellow, and worked on St. Paul’s United Methodist Church at 30th and Clay Streets.
Hameed founded the San Diego Black Contractors Association after he and others gathered in a restaurant to talk about organizing to get more work.
“We began to fight for some of the market share of some of the public contracting opportunities within the City of San Diego,” Hameed said.
He also set up an apprenticeship program for Black youths who wanted to work in construction and in 2008, he went national, forming the National Black Contractors Association to set up associations throughout the U.S. modeled after San Diego’s.
Hameed said the association tears down “artificial barriers of your demographics, where you live and your social gatherings and we build relationships.”
Like a Rock
Among the early supporters of Hameed was Doug Barnhart, chairman of Barnhart-Reese Construction, Inc. whose company, Douglas E. Barnhart, Inc. was among the premier construction companies in San Diego.
Barnhart met Hameed in 1991 when Hameed was leading a protest outside a construction site for a project being built by another company near one of Barnhart’s projects.
Hameed said that Barnhart, who was president of the National Association of General Contractors, approached him and said, “We want the same thing you want, let’s talk.”
From that encounter grew a professional and personal relationship that continues to this day.
“Hameed and I worked together. It’s really kind of basic. I think a lot of problems in this country are related to job opportunities and who has a job,” Barnhart said. “He’s been steadfast in pushing for job opportunities for youth in the community for a long time. I’ve gotten to really admire him.”
Describing Hameed as “solid like a rock,” Barnhart said Hameed is “forthcoming, says what he thinks, (and) is very passionate about his work. He does not worship the dollar because he does a lot for his members which he gets nothing out of.”
“I used to tell him, you walk through the door with a lot of people, they see you as a potential threat. When you walk through my door, I see an ally and friend,” Barnhart said.
Hameed said that Barnhart gave him “backstage access” by introducing him to other contractors.
“When we met with the owners of these companies, we’d meet up front and personal and we’d really get down to what can they do,” Hameed said.
Richard Bach, senior vice president of Turner Construction for the Southwest, said Hameed is “a great guy to work with. He’s very principled but he also has a very engaging demeanor and he listens,” said Bach, who met Hameed in 2003.
“He’s a family man through and through. He always lets me know how his wife and children are doing. He’s a deeply religious man and I respect that. He has a very high moral character,” Bach added. “He’s one of the few people I met when I first came to San Diego that I managed to form a really strong relationship with. Outside of business, he’s just a really nice guy to spend time with.”
Hameed has 10 children, five girls and five boys, aged 19 to 47. Five of his children are in the construction trades. Four of his sons are carpenters and daughter Aasiyah, 30, is a construction manager and architect.
Jack Pellegrino, San Diego County director of purchasing, described Hameed as “a straight shooter, very direct and not afraid to talk about tough issues.”
“I give him my highest respect,” Pellegrino said. “He speaks what’s on his mind, which I really appreciate.”
Pellegrino said he worked with Hameed in lining up minority contractors to work on the $74 million Southwestern Live Well Center, 5101 Market St.
“We’re both very proud of it,” Pellegrino said. “It’s been a real pleasure to work with him as a collaborator on this project.”
Slowed by COVID
Accustomed to taking on challenges, Hameed faced a different kind of challenge in late 2021 when he came down with COVID — and is still recovering. He wasn’t vaccinated but has become a vaccine advocate and will get the shots as soon as doctors tell him he can.
“I was in a quandary about whether this stuff works or not but I’m doing it because I want to be socially responsible. I’m not afraid of what the shot’s going to do or not do. Being a vegetarian, I think that helps stave off a lot of the illness,” Hameed said.
“It slowed me down because I was a workaholic,” Hameed said of his bout with COVID. “It caused me to re-center and refocus.”
Over the years, Hameed has received numerous accolades, including the African-American Organizing Project Builders Award, and the Special Recognition Award from the National Association of Minority Contractors.
“It’s never been about name and gain and material fame,” Hameed said. “I’m looking for successors and who’s going to carry on the work of the Black Contractors Association.”
National Black Contractors Association
President/CEO: Abdur-Rahim Hameed
Business: Trade organization
Notable: The purpose of the National Black Contractors Association is to build a unified national black contractor group that speaks as one voice on national concerns, especially where inequities and the perception of discrimination is apparent in public and private contracting for Black contractors