NANNETTE C. CHEATHAM,
CLASS OF 1982
Actress, Singer, Dancer at
the Society Hill Playhouse
to Philadelphia Police Officer
A Star is Born
Nannette’s childhood dream of becoming an actress peaked when she stepped onto Frankford’s stage in 10th grade (1980) and performed in Frankford’s modern presentation of Gone with the Wind.
In our version of Gone with the Wind, my character fell in love with the slave, Benson. I sang the R&B song, “I’m Working My Way Back to You, Babe,” by the Spinners. I also sang in the choir in both 10th and 11th grades.
I hungered for more. Performing in a high school production, simply wasn’t enough to feed my creative and performing spirit. I told my Frankford counselor I needed more. Therefore, in 1981, I interviewed and was accepted into the Society Hill Play House’s professional theater as an actress in their youth program.
I was thrilled. It was the best time in my life. I had a chance to act, sing and dance in a professional theater group from 1981 to 1982. I graduated high school in 1982, and was picked to work a summer job, performing skits throughout the city via the Mayor City Youth Corp. In 1984 once I graduated from National Education Center Thompson Institute I returned to the theater at Society Hill Playhouse only on Saturday afternoons. I did not get paid for performing in the children's Saturday afternoon matinee. I worked during the day as a Temporary Secretary for Bettinger Temporary Services. At night, during the week, I rehearsed at Society Hill Playhouse for the Saturday Children's Theater. I worked with Society Hill’s Playhouse from 1982-1984, performing in Society Hill’s Children’s Saturday Musicals. I acted, sung and danced and learned the waltz for The Emperor and the Nightingale. It was the first time I waltzed.
Working 9 to 5, What a Way to Make a Living...
Working 9 to 5 wasn't just a 1980 screwball comedy playing in the movie theaters when I was in tenth grade. After graduation, I had to figure out a way to pay for food, rent and clothes, so I enrolled in the National Education Center Thompson Institute. I received an Associate's Degree in Secretarial Science. At night, I performed in children’s musicals--by day, I temped as a secretary for Bettinger Temp Services.
I was 29 and watching 60 minutes with an older male friend. I told him I was tired of being a secretary. I wanted a job in a male-dominated field, as an authoritative figure and I needed more money. I was barely making ends meet. And I wanted to wear something else to work—not dresses and suits.
During this time, I was working as a secretary at Temple University. I was unaware that Temple was planning on laying me off. My friend suggested, “Why don’t you to try to be a police officer. It’s good money and benefits.”
I thought it was a crazy idea. It’s a scary job. People get beat up and killed—there was no way I was doing that. He said, “If it doesn’t work out, do something else.”
I GOT MY ANSWER FROM GOD
Fear had a hold on me, but I didn’t let it stop me. I went to City Hall, applied, and prayed over the application. A hiring freeze kept me on the waiting list for three years. I took the first written test. I still couldn’t believe I was doing it. I finally received a letter that I had passed the written exam. I said God...is this what you want me to do? I didn’t think I was cut out for it. I prayed over each test and I kept passing it. I couldn’t understand why. I was at a secretarial job for two months at Temple, when they put me back on temporary lay-off. Something shut off in me.
Finally, I said to my supervisor, my time at Temple is up. Since I kept passing the police tests, I figured God wanted me to take that path of service.
ENTER THE POLICE DEPARTMENT'S
BACKGROUND UNIT, STAGE LEFT
A detective from the police background unit at the 39h police district said, he wanted to shake my hand. “I couldn’t find anything bad about you.” The background unit goes back to where you grew up and talk to neighbors, teachers, co-workers to see what kind of person you are. At the time, I was working at the Philadelphia Zoo during the day, and going to The Craft Institute at night for hotel resort operations. At the Zoo, I worked as a cashier in food services and wasn’t making any money at age 30. I was having a hard time paying my bills.
MAYBE PLAN B WILL WORK
I became friends with an instructor at Craft Institute. Frustrated that I couldn't land a good job that would pay my bills...again I started crying. He said, “I can help you get a job at the Omni Hotel, 4th & Chestnut. I got the job as a Front Desk Clerk and PBX Operator. I told my instructor friend that I wasn’t cut out for police work, so I went to the Background Unit and took my name off the list. The background unit detective said, “Make sure you let me know if you change your mind by Feburary 19, 1995, because you’re about to go to the police academy.
A few weeks later, I was in the same crying state, frustrated by my hotel job. My instructor friend said, “You’re not going to get anywhere with this job. So, I called the Background Detective the next day. I turned 31 in March. I told him that I’d like to give police work a try. On May 22, 1995, I got accepted into the Philadelphia Police Academy.
To Safeguard Lives and Property...
On our first day at the police academy, our training officer said, "Those of you who don't have cars...carpool. You can't take the bus. They see your uniform, they're not going to like you. You’re not well-liked." I carpooled for six and a half months to and from the academy until graduation.
"He also said, "Those who are non-drivers start driving...most of the job is driving." I practiced and took advance drivers' training on the Police Academy's campus. My brother helped me get my first car--a 1995 Hyndai Accent.
We're Off to Train as Police Officers
At the Academy, I was nervous and afraid. In my mind, I planned to do this for six months to a year. I was still afraid to do the job. It was rigorous training. I practiced CPR on a stuffed animal at home. And I practiced frisking on my nephew. My hardest course was the gun range.
I wasn’t accustom to shooting a firearm. Afterwards, my hand would swell up. They had to work with me, until I passed. Of course I kept saying, I’m not cut out for this, but tomorrow was always another day. I kept pushing through, overcoming each challenge and obstacle, until I graduated on October 27, 1995.
We're Not in Kansas Anymore
My first two weeks as a Philadelphia police officer I was assigned the door beat. We didn’t have anyone on the street with us for two weeks. Here I am, a young woman, looking more like a teenage girl, wearing a police uniform. Someone actually asked me if I had on a Halloween costume. They couldn’t believe I was a cop.
After two weeks, they sent us to our district. On November 1995, I was assigned to the 35th District where I stayed for 21 years. You don't get stagnated in this job. There are always opportunities for growth.
I took the detective’s test, but I’m glad I didn’t pass. I didn’t want to work around-the-clock. I took the corporal test, passed in 2007, but I was low on list. I had a son who was four at the time. Basically, I wanted to see if I could pass. I really didn’t want the job. I was barely handling being cop.
My bosses didn’t want me to quit. Cop friends, said you’re an officer don’t quit. Why don’t you stay a little longer. Time just flew. Six months turned into six years--ten years turned into 21--I blinked and I was in my second marriage and 52 years-old.
My saving grace and what sustained me on the force a little longer was the Gang Resistance Education and Training Program. We were picked to teach this program in schools. We attended college for two weeks, before we started our straight day work assignment at the Morrison School at 3rd & Duncannon.
I loved it. It was a great experience. Me and my partner taught for two days. For the rest of the week, we became a counselor and parent to the kids. I shared an office with my partner and school police.
Being a cop can feel like a fishbowl. We are heavily scrutinized. I reached the point where I couldn't be a cop anymore. The public's distrust of the police had escalated. It was getting on my nerves. You’re still obligated to help them, despite the negativity and resistance. There were also fighting among cops. My partner was trying to get me involved.
They put the 35th District under investigation. When the investigation was underway, our superiors wanted to know what we were doing every day for eight hours at the Morris School.
Morris's principal and faculty told them that we are making sure the kids are getting into the cars with their parents. We're also ticketing cars, breaking up fights, giving support to the school police, motivating students and cheering them at after-school sports events.
In March 2016, the big shots took the 35th off the program, and put us back on the 10:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. shift. We go back, and I become withdrawn and depressed. I returned to an upgraded office with new rookie cops and new bosses. When one of the cops tried to bully me, I asked for an extra day off in April 2016. On my first day off, I went to the Foot and Ankle Institute, and then to the Police Administration Building, which was right across the street. I had made up my mind that I was putting in my papers right now.
I can’t do this anymore. I’m done. I decided that June 1, 2016 would be the day I retired from the police force. I'm crying at the personnel officer, where I filed my papers, but this time all of the stress came out of me.
They said most cops cry, because they know they’re about to leave. A burden was lifted from me. I sent a text to my siblings. Then I put June 1, on Facebook in Jesus name Amen. All the gossipers told my boss. Supervisors were mad because I had the heart to leave.
I retired on June 1, 2016, and I've never been happier.
Advice to Frankford Students Interested in Police Work
Pray about it first. You get paid a lot of money. You have to pass mandated training. You get three to four classes a year. There's a lot of growth. You dont' have to stay the same
level as a rank officer. Do your due diligence first; and find out all you can about joining the Philadelphia Police Department before taking the test.
Retirement Days with To God Be the Glory Broadcast
I love it! It's a ministry. We do talk shows, seminars and luncheons. It keeps me busy. I’m also in training to be a minister. My husband and I wrote three songs. On Aug. 3, 2019, we sang with the singing group--Ordinary People. Rev. Mixson is the leader of "To God Be the Glory Broadcast."
I enjoy reading and learning Spanish and the American Sign Language.
Hopping into the Delorean to
Frankford High School circa 1982
If I could time-travel to 1982 and whisper in my 17-year-old ear, I would say: You got this...whatever you set your mind to do. Have more confidence in yourself.
Favorite Quote/Scripture: Philipians 4:13
"I can do all things through Christ which strengthenth me."
King James Version