It all started October 2005 with an argument with my father, [I] ran out of the house in tears trying to figure out a better way, something better to do than being around the man who caused the cops to come to my house and my mother to cry. As a teen my father and I didn’t get along. Walking around the neighborhood I laid eyes on a 1980 American LaFrance Ladder truck, didn’t know much about it but it peaked my interest. I walked across the street and tapped a kid on the foot scaring the crap out of him, now being one of my best friends we laugh about this moment. I asked the age-old question, “How can I ride that?” and that’s when the bug bit.
The firehouse became my vice, my escape, and my kryptonite all in one swoop. I sought to learn everything I could, encompass everything about my life with firefighting. Being that I grew up in a predominantly white township, race was always an issue but never an issue to me at the time of being a high school teen. It wasn’t ‘til college where I would get my first taste of how different I was. Sophmore Year of college, at a local community college, I had to find a means to have a roof over my head. That’s when I found a local fire company who had a live-in program. Being that I applied via E-mail and interviewed over the phone they were in for a culture shock when I moved in, as was I. That foresight proved to be true. I knocked on the door and the Captain answers, “Good afternoon, how can I help you?” I responded, “I’m your new live-in. Nice to meet you.” The Captain responded visually shocked, “Oh…” Most would be turned off by this interaction but being a young naive 19 year old I shrugged it off because its life, it happens right?
Graduation! Time to moved home. I came home to my original firehouse, experienced, educated, and full of ideas to bring home. I forward my ideas to the chief where they fall upon deaf ears only to be implemented by some other member and I wonder why… with no answer. I request to become an officer to which [the] request goes unanswered and I wonder why. Still that young naive fireman, I don’t think it because I’m black until one moment. A mutual aid partner of ours put me in charge of a incident due to the lack of experience in the subject on their membership part. At the incident review their chief officer, who is a brash man, said “Hey why isn’t he an officer yet? he’s trained, he’s experienced, and he’s calm under fire. Is it because he’s black?” (With a tone of humor and a chuckle, but the silence spoke for the truth - that it was) That was the lowest point of my fire service career, and I was offered an officers position out of spite because the company business was aired out. I reluctantly accepted it, a year goes by and with few changes made and wanting more experience I resigned and placed membership at a busier company once again being the only black member. For some reason this company was different I didn’t feel on guard for being different. I felt like one of the guys, my opinion was valued, color was not a thing… It felt like home. This was until the remark, “He’s the whitest black guy I know” was made. For a while I shrugged it off, then I fought it with full intent of retaining my skin color. Telling the chief, “look I don’t know who your guys think they are, but they need to stop with the stereotyping. Just because I don’t walk around with my pants sagging, streaking slang, expressing the N word, and generally looking for trouble doesn’t negate the fact that I’m black. I don’t get to change that, nor do I want to.” It felt good, I defended my heritage and made a change.
Fast forward to 2017 when I accepted a career position in a “Big city fire Dept”. Talk about culture shock that im still trying to adjust to. I was in a class of 34 that was 50% Black and 50% female, but that wasn’t enough. I now sit among the majority and still felt like an outsider because the color of my skin. This was because I’m not from the city I work in, and I grew up in a white neighborhood. So for a year I struggled with depression because I wasn’t accepted by people who I considered brothers, and I wasn’t accepted by the people of my own color. Pretty lonely world…
I guess at the end of the day if I can give any advice to anyone who wants to listen. Those minority people who work within your group have struggled with something/someone to get to that position. Uplift them based on merit and work ethic rather than the color of their skin. I sit in a position where I qualify for upper management at the entry level position because I had people who pushed me to get educated in my trade, they wouldn’t let me fly beneath the radar. If you want to help a minority, be that person. Because simple fact remains, you might be that last bit of hope holding that person together. I’ve had a few people and moments in my career where that was the case. Thanks for reading my ramblings.