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Firefighters Bridging the Gap Between the Past and the Present

African American news from Pasadena - Editorial About FirefightersI had the good fortune to be the keynote speaker at the Southwest Regional Conference of the United Firefighters of Southern California on April 9, 2010. After the speech a few young firefighters from cities including Compton and Long Beach came up to me and reminded me that they were in Pasadena when The Journal was fighting to get more Black Firefighters in Pasadena over fifteen years ago. During the speech I had mentioned a young man named Eric Jackson who I tried to help get into the Pasadena Fire Department, to no avail. Eric is now a Captain in Atlanta, Georgia.

Pasadena's Fire Department was so racist that this young brother had to go to the Deep South to get a job in his chosen field. After the speech, more than one young man came to me and shared that the articles in The Journal years ago had been helpful. Another young man said he had kept all of The Journal articles and my columns for all these years.

I admit to being flattered that a young fireman who by now had reached the rank of Captain in the Fire Department had used something I said years ago to keep up his fight to become a fireman. The comments of the young firemen and the racist hiring activity of the current Pasadena City Manager served as a reminder that the struggle was not yet over. I call the current City Manager racist because he demonstrated his racism in November, 2008, while barely a few months on the job, he hired a White male to serve as Assistant City Manager of Northwest Pasadena, days before the date announced for the closing of the job. The last day to apply was November 25, 2008. He announced at a press conference on or about November 22, 2008 who the winner was.

It is noted that now for the first time in over a decade Pasadena has no Black Assistant City Managers, even for the Northwest where there resides a large Black population. But I guess that is okay with the City Manager since his stated belief implies is that as long as you have white social workers representing the needs of the Black community, it is okay. I don't think so.

As I predicted after the Assistant Manager debacle, the current City Manager, Michael Beck, has carried forward his racist tactics, as he has been allowed to rule this city as a dictator by the present City Council. In choosing a Police Chief Beck has, essentially, said that poor people, in particular, and Blacks, implicitly, need not participate. He simply says, as he did when he chose the White Assistant City Manager, TRUST HIM.

I have been a lawyer now for twenty seven years and I have been Black for 68 years. Both of those classifications have taught me to trust God, not man. Especially those who say "trust me". I note also that when The Journal celebrated its twentieth anniversary, I looked up to see Michael Beck shaking hands and taking pictures with the Black folks there, but he was not on the paid guest list. TRUST HIM, are you kidding?

After leaving the Fire Department event, I called my oldest grandchild and said I would like for her to memorize Frederick Douglass' 1857 speech about struggle. The speech says in part that, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess freedom yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. ...the struggle may be a moral one or a physical one ...but there must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand, it never did and it never will. As I write this article I must call my next oldest grand child to make the same request.

I need to remind my grandchildren that their great grandfather, my father, once left his job to open his own business. Once he began to gain some success his old boss went to my dad's landlord and told him to double daddy's rent. I can only imagine what that white man called my dad in that conversation. My father could no longer afford the rent and had to return to work for the white man for his old job. His health went downhill from there. He died at 69. This summer I turn 69. As a note, that is why I bought the building where my business is and paid for my house to make sure nobody can pull tricks on me or my family.

My Mother on the other hand taught us by example that you are better off in your own business. The reason for my independent streak lies in the stories of my mother and father. I have had one type of business or another of my own since my first barber shop at age twenty. That is, of course, if you don't count the shoe shine stand I had at fourteen.

Those who know me have heard me say that I was taught by my father that there are some White men who don't sleep at night trying to think of new ways to keep Black folks down. Now, sometimes I don't sleep either figuring ways to avoid me or my people from being victimized because of their racism.

I never consider my wife radical but when I read a recent e-mail she sent to my granddaughter who was upset by the way white racist Republicans are treating Obama. I heard her tell our granddaughter, "Baby our generation fought in the Civil Rights struggle so you wouldn't have to. But I guess you have to be prepared to do the same..."

As I reach my senior years, I know that we must bridge the gap and make sure that our grandchildren are prepared for what might come. If not they will become victims like I see some of the young people around me. They think that "those racist ways" are long past and people in my generation should let it go. But I say, if they don't heed history, we are doomed to repeat it and they are doomed to suffer. The Jewish people never forget the holocaust and neither do they let their children forget. It's also foolish for Blacks to forget what was done to our people too. Black Firefighters of Pasadena would do well to heed their past history and not forget those who fought for them to have the positions they now have.

Be radical. Read Frederick Douglas, Malcolm X, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B Wells, John Lewis, and Jesus. Don't worry about being called Radical. Somewhere I read that when Jesus hung on the cross he was hung between two thieves. They were all radicals. Jesus was just a radical for justice. Be like Him.