The new Public Safety Director stated he wanted the department to reflect the community it serves. While the retired fleet admiral is obviously very intelligent to have reached his position, I don’t think this is something of which he can be the sole author. This is an objective across the nation.

Just as the fire service has evolved to respond to much more than just house fires and pulling cats out of trees, I would like to think the city of Mobile is ready to evolve as well. When the taxpayer’s fire truck arrives at a house fully engulfed with fire or a medical emergency, competency, ability and proficiency are all that matters.

It is imperative to have these traits to mitigate an emergency. These traits should be sought and embraced from all ethnicities in the city to better reflect its constituents.

It is rare if ever that a Caucasian firefighter enters a station and is the only Caucasian person. As an African-American, this is very often the case and even more so as an African-American female. Many times those minorities have been forced to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I call this the “tolerance factor.”

In the recent past, there has been a supervisor demoted for making extremely racial slurs in the presence of African-Americans. Later, a retired fire service captain made the same condescending remark while at a meeting place with mostly Caucasians. One of the few African-American members who were present at the time did not have the aforementioned “tolerance factor” and brought the issue to the forefront.

A valiant effort was made to have the retiree removed as a member of that organization and from a local board. Those efforts failed and that individual proudly sits in both positions today.

A member of the predominantly Caucasian fire department group stated they were in favor of diversifying. I say show me your checkbook and I will show you where your commitment lies.

Year pass, a significant amount of money was spent in efforts to keep a minority from being promoted to chief. If that group were working to diversify, why would efforts be made to block a minority candidate?

Rob Holbert’s recent column in Lagniappe spoke about the “sticky sludge” of political correctness made by the Admiral. I beg to differ. It is the “sticky sludge” that many African-Americans have to face in the workplace daily.

An individual reported to Lagniappe about a 16-page action plan that was put together by the past interim fire chief.
Lagniappe also wrote on the last mayor and the personnel board director being African-American. This does not negate the underrepresented minorities of the great City of Mobile.

Having one or two people in a certain position does not mend such a systemic problem. Nor should those individuals have to bear the entire burden of such a plight.

It was stated, “We have to find some qualified blacks that can pass a background check.” This is not only demeaning and insulting, but another attempt to devalue individuals.

That very statement is a veiled attempt to justify why there are such extreme disparities in the department.

We must truly be committed to diversifying and grasping the benefits of diversity. We must find the courage and fortitude to embrace change. Until we are willing to do this, the city of Mobile will never be able to move from perpetual possibility to prevailing promises.

The Public Safety Director made a statement that seems to have sparked heated and much needed discussion. I’ve discovered there are some who believe the demographics of the department are not a problem.

Mobilians have the opportunity to remove the dogmatic albatross associated with the Deep South and the MFRD, have a chance to be the head and not the tail.

I challenge the “powers that be” not to continue age-old traditions. Instead, seek and value input from those who have been slighted, snubbed and insulted.

As Diane Grant said, “it’s better to walk alone, than with a crowd going in the wrong direction.”

Until then, I ask … What makes you so afraid?

Capt. Dwayne M. Penn Sr.