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Winning on Diversity and Inclusion

By Rev. Donald L. Perryman, Ph.D.

The Truth Contributor

The real radical is that person who has a vision of [equity] and is willing to do those things that will bring reality closer to that vision.  

                                 Bayard Rustin


Rev. Donald L. Perryman, D.Min.

Expect extraordinary numbers when the City of Toledo announces the demographics of its upcoming fire class. The class, 70+ percent diverse, including women, will be the most diverse non-court ordered fire class in Toledo’s history.

Here is the breakdown by race or ethnicity and gender, subject to final medical exams:

1 Lebanese

1 Asian

3 Latino females

6 Latino males

9 White females

13 White males

2 Black females

15 Black males

According to recent statistics provided by the Harvard Business Review, ninety-six percent of career firefighters in America are men and 82 percent are White. The Toledo Fire Department (TFD) is approximately 76 percent White. Although African Americans comprise 27 percent of Toledo’s population, Black firefighters only account for about 13 percent of active TFD personnel. These numbers clearly paint the department as one that is not representative of the people it serves.

I have witnessed previous City and TFD administrations fail miserably to achieve diversity in its public safety forces. There have also been lawsuits and allegations of racial discrimination and a racially charged hostile culture within TFD.

So, kudos to Chief Brian Byrd and Battalion Chief Danny Brown-Martinez for recognizing the Toledo Fire Department’s abhorrent homogeneity and the commitment to increasing racial and gender diversity.

What accounts for the difference in the most recent exceptional outcomes?

The overwhelming proportion of emergency calls to which TFD responds are medical emergencies (64 – 80 percent) rather than fires (four-15 percent). In an era where U.S., Ohio, and local demographics are changing rapidly, Byrd and Martinez understand that the “browning of America” brings more complex service demands.

Today’s successful firefighters must demonstrate a complex mix of skills. Chief among these is social emotional competence, needful in building trust among those experiencing emotional trauma, a situation frequently encountered among diverse communities. Fire departments, then, must speak the language and have cultural knowledge of the communities they serve. Firefighters must have empathy and be able to communicate with the people they serve; many pf whom need someone to hold their hand or listen to them as they release suppressed grief and anxiety.

Therefore, the more diverse the fire department, the more effective it will be to serve diverse communities. This perspective was not truly considered in the past, according to those familiar with TFD culture.

Also, the recruiting strategy has completely changed from the processes used in the past.

“Before, we used to have a handful of recruiting people that we called a recruiting team that were only recruiting for four and a half weeks – the very minimum amount of time,” said an unnamed source familiar with the procedure.  “This time, we created a community engagement bureau that put people out in the community doing things year-round. The team was visible in the community and involved in community activities, actively and passively recruiting,” the source added. 

The extra time and resources enabled TFD recruiters to bring enough qualified people across all demographics to take the written test. This resulted in the most diverse eligibility list than the fire department has ever had. “This job is not a regular job, and we have to take the time and put the effort into getting qualified and quality people to the table.  People who understand what we’re here for - that this is a community service job; people that understand the physical and academic requirements of the job. When you recruit in such a way that you pull a diverse group of people to the table, and this is the end result.”

Finally, diversity is key to establishing trust in communities of color. Byrd and Brown-Martinez, therefore, reached out to build relationships with the Black, Brown and other diverse communities as a recruiting tool. Most prominent outreach efforts include partnerships with Toledo Public Schools and community pillars such as Deon Thompson, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Sports and Recreation owner.

Who gets the credit?

The buck always stops at the mayor’s office and his administration, whether the results are good or bad. However, in addition to the people in the community engagement bureau, this was a department-wide effort. I am told that several firefighters – male, female, on duty, off duty - put in the time and effort to assist with this.

Lessons for others trying to improve their diversity?

Promoting and achieving diversity is not a mere flavor of the month undertaking. Organizations must first need to understand the community, its needs, and its culture. Then it is necessary to obtain community partners who also understand the community’s need.  Finally, it is critical to cast a wide net and legitimately put in the time, work, effort and resources. 

That’s an oversimplified way of stating it, but “it’s the truth because what we were doing before was woefully deficient.”

Contact Rev. Donald Perryman, D.Min, at drdlperryman@centerofhopebaptist.org


Copyright © 2019 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 04/15/21 10:37:34 -0400.



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