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Equality Improves One Person at the Time

By Joe Wessels · February 27th, 2008 · Wessels
The first women to join the Cincinnati Fire Department did so in 1986.

By most modern standards, it took the department a while to welcome its female counterparts. There were four women who made it in '86, taking all the same tests -- mental and physical -- that the men took.

Firefighting was, and still is for the most part, a man's profession. Like society, though, things have definitely gotten better since 1853, the year the local department was founded.

Some good news came this month as the Cincinnati Fire Department's union, the International Association of Firefighters Local 48, voted Shana Johnson, a 10-year veteran firefighter assigned to Engine 3 on the east side of downtown, as recording secretary. Her election marks the first time a woman has sat on the union's executive board.

There's more. February also ushered in another first for women in the Cincinnati Fire Department. Bennyce Hamilton, a 20-year veteran firefighter assigned to Engine 2 in Carthage, became the first female firefighter to earn her Ph.D.

while on the department. On Valentine's Day, Hamilton defended her dissertation on education and literary at the University of Cincinnati.

On Feb. 25, Michael Eric Dyson spoke at Xavier University as part of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center's "Major Voices" speaker series. It was in conjunction with Black History Month.

Dyson, the outspoken writer, professor and former radio host and author of Is Bill Cosby Right?, told an audience of about 200 people that slavery still exists today. There are approximately 27 million slaves in the world -- including an estimated 15,000 in the United States -- even though slavery isn't legal anywhere at anytime. (See more in the CityBeat cover story "Of Human Bondage," issue of Feb. 13.)

Don't be fooled: The struggle for equality exists today.

I'm a white male. All's good here. But I try to put myself in another's shoes for a moment -- as Dyson so eloquently said, if you're black or a woman or openly gay (or all three), getting the same equality is a possibility, but be prepared to work much harder to get to the same place that straight white men reach without really trying.

Sen. Barack Obama isn't the first black man smart enough or otherwise qualified to be president. Sen. Hillary Clinton isn't the first woman to do the same. Dyson, who supports Obama, admitted that if Clinton -- who has much more experience in government compared to Obama -- were a man the contest would have been over long ago.

There are signs of progress everywhere, and for the most part society seems to be moving in the right direction in Cincinnati and around the nation. But, if we're truly honest with ourselves, the work is far from over.

CONTACT JOE WESSELS: joe@joewessels.net



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