Black History: The African-American Firefighters Museum

The African-American Firefighters Museum in Los Angeles is the only museum that preserves the legacy of America’s pioneer black firefighters. These are men like Sam Haskins, the first black fireman in the Los Angeles Fire Department, who served for three years then died in a boiler accident in 1895. Also among the list of firefighters were many former Tuskegee Airmen.

The museum’s curator is Arnett “The Rookie” Hartsfield. He is 92 years old and was one of the first black firefighters in the LAFD. Hartsfield was among the group of forerunners called the Stentorians. Though he and others faced extreme discrimination, according to Hartsfield, no one quit their job.

The museum, which is Fire Station #30 on Central Avenue, holds the many stories of racism that firefighters endured.

When the fire houses were integrated in 1955, the African-American firefighters were forced to sleep in the same beds because the whites refused to sleep in the same location as blacks. The men were also forced out of the station kitchens when white firefighters entered and were required to bring their own cooking utensils, pots and pans. The sign posted read “Colored served in rear.” Many times, they weren’t allowed to speak to their fellow white fighters, and if they put their food in the refrigerator, it was destined to be contaminated. In one instance, white fighters took the pillowcase of a new black fireman named Ernie Roberts to the bathroom and used it as toilet paper, then returned it to his bed and turned out the lights.

The African-American Firefighters Museum opened its doors in 1997 and is now lead by black fireman Brent Burton. Inside the museum lies a memorial tribute to the firefighters that perished during the 9/11 attacks. The museum also honors female firefighters who continue to make their mark in history.

The stories of America’s black firefighters are told in a documentary film by Trevor Hansford called “Ashlands” and in a DVD series called “Engine Company X.”

For more information on the African American Firefighters Museum, please visit


Black History: Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome

While African Americans managed to emerge from chattel slavery and the oppressive decades that followed with great strength and resiliency, they did not emerge unscathed. Slavery produced centuries of physical, psychological and spiritual injury. Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing lays the groundwork for understanding how the past has influenced the present, and opens up the discussion of how we can use the strengths we have gained to heal.

‘When African-Americans accept the deprecating accounts and images portrayed by the media, literature, music and the arts as a true mirror of themselves, we are actually allowing ourselves to be socialized by a oppressive society.

Evidence of oppressive socialization can be readily seen when African-American children limit their aspirations’ It can be seen when we use the accumulation of material things as the measure of self-worth and success.

So, in spite of all our forbears who worked to survive and gain their freedom; in spite of the efforts of all those who fought for civil rights’ we are continually being socialized by this society to undervalue ourselves, to undermine our own efforts and, ultimately, to hate ourselves. We are raising our children only to watch America tear them down.’

This is a must read for seekers and searchers, for it will empower you. It will also enlighten people who have never had the opportunity to experience the oppression of slavery. I’m not talking about discrimination but Racism that erodes our very humanity. I’ve never felt so strongly about a book that I myself, have yet to read.

10 Minute Break: HBCU’s vs. TWI’s*

Listen in as KC and the family discuss HBCU’s vs. TWI’s and which choice is best for the our children. Podcast guests include Chris Lehman, Tash Moseley, Je Lewis, Malcolm Darrell, Toria Williams and Stacee Brewer.

*In my excitement folks, I accidentally define TWI’s as “Traditional White Universities” when I meant “Institutions” – forgive me.

The Jackie Robinson Effect – Destruction of African America’s Institutions

“Even schools for Negroes, then, are places where they must be convinced of their inferiority.” – Carter G. Woodson

As I contemplate my decision to obtain my PhD, a question continues to be raised. Have I spent too much time at HBCU’s? Do I need to go to a PWI (pre-dominantly white institution) to prove I can compete with the best? For most of us coming out of a HBCU this is always a begging question. Yet for me it’s a slap in the face. There is a belief that too much exposure to one thought process in academia is a bad thing. This is called academic in-breeding, if you will, when all of your degrees come from the same institution. I truly subscribe to this belief. I am firmly against someone obtaining too many degrees from one institution. A change of scenery injects new thoughts and new ideas and offers a break from a homogeneous thought process. However, I reject the notion that ALL HBCUs think alike. Anyone who has serious knowledge of HBCUs knows this not to be true. Like everything in society there are subcultures of an overall culture. The notion that all HBCUs are alike is to imply that all African-Americans think alike. We know this to not be true. Southern African-Americans think differently than our Northern counterparts. There are conservative African-Americans and liberal African-Americans each making up a very diverse culture that is the American portion of the African Diaspora.

All of this comes back to my point of HBCUs. Why would we assume then that all their mindset and ideas are the same? Having attended 3 different HBCUs I have first-hand knowledge that this statement is false. Each had foundational similarities, yes, however so do most institutions of a certain culture. Once you are pass that point though other things come into play as to shaping those subcultures like region, financial ability, social landscape, and many other factors. If this is the case then again I ask why so many of us believe we have to justify our HBCU degrees with a PWI degree. The logic that we are a homogeneous culture of thought is based on stereotyping and faulty premises. I dare say that at no point would a student from University of Texas or Texas A&M University be told they have had too much PWI exposure and they really should go to a HBCU. Instead, they may simply be directed to another PWI.

In reality all that really happens when we start to believe that we must justify our own blackness in mainstream (or white America to be blunt) is a subscription to the destruction of our own institutions. I have called this the Jackie Robinson Effect by way of what happened to the Negro Leagues as a result of the success of Jackie Robinson to the MLB. Most will say,”well that’s a good thing – it was progress”. I say do not believe such tomfoolery. The MLB realized where the better product was and that was in the Negro Leagues. They had the better talent. They played the more exciting brand of baseball. More importantly, it provided a wealth accumulation for African-Americans because they owned the teams and the league. None of which was to be true once black players began leaving for the MLB. Wealth was utterly destroyed because there was no welcoming of black owners, just the labor. Diversity in ownership is the key, not diversity in labor.

The same can be said of the fate of HBCUs college football scene post Sam Cunningham’s, running back for USC’s football team who was from Alabama, game against Alabama. That game in fact changed the landscape of not only athletics, but great minds being recruited away from HBCUs and we have seen the price of this departure in our communities that were once vibrant and full of breathe. Communities that were once safe, prosperous, and fulfilling have become destitute because there are no longer strong institutions to hold them up. Indeed it appears we are once again encouraging the same dire results as we continue to believe we have to justify our blackness by taking our research to universities whose ownership is not represented by our community. A lesson in history and its results would serve us well.

Mr. Foster is the Interim Executive Director of HBCU Endowment Foundation, sits on the board of directors at the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, & CEO of Sechen Imara Solutions, LLC. A former banker & financial analyst who earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics & Finance from Virginia State University as well his master’s degree in Community Development & Urban Planning from Prairie View A&M University. Publishing research on the agriculture economics of food waste as well as writing articles for other African American media outlets.

The Savior Complex – African America’s addiction to leaders and not leadership

We’ve all heard or debated this question at some point in time or another. Who do you consider the African American leader to be? Of course currently you’ll get the response today is Barack Obama. In fact he might be the first “Savior” we’ve had to not vie for this role with an adversary since Frederick Douglass. After Douglass we’ve had four sets of men vying for the savior role in selected periods of time over the past century. Initially after Douglass there was DuBois-Washington and then DuBois-Garvey, then Malcolm & Martin, and lastly or most recently it was Jesse and Al (and sometimes Farrakhan depending how radical you’re feeling that day).

But what is this “savior” complex we have? In its simplest explanation the savior complex is exuded by this desire that African America has that someone will come along and be the voice and provide direction for the entire community. This person will guide us as a people and tell us what we should think. They will be the protector of our people. They will make our lives better by putting the burdens of the people on their shoulders. They will raise us miraculously from poverty, oppression, and the burdens that we feel are associated with this badge that comes with being AfricanAmerican.

Looking at this from a historical vantage point it is not difficult to understand how this came to be. As Africans we were brought to the “new world”,  be it the Caribbean as well as America, and our spirituality was replaced with religion. This new religion told the story of an enslaved people (Jews) who were slaves in Egypt and eventually saved at God’s behest through his prophet Moses. Given the only “education” slaves were allowed to have was that of religious doctrine, they took to it as a parallel between the story and their current condition. As such they awaited God’s deliverance of their own “Moses”. Now initially we were wrought with leadership – everyone fighting and doing their part to break the bondage system. But as generations passed and we became better “trained” we began to look more for that leader or savior who would deliver us.

Of course, upon the ending of slavery by Abraham Lincoln by way of the Emancipation Proclamation (which did not end slavery in the United States but only in those states that had succeeded from the Union) we have even viewed Abraham Lincoln in this light over the years. But with slavery’s end the introduction of Jim Crow and mass lynchings were put into our sphere and the social, economic, and political plight of a people continued, a savior was still needed and so the search continued. Today as African America is economically poorer than it was in 1915 (arguably the height of economic prosperity for African America), with communities marginalized through mass incarceration of its men (the New Jim Crow argues Michelle Alexander), exploitation of its women, and poor education for its children, and constant threat of police brutality, the masses of African America still seek deliverance. This is why the election of Barack Obama was celebrated with such vigor. The MAN as most of us refer to institutional racism now had to answer to one of us. Things HAVE TO be better right? RIGHT? That would depend on if you believe one man could change the leadership culture (developed over 400 years) of the entire U.S. Government?

One of the most frightful ways that we see the savior complex today is in the way we run our organizations. In the church or businesses we have a tendency to be dependent upon the guidance of one person instead of creating a culture of leadership that allows for a person to be integrated in such a way that they take on the values of the institution. In our churches the pastor usually serves as the leader. The pastor is usually bigger than the church itself in the sense that if the pastor were to leave, the church suffers a period of directionless. It cannot simply plug in a new pastor and have them deliver the messages of the culture of the church.

In business the same thing exists. I give the example of 50 Cent & G-Unit. When you think of G-Unit your first and usually only thought is of 50 Cent, not the quality music its artists produce or of a quality brand, as was the case of one of our shining examples in Motown. So if 50 Cent were to die tonight would G-Unit continue to exist? Could you plug in another CEO in his place? No because 50 IS the brand. It’s not introduced as G-Unit presents 50 Cent as it should be but as 50 Cent presents G-Unit. Such a subtlety goes such a long way in branding. Are you under the umbrella or over it? On the contrary, if the CEO of Bank of America (how many of us even know who that is?) died tonight there would be someone else in his or her place tomorrow morning and that institution would continue to produce to some degree as it always has.

We must go back to our roots of less leaders and more leadership which was certainly more apparent in our earlycommunities of the 20th century. A leader is a finite being while leadership is infinite essence. A leader can only produce so far as he or she, in the simplest form, is alive. Leadership is a culture that produces because it is a part of the very fabric of the community. Leaders can be killed or removed from the community. Martin, Malcolm, Marcus, Huey, etc. were all leaders but were systematically removed and with their removal their movements died with them. Leadership engrained in a culture cannot be removed so long as the community stays together. Leadership is the trust that existed when your neighbor or school teacher could reprimand you as quickly as your parent could. When students in the class pushed each other because the pride of the community depended on it. Leadership is a man seeing an empty lot in his community needing to be cut and not waiting on the city. Leadership is our teenagers spending time with our elders learning their knowledge and wisdom. Leadership is caring about taking your kid to the museum AND your neighbor’s kid while they are at work. It is donating to an HBCU whether you went to one or not, because it is an African American institution representing the masses of African America. Leadership is a culture based within an institution: the institutions of family, neighborhoods, businesses, schools, and other organizations serving our community.

An environment of good leadership should be able to sustain itself even if there is a defined leader or not. Let us stop putting all the weight of our people on one person’s shoulders, for that is a burden no one person should or can carry. Let us spread the weight of progress across 40 million citizens strong here in American and 1 billion across the Diaspora and all do our part in pushing forward. That way if one falters of the many then the entire movement of progress does not die – or as Dr. Clarke poignantly said in his documentary A Great & Mighty Walk – “Bury the man continue the plan.”

Mr. Foster is the Interim Executive Director of HBCU Endowment Foundation, sits on the board of directors at the Center for HBCU Media Advocacy, & CEO of Sechen Imara Solutions, LLC. A former banker & financial analyst who earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics & Finance from Virginia State University as well his master’s degree in Community Development & Urban Planning from Prairie View A&M University. Publishing research on the agriculture economics of food waste as well as writing articles for other African American media outlets.

BLACK is…Funny (but I wish you would laugh!)

When I was younger, history was my worst, and least enjoyable subject. But as I got older, I began to realize that history isn’t just about who fought who during what war and which president was in charge during said war. History is a blueprint of the stones that were put in place which allow us to appreciate any particular aspect of our society. And what I appreciated most, is the comedy, because without comedy, anger and negativity will overpower and poison our minds. There would be no such thing as a “brighter side” of a situation.  So, with that said, I wanted to share a few of the African Americans who made, and continue to make it a little brighter, inside and out! Laughter soothes the soul and keeps the body young.

African-American comedians both past and present. From Paul Mooney and Richard Pryor in the 70’s, to Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby in the 80’s, to “The Original Kings Of Comedy,” African-Americans have played a defining role in the scheme of American comedy. By providing a humorous voice to narrate the African-American experience, and breaking down racial and social barriers along the way, each of these comics has brought a unique perspective to the ever-changing tableau that is comedy in America.

Dick Gregory

“I am really enjoying the new Martin Luther King Jr. stamp – just think about all those white bigots, licking the backside of a black man.”

Red Foxx

“Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in hospitals dying of nothing.”

Richard Pryor

“When that fire hit your ass, it will sober your ass up quick! I saw something, I went, “Well, that’s a pretty blue. You know what? That looks like…FIRE!” Fire is inspirational. They should use it in the Olympics, because I ran the 100 in 4.3.”

Paul Mooney

“You’re telling me that when I’m a slave, I can be in your house. But now that I’m free, ‘I don’t want you in this neighborhood.’ So, you’re saying if slavery came back tomorrow, you’ll just say, ‘Welcome home’?”

Dave Chappelle

“They got a character on Sesame Street named Oscar; they treat this guy like shit the entire show. They judge him right in his face. “Oscar you are so mean! Isn’t he kids?”, “Yeah Oscar! You’re a grouch!” It’s like, “Bitch I live in a fucking TRASH CAN!”

Eddie Murphy

“Got to be careful. They say having casual sex nowadays is like playing Russian roulette. And I know I’ve thrown my dick on the crap table many a night.”

Chris Rock

“Barack, man. He doesn’t let his blackness sneak up on you. Like if his name was Bob Jones or something like that, it might take you two or three weeks to figure out he’s black. But when you hear “Barack Obama”, you picture a brother with a spear, just standing over a dead lion. You picture the base player from The Commodores.”

Bill Cosby

“I said to a guy, ‘Tell me, what is it about cocaine that makes it so wonderful?’ and he said, ‘Because it intensifies your personality.’ I said, ‘Yes, but what if you’re an asshole?'”

Martin Lawrence

On the “Cha Cha Slide”: “I can’t stand that dance. That’s the easiest f***ing dance! It’s like ‘2 to the left! 1 to the right! Stop! Think About it.’ Get the f**k outta here… I know the ghetto “Hokey Pokey” when I hear that s**t.”

Arsenio Hall

“My mother wanted me to be a lawyer and I wanted to be an actor. So I went to school, majored in theatre, and said ‘Mom, I have to choose my own destiny. I want to be an actor.’ A couple of weeks after I graduated college I called my mother up and said ‘Can I borrow $200?’ and she said ‘Why don’t you act like you’ve got $200.'”

Whoopi Goldberg

“I don’t have pet peeves, I have whole kennels of irritation.”

Cedric The Entertainer

“Gas is high for real. That was my costume for Halloween last year, I dressed up as a gas pump. None of the kids got it but I scared the sh*t out they parents! I had $6.15 on my chest, they were like Ahhh!”

D.L. Hughley

“White folk, y’all got the littlest dogs I have ever seen in my whole life… ‘Her name is Peppers. She weighs three pounds and cost $2000.’ Well you should have named her Cocaine.”


“I couldn’t be no criminal, I could not be a criminal. Because if I did some shit with you, if get caught? WE got caught. ‘Come on, I’m hiding!’, No you not! They got US! They got US! You could escape to Japan, I’d call you in Japanese like “[jibberish] Bring yo’ ass back the f**k home bitch! We got caught!”

Bernie Mac

“‘Mother-f****r’ is a word that black folks have been using for years. It’s about expression. Don’t be ashamed of the word ‘mother-f****r’ Because ‘mother-f****r’ is a noun: It describes a person, place or thing.”

Tracy Morgan

“I was watching Maury Povich the other day. They had the episode, ‘Is it Male or Female?’ And I’m sitting there with an erection, ‘Oh, all of them are good.'”

Keenen Ivory Wayans

“Everything was a joke [in my family]. If you got a whippin’, when you got back to the table, you heard nine other people doing impressions of your screaming.”

Kevin Hart

“I know I’m not good at sex because one time I called my wife and was baby why don’t lick your fingers and play with ya nipples…outta no where I heard, ‘daddy you want me to touch mines too?'”

For more, please see the Documentary “Why We Laugh” by Robert Townsend.

Black Is…Russian

Jean Gregoire Sagbo recently made history as the first Black person elected to office in Russia. Sagbo, originally from the county of Benin is West Africa has been a resident of Novozavidovo, Russia for the last 21 years and was elected to the office of municipal councilor by other residents because they believe him to be an honest man. Click here to read more about his fascinating journey to office.

Photo courtesy of AP Images