It’s about time!
Canton, Ohio just swore in Kwameshallahu Akbar Bennett as their first Black fire chief in the city’s 200-year history, Black Enterprise reports. His appointment comes one year shy of the department’s bicentennial. The fire department was established in 1822, the same year Canton was incorporated as a village, according to the Canton Professional Firefighters Association.
Bennett is a former Army National Guard combat medic who has been a member of the fire department since 1993. He worked his way through the ranks, eventually becoming battalion chief before transitioning to division chief in 2015. Since March, Bennett has been serving as interim chief following the retirement of Thomas Garra, who served as chief for 29 years. Now, he has been sworn in to take Garra’s place as fire chief, a title Bennett doesn’t take for granted.
“Today’s a celebration. It’s a celebration of what’s possible when you work hard, believe, and have people that support you and love you,” Bennett said.
Bennett was born on the Fourth of July in Norfolk, Virginia, to Roosevelt and Elizabeth Bennett. His parents named him Kwameshallahu, West African, for “superior in power,” and Akbar, Arabic, for “king or great ruler.”
“My father was very much into the historical significance of our African history,” he said.
When he was a year old, the family moved to Canton, and Bennett and his brothers all found careers in firefighting. His eldest brother, Richard Bennett, became a Canton firefighter in 1982, and Ibulah Bennett became a firefighter in 1991.
He credits his late mother, Elizabeth Bennett, with instilling confidence in him to accomplish his dreams.
“And as she is sitting up in heaven right now, looking down on her baby boy, I just want to say ‘Momma, we made it. Thank you,” Bennett said.
The department didn’t get its first Black firefighter until 1981, only after the city agreed to a consent decree. The historic appointment of Bennett is the first step in writing a new legacy for Canton.
Bennett said he tries to live by the statement, “Don’t let failure go to your heart or success go to your head.”
He added, “My goal was never to be the first African-American fire chief, but not to be the last.”
Photo Courtesy of Firehouse.com