When Alex Jackson was sworn in as Minneapolis’ first African American fire chief in 2008 (pictured above), he cracked up the audience in the City Hall Rotunda with his self-deprecating humor. “Twenty-seven years ago, the city hires me. And at that time, I am a lean, mean, 130-pound fire fighting machine,” said Jackson, who is also a stand-up comedian. “And I’m going to be honest with you — because my family is here — 30 pounds of it was an Afro.”
Today, in a more somber ceremony, the city honored Jackson as he leaves the department for retirement. Council member Don Samuels put his arm around Jackson and offered some empathetic words. Samuels, who came to the U.S. from Jamaica in 1970, said he remembered what it was like to be the first black person at every new company he worked for.
“Part of dealing with that, being that first person is dealing with a lot of silly, immature comments from people; expectations from people; and keeping a great attitude and moving forward,” Samuels said. “And that’s the part of the work that nobody pays you for. And they don’t put a holiday in your name, like Martin Luther King. You just do it every day. You come into work and you just do it.”
Earlier in the council meeting, the city also honored several young people who won a Martin Luther King Jr. essay contest. Samuels remarked on how important it was that they saw Jackson as a real life example of what King fought for.