Chris Ford was Rochester's first Black firefighter. He retired from the fire department as a captain. He recently answered some questions in an interview.
Is there a challenge being Black in Rochester?
It’s challenging but no different than the rest of the country. Although things have changed over the years, Hispanics, Blacks, and minorities continue to have a tough time.
Mayo Clinic being the No. 1 business entity in Rochester, Black people are still predominantly employed in hotels and hospitality roles. Employment and education disparities are low for minorities throughout the nation, but Rochester is number one in the nation.
What is your title, and how did you land in Rochester?
I’m a retired Rochester Fire Department captain. I served in the role as captain for 14 years. I’d been with the RFD for 21 and a half years.
My family moved here from Arkansas when I was a child. My mother didn’t want to stay because of the cold weather. So we moved back to Arkansas. I finished both high school and graduated college in Arkansas. My parents would later divorce.
I returned to Minnesota for a two-year internship with the federal government in Minneapolis. I’d later transition back to Rochester. I wanted a “go to work, go home” type job. Also, I never desired to be a follower. I was number 56 when I was hired as a “protected” class employee. This caused quite the ruckus.
The assumption was, since I was 56th on the list, I was not qualified. The Fire Department was told they went too far down on the list. The reality was, I was indeed qualified. Hilla Cline (president of the Fire Civil Service), at that time spoke up and shared that there were three applicants that tied for the 11th spot, including veterans that received points for serving this country. The RFD chose to follow the law to diversify. After seven years, I took the captain’s test. Twenty-three tested and 10 moved on. I was one of the 10 that moved on. Shortly after, I was promoted.
What is your future hope for the Black community In Rochester?
That this community would have a more visual “minority” presence in the Rochester city government, police department, fire department, educators, counselors and nurses.
This could be a bridge for the children and people in the communities of color that struggle.
Rochester needs to stop the “lip service.”