17 September 2020
In most of my articles, I take a research based, educational approach. I don’t typically write from a raw personal perspective. As a leading speaker and educator in the first responder world, I would never normally share personal experiences on a public forum like this like I’m about to. But these challenging times call for us to step out of our comfort zone, to tread honestly with vulnerability, courage, realness and authentic compassion, so I will step out on a limb to offer that. May the sharing of some of the most personal details of my life inspire a realization that each of us have suffered at some point or another, and that we can draw meaning from our collective sufferings and be better for it.
Through my closeness with first responders in my personal and professional life, I have insight to reflect on regarding the current events and the life and death tension between people of color, activists and first responders. I dare not tell anyone I’m a republican or democrat. In today’s politics, I don’t want to be either anyway, so please, save the judgement in reading this. In this world there is a lot of rage and anger towards first responders. I’m not to say how anyone should feel, just remember, if you are a person of color, or activist of any color, if you let your rage turn to violence or hate, you’re becoming the very thing that made your heart ache in the first place. For true change, we must rise above the hate with love and a commitment to peace and justice. There are enough good police out there to root out the bad cops from within; they need our support. We all want a better world.
Who am I to speak on this? I write this as a minority woman. I write this as a wife of a Denver Firefighter. I write this having a friend whose brother was killed by a police officer, and as someone who relies on police officers daily to stand watch over my husband and his crew to ensure their safety during dangerous calls. With deep gratitude for my surviving, I write this having had the experience of being struck nearly dead by a drunk driver a decade and a half ago and I was extricated and rescued by Denver Firefighters. I write this with the memory of my college age years being a beautiful young woman who was cornered by her stalker one night which led to a violent, life threatening, dangerous situation that I escaped from, only with the grace of God and my guardian angels. When I went to report it, I was scoffed at, dismissed and turned away by police; I remember standing outside the police station alone, numb, trembling and not knowing where to turn. Despite that experience, I have many wonderful Denver Police officer friends, and a first responder family that spans across the globe who I know, love and deeply respect. Most first responders are salt of the earth kind of people, who signed up to serve and protect at the risk of their very own lives; my husband is one of them. My deepest fear is that he is so selfless he would make the ultimate sacrifice to help someone in peril. I also write this as having been “on the other side” as a water protector in 2016, standing toe to toe with other water protectors, holding the line across from Law Enforcement Officers on Standing Rock Sioux tribal land. I thanked the officers for their work, while I was there to do mine, exercising the first amendment to peaceably assemble. We were there to ensure treaty law was being protected, and I remember learning that some officers stood with the water protectors when they learned about what was really going on. The lesson here is that we should be less judgmental, less quick to react or pick sides, and we should be more open to learning, to think critically. If you’re not learning, and if you’re not thinking for yourself, what kind of life is that? I write this as a critical thinker, who doesn’t take sides for the sake of sides, who seeks truth and justice, and as someone whose life purpose and mission is dedicated to support the health and wellbeing of all first responders.
I have had the true honor and privilege to work nationally and internationally with well over 2,000 first responders, including firefighters, police, sheriffs, chiefs, EMS and 911 dispatchers in teaching my First Responder Sleep Recovery Program. What I can tell you is that in the scope of my life experiences and work, I can truly say I see and have experienced first hand all perspectives that are relevant to current world events. There are good and bad people- but largely GOOD. I have only had positive experiences teaching heroic first responders, coast to coast, in the United States and Canada. First responders are some of the most incredible humans I have ever met in my lifetime. I’m grateful and blessed to have been rescued by them, and to have married one of the best of the best of the Denver Fire Department, my husband Sean. My point is this, with so many honorable men and women serving in the first responder community, it can be difficult and even painful to accept or acknowledge that there are people among the brotherhood and sisterhood that would exercise abuse of power, or dishonor their position by mistreating the community they were sworn to protect. However, there are inherent biases, injustices and racism in a broken system that we all must diligently work towards fixing. Within our communities, we must also heal lateral oppression, another lethal form that is taking lives. Our experiences shape our perspective, and our perspective defines our reality. There are a lot of realities at play right now, but now more than ever, it’s important we detach from our personal stories and see a greater picture. We can only figure out how to move forward with an awareness that has the greatest vantage point. Like any emergency scene, we must be diligent to avoid tunnel vision and ensure a 360 degree size up before committing. Firefighters would never charge head strong into a blazing structure without first understanding fire behavior, and obtaining a full spectrum four sided perspective. We are at a turning point in history, and we are steering the ship. We must understand how this society has caught fire over the last few centuries, and we must see all perspectives in order to put it out.
Extinguishing hearts on fire begins with understanding, compassion and a willingness to work through all the difficulties we face as individuals, and as a society. We must focus on what connects us, not what divides us. It starts with self reflection, we must look within and find a common ground. When we relate to one another, we have compassion, and from this place and can stand up for one another and work for justice.
Let’s explore something many people won’t think about. People of color and first responders share something in common: trauma. Marginalized minority communities suffer intergenerational pains of disparity, discrimination and mistreatment while first responders battle deep psychological wounds from the daily effect of a career responding to trauma, and unspeakable tragedy. Coping mechanisms have led both groups to harden their ego out of protectionism, to protect life because there is such a clear understanding that life can be lost in an instant. It is my duty and call to action to coach everyone out of this fight or flight mode. Let’s pause, let’s breathe, let’s remember our purpose and the true goodness of humanity that connects us all. Let this goodness guide us to rational, dignified, peaceful, respectful ways of being. It takes all of our small daily actions of good to transform the world.
Whether you were a minority raised around injustice or brutality, or a first responder on a 911 call to help a child who was brutally raped, and seeing their little hurt body, the trauma runs deep. First responders can’t unsee what they see. People of color and marginalized communities can’t unfeel what they feel, however, despite what we have seen, felt or experienced, healing is possible. We can all be made new. To those who feel marginalized by the first responder community, know that the vast majority of these men and women signed up to serve and help you. God forbid you may need to call 911 at some point; those who respond will risk their lives to protect or rescue you or a loved one. To the first responders who feel that their community has turned their back on you, you have the power to restore the faith through compassion, pride, professionalism, understanding and selfless service to your fellow man. A smile, a conversation, a helping hand or good deed doesn’t cost a thing, but goes a long way. When you come across someone who has suffered mistreatments, know that it is not only an opportunity to right a wrong, it is your due responsibility to inspire a sense of trust and safety in the community you swore to serve. You have the power to affect change. Don’t allow trauma to drive defensiveness when anger is shown to you, become compassionate.
I want to use this moment to remind us all of a greater purpose: no matter your color, no matter your politics, no matter your profession, no matter your socioeconomic status, we must work for justice and build peace. We are all called to be agents of change. Are you willing?
Founder, First Responder Sleep Recovery Program