Voices in Focus: FDNY Exam Draws Record Number of Minorities, Women

There was plenty to choose from in the ethnic and community press this morning:

* As we have noted at Voices of NY, the Jewish Daily Forward has waged a protracted battle with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office over its blanket refusal to name ultra-Orthodox suspects in sex abuse cases or release other information on such cases. The newspaper has filed Freedom of Information Act requests and, along with The Jewish Week, has detailed efforts to extract information in individual cases.

Today The New York Times dove into the story with a damning report on Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, detailing his deep ties — personal and political — in Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities. The article quotes critics who allege that Hynes’ reliance on Hasidic voting blocs has left him beholden to the community’s rabbis, who have suppressed allegations and prosecutions of child sex abuse within Brooklyn’s ultra-Orthodox community.

Today’s Times story follows an article yesterday on the culture of silence around sex abuse in Hasidic communities, and the community’s shunning of those who step forward to report it.

Harlem resident and firefighter Khalid Baylor is one of a crop of non-white new recruits to the FDNY. (Photo by DNAinfo/Jeff Mays)

* DNAinfo reported on the dramatic increase in women and minorities who took the New York City Fire Department’s applicant test last month:

A record-breaking number of women and minorities took the firefighter entrance exam this spring, two years after a judge slammed the FDNY for discrimination.

After the FDNY made court-ordered changes to its exam and did an aggressive outreach campaign, 19,260 people of color took the firefighter test this spring, a 130 percent increase since the last time the exam was offered in 2007, the FDNY said.

And 1,952 women took the firefighting test as well — which is more than the total number of women who took the previous three FDNY tests combined.

El Diario La Prensa applauded these numbers in an editorial declaring that “where there’s a will, there is diversity.”

This overdue positive steps is the first phase of reform. The historically white-male dominated FDNY has long failed to reflect the diversity of this city. Currently, out of New York’s 10,000 firefighters, 6% are Hispanic. New York’s Latino population is at 30%.

This year’s pool of applicants should shut down the myth that minority groups are not interested in joining the FDNY.

The editorial warned, however, that recruitment is just the first step — hiring comes next.

Since there are only 3,500 open positions, New Yorkers will be closely watching the selection process and waiting to hear how many of the new firefighters come from the communities long sidelined from firefighting.

Bernard Gassaway, principal of Boys and Girls High School in Bed-Stuy. (Photo by Adi Talwar)

* City Limits’ Brooklyn Bureau profiled Bernard Gassaway, principal of Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, on his efforts to turn around the troubled school by creating a family-like atmosphere — even as his own family has fallen apart.

* Feet in 2 Worlds ran a thoughtful personal essay by Sehreen Noor Ali, a Pakistani-Canadian, reflecting on sports fandom from an immigrant’s point of view. The piece was inspired by an incident where Boston Bruins hockey fans hurled racist insults at a Canadian player of Barbadian descent, Joel Ward.

If a talented black professional hockey player is not welcome, then what about a brown-skinned fan? From the visceral experience of attending a game with 30,000 other people to tailgating traditions, fans make a sport. The athletes are the heart, but the fans are the vessels that pump the blood. They maintain the cultural boundaries of a sport, and fans with xenophobic tendencies are saying brown people don’t belong in the stands.

Only a small handful of the millions of Bruins fans acted wrongfully, but the event forced me to reflect on the immigrant/sports myth I blissfully and passively follow. I believed things had incrementally progressed, just as they had in the 1950’s when great black athletes like the Celtics’ Bill Russell and the Bruins’ Willie O’Ree, the first black NHL player, paved the way for black and other minority athletes to follow.

* And lastly, two public art projects that address issues around immigrant worker rights caught our attention this morning.

Good Magazine reported on a New York-based phone hotline that offers domestic workers information on the New York Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights — tempered with humor.

“New Day New Standard” turns the idea of an information hotline on its headset. Instead of hearing a set of numbered self-help options, callers choose from a collection of comedic sketches explaining the new legislation in a radio talk show format. Hosts Christine Lewis and “Miss Know-it-All” (played by voice actor Jen Cohn) tackle questions called in from real domestic workers about the new details in the new laws, including minimum wage, overtime, taxes, unemployment insurance, penalties for employers who disregard the requirements—plus broader subjects like immigration, human trafficking, and slavery. The voices on the phone also take the time to joke and deliver punchy one-liners in a menagerie of accents that highlight the diversity of the ethnic communities from which New York domestic workers hail, including West Indian, West African, Filipino, Haitian, Dominican, Mexican, and many other Spanish-speaking groups.

And Colorlines ran a piece on Ramiro Gomez, a Los Angeles artist who creates cardboard cut-out figures of gardeners and nannies, in the hope of starting a conversation on this type of labor.

The 25-year-old artist who makes a living as a male nanny by day has been placing hand-painted cardboard cut outs of workers in and around Beverly Hills. He’s left cardboard figures of housekeepers waiting at bus stops, men watering gardens, trimming hedges and even cut outs of a man with a leaf blower.

“I like that when people see my cardboard cut outs of real humans they stop and say ‘what is that’ and realize that what their seeing is a cardboard version of a housekeeper or gardener that they’ve just been driving past,” Gomez told Colorlines.com.

Colorlines’ video on Gomez is below.