By Michael Morse
Firefighter-EMT, Providence, R.I.

Firefighter-EMT Michael Morse
The neighborhood where I spend much of my life appears at first look to be located in another country. The color of my skin makes it impossible for me to "fit in." My uniform allows me to mix freely with the people here. I am an ambassador, representing not only the Emergency Medical Division of the Providence Fire Department, but generations of immigrants as well.

People here look to us at their darkest hour. We respond, treat them with dignity and respect, and show them what makes America and the fire service great. Regardless of income, race, religious or sexual preference, we respond. Our uniforms are not symbols of oppressive regimes, rather a beacon of hope in a sometimes frightening world.

Years ago I began working in this area. I have seen many changes. At first I felt like an outsider, it was obvious that I didn't belong. I was treated differently from the people who lived in the neighborhood. They seemed to tolerate my presence, but patiently waited for me to go. Whether these thoughts were real or imagined, I will never know.

I do know that I no longer feel that way. We have both changed, the neighborhood more diverse, myself accepting the way of the people who live and work here. Time has marched on and we have learned from and accepted our differences.

Riding through the neighborhood, I marvel at the businesses that have replaced the abandoned buildings. Restaurants and grocery stores, beauty parlors, barbershops, nightclubs, delis, and boutiques are some examples of what the main street has to offer.

Some mornings I see sidewalks being swept by proud business owners. In the afternoons, shoppers fill the streets and stores. There are sidewalk vendors, food carts and kids running everywhere. On weekend nights the dance clubs are full of people partying. They come from all over. The hardworking people out for a night of fun outnumber those looking for fights and trouble. Hope abounds.

As wealthy families deserted the inner city, poverty replaced prosperity. It took decades but economic forces drove the beautiful streets toward despair. When I first started working this community, it was a dangerous place. The people on the street were to be avoided. Crime was prevalent, hopelessness evident in the look on the people who lived here. Unfortunately, that element still exists. The difference is they are now the minority. People are free to go about their business with less trepidation. Danger lurks, but the cowards that prey on the ambitious have been forced into hiding. The good people outnumber the bad.

I enjoy thinking about the past and future. I spend a lot of time driving through the different neighborhoods in this city. I look at the buildings and people, thinking of what was and what is to become. My great grandparents came to this country from Sweden and Ireland. They settled in the area, some worked as carpenters and helped build a lot of the homes that line these streets.

They raised their families through tough times, but never lost their hope or drive. Their hard work set the foundation for future generations. I will always be inspired by and thankful for their sacrifice. The streets where my family began and I now work have endured. The prestige once taken for granted here is slowly returning as people gain a sense of place, pride and roots.

The members of the Providence Fire Department work here, shop here and live here. Our families started their legacy generations ago here. Right here. And here we will be generations from now. It is an enormous responsibility entrusted to us every time we put on the uniform. We represent honesty, competence, fairness and stability. We have been, and always will be part of this place, holding strong during times of strife, standing proud in times of prosperity and forever keeping the people who live here safe.

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