A single parent of two toddlers, Tashonna Williams has mostly worked at fast-food restaurants since graduating Bogan High.
But a recent chance interaction with an emergency medical technician on an ambulance responding to a call could change the 25-year-old’s life.
Williams is among 30 young people from the inner city set to begin EMT training on Monday, through $30,000 in donations from the city’s Black Fire Brigade group, to cover their tuition, books, and uniforms.
“My friend’s baby was having a hard time breathing. We called the ambulance, and while they cared for the baby, I started talking to one of the EMTs,” said Williams, who lives with her parents in Chatham.
“We ended up sitting in the ambulance in the middle of the street, talking all about her job for over an hour. She told me about the Brigade program, and influenced me to apply,” said Williams. “I’m really excited. It’s an opportunity for me to grow, and also to change me and my children’s future for the better.”
When black Chicago firefighters launched the nation’s first such organization in June, among their stated mission was to impact inner-city violence by mentoring young people from their new Ashburn neighborhood headquarters at 8404 S. Kedzie.
At the grand opening, president and founder Quention Curtis had presented his own personal check for $10,000 to send 10 young people from the South and West sides to EMT school.
In the wake of news coverage, however, the Brigade was flooded with inquiries — from young people seeking that life-changing opportunity, and from donors wanting to help.
On Monday, 30 candidates will begin emergency medical technician training, with $30,000 in donations collected, after the Brigade received dozens of applications for the $1,000 course.
“Before I knew it, we had 30 young people who had applied, and 45 on the waiting list,” said Curtis, a Chicago Fire Department EMT with the rank of lieutenant. “So I went out to a bunch of firemen, and said, ‘Hey guys, we’d hate to turn anyone down. They say our young folks don’t want to do anything. We’re finding that’s not true.’ And so one by one, members of the department started stepping up to help.”
After the 90-day course, the 15 male and 15 female candidates –– between the ages of 18 and 30 –– will receive the certification required for an Illinois EMT license, which is transferable nationwide.
The future first-responders will be skilled at handling situations from heart attacks to car accidents, and ready to work for private ambulance firms.
They’ll also get job placement from the Brigade, which was founded to preserve the history and heritage of Chicago’s African-American fire and EMS personnel and help prepare more African-Americans for the firefighter exam.
Out of a total force of 5,100 firefighters, 697 are African-American; of 840 paramedics, 53 are African-American.
Nineteen-year-old Jimmy Johnson of Ashburn, among the 30 starting EMT training, wants to join those firefighter ranks someday.
“It’s been a dream of mine for years. I’d been trying to save up the money for the EMT course when I heard about this program,” said Johnson, who’d also been working at fast-food restaurants.
“Once I get my certification, I’m going to go for my paramedic license, and after that, I want to join the force. I can now see a great future.”