Author inspires children to hold onto goals and ambitions despite setbacks, frustrations
Special to Frost Illustrated
Genois Wilson had no idea what God intended for her until 1975 when she became the very first female firefighter in the history of the city of Fort Wayne! She had the courage to say “Yes!” when Fire Chief Thomas Lorraine came to her and asked if she wanted to make history. It was a brave choice and she had to balance being a mother, a novice in her career, as well as serving as a role model for other women and girls.
Wilson’s story now takes its place in the official annals of history, thanks to a children’s book by local author and human rights activist Carol Butler. Her book, “Genois Wilson, Firefighter: She Dared to Be First,” outlines that inspiring story and is sure to serve as an inspiration to others, young and old.
In the fire department, Wilson exemplified leadership and a strong sense of willpower as she balanced her new life as both a role model and novice in a male-dominated professional field. She believed in herself knowing one day she could make it—and she did. In 1975, Genois Wilson-Brabson became a true trailblazer by daring to be first.
She not only was the first Fort Wayne woman firefighter, but she also had an exemplary career, becoming a district chief before she retired. In addition to being a leader in the Fort Wayne Fire Department, she also was active in the community, serving as president of the Black Fire Fighters and a member of the Big Brothers-Big Sisters mentor program. In 1986, she was granted a Women of Achievement Award from the YWCA and a Philo T. Farnsworth Award for a children’s fire safety video that aired on public television. The American Legion declared her the Indiana Fire Fighter of the Year in 1990. She was the first African American woman to receive such an award.
Wilson inspired many other women who dared to follow her as firefighters. In 2012 the mayor of Fort Wayne named one of those women firefighters, Amy Biggs, to be the first woman chief of the Fort Wayne Fire Department.
In the book, “Genois Wilson, Firefighter: She Dared to be First,” young readers can follow the inspirational storyline as to how Wilson made it through the challenges in her life. Her older sister died as a result of a house fire. She overcame the challenges of her career as well. It was more than 20 years after she became a firefighter before women had quarters of their own in the firehouse. Genois set a great example for others to follow.
It is fitting that this moving story of Wilson’s legacy was produced by two other women with Fort Wayne roots.
Author Carol Butler is a community volunteer. She initiated Random Acts of Kindness Week; served as the chairperson of the International Women’s Day planning committee, and is one of the founding members of an organization dedicated to supporting the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne’s Women’s Studies program. She is also an active member of the Bahá’í Faith. Carol is married to Tom Butler and they live in Fort Wayne. She and Tom love spending time with their grandchildren, traveling, and welcoming friends to their home.
Acclaimed artist Teresa Ridley Yarbrough knows well the importance of Wilson’s story—and understands the sacrifices and challenges Wilson endured to get there. Yarbrough is the daughter of Fort Wayne’s first African American firefighter, retired District Chief Richard J. Ridley Jr. Yarbrough’s illustrations add beauty and illumination to the entire book.
Wilson, Yarbrough and Butler are scheduled to present the book at a press conference, 5:30 p.m., March 19 at the Weisser Park Community Center, 802 Eckart St. (at Hanna Street) and at a book signing, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., March 23 at the Main Branch of the Allen County Public Library, Meeting Room A, 900 Library Plaza.
Also, the public is invited toisit the author’s website to purchase autographed, discounted copies of “Genois Wilson, Firefighter: She Dared to be First” at www.Carol-Butler.com.