We're now more than halfway through Black History Month. So, in honor of those of black heritage here in Southwest Florida, WGCU is featuring local African Americans from across the region —from all sorts of professions, genders and backgrounds. Today, you'll hear from a man who has dedicated his life to public service-first as a policeman and then as a city council member.
"My name is Johnny Streets, born and raised right here in Fort Myers and retired law enforcement now —presently, on the City Council of City of Fort Myers.
Back in those days — and these hadn’t been that long — as when I started with the police department in 1973. There were no African-American supervisors in that department. We were hired as first class police officers. The people who came before us were hired as second-class police officers, which means they could only work in the black community and some could not arrest white people. Those are things that a lot of people don't know.
One thing I can remember that, when I started, we could arrest white folks then; and, we could patrol in other areas, and we did get the necessary training like everybody else. But, we still had two particular patrol cars that we can only use for the black community, so to speak. But, that changed rapidly. When new cars came in, we could use those new cars, but for years, we as African-Americans could not attend the white policemen’s ball. We had other balls that we attended that were for policemen that looked like us, like in Tampa and Saint Petersburg.
With the urging of some other white officers that we work with we were able to overcome that; we were able to become part of the Police Benevolent Association, just like anything else. So, those are some of the things that we had to overcome; but, we were able to do it in such a manner that we were able to work together, and it was not adversarial.
When I retired, I said I was going to give myself five years to get back into the community as a regular citizen. So, there were four of us in the race. It came down to two: Mrs. Shoemaker and myself and I won.
What gave me a strong foundation to be in the political arena was the fact that I was a police officer, and I don't think anything else someone could have said to me that I haven't already heard.
What Black History Month means to me is that, on another humorous note, we have a whole month now; we used to have a week. But, we as African Americans didn't set out looking to make history. We just wanted to make a contribution to make our lives better, then make others' lives better also.
At the end of the day, whether you’re black, white or whoever, that we're still Americans. If someone said to me ,‘Well, what if there was a White History Month?’ Well, I would put the two together is that we all make history every day. I mean this is something that should be celebrated by all every day. Not just black people or white people have a month. We all need to be celebrating something that's positive, and even sometimes, we can take a negative but we could make something positive out of it because we can learn from it, which keeps us together. It doesn’t take anything away from anybody. It gives others an opportunity to learn actually who we are."