Kelvin Cochran grew up in a shotgun house in Shreveport, Louisiana. Raised by a single mother, his family of seven all shared one room and was on welfare and food stamps. One day, Kelvin Cochran saw a Shreveport fire truck pull up in front of his house to put out a fire across the street, and thus began his dream of becoming a fireman. In 1981, after eighteen years of hard work at the Shreveport Fire Department, facing immense racism and adversity, Cochran became fire chief.
This adversity in his childhood and professional career prepared Cochran for the trials he faced in 2015, when he was fired from his long-held position as Atlanta’s fire chief for writing a book for a Christian men’s Bible study in which he affirmed biblical marriage and biblical sexuality.
NC Family was pleased to welcome Chief Cochran as our keynote speaker to our Winston-Salem Dinner on November 7, 2019. We feature Part 2 of an excerpt from that address on this week’s episode of the Family Policy Matters radio show and podcast.
“Had my termination been my first exposure to career adversity,” shares Cochran, “I probably would have fallen apart. But I had seen the hand of God over and over and over again, and I knew God was going to be with me when I was terminated.”
Cochran acknowledges that “when you speak the Truth in our current culture, the consequences are there. But when you stand on the promises of God, He’ll show the world that […] there are kingdom consequences, and the kingdom consequences are always greater than the worldly consequences.”
“Every single time when we have the courage and faith to stand, our life is blessed beyond measure.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Chief Kelvin Cochran share how the adversities throughout his life prepared him for his difficult termination.
Here’s number five: for the son or daughter of God who endures suffering and has the courage and faith to stand, their life of blessing will go to a level that is exceeding abundantly above all they could ever ask or think. Job was restored twice as much as he lost. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego became governors. Joseph became the prime minister of Egypt. Mordecai—Esther’s cousin who raised her like a daughter—he became the prime minister of the Medes and Persians. Esther inherited the estate of Haman, and if you study that scripture, he was the third wealthiest family in all the land of the Medes and Persians. David became a King. Jesus has the name above every name. Every single time when we have the courage and faith to stand, our life is blessed beyond measure. Every single time. So, the assessment questions should have you stronger and these five lessons on how God works should have you’re stronger.
So, I want to personalize it a little bit and tell you how it happened with me. God prepares all of us, I believe, in these three areas: through our childhood upbringing, through our careers, and through our family upbringing and family development.
So I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1960 at Confederate Memorial hospital because that was the hospital that all the poor families who didn’t have healthcare went to have their healthcare needs met. I had three big brothers at the time. We were living in a government project where other poor people lived, in the poorest neighborhood in Shreveport, called Allendale. Three years later, two girls were added to our family. My dad left my mother for another woman. He was an alcoholic and he left her by herself with six kids. We were broke when dad was with us, but it got worse after dad left. And my mother couldn’t pay the rent in the government projects anymore, so we were evicted and we moved a few blocks over in a rear alley called Rear Snow Street. Now, Snow Street was a street that had shotgun houses on the front street, and Rear Snow Street was behind that street and it had worse looking, worse conditioned shotgun houses. We lived in one of those houses. Three big brothers and me slept in the same bed: box spring and a mattress that was old and raggedy, stacked on cinderblocks that had boards across the top of them. My two little sisters set up in the same little room, old box spring, old mattress stacked on cinderblocks with boards across the top of them. We were so poor my mother had to go on welfare and food stamps. She had a job at a dry cleaner, but it was not enough. At the end of the month, all the groceries were gone and Mama only had enough money to buy bread, Brer Rabbit syrup and mayonnaise. And so we had toast with Brer Rabbit for breakfast. We had mayonnaise sandwiches for lunch, and mayonnaise sandwiches for dinner. All the Kool-Aid and sodas were gone, and if we wanted something sweet to drink we’d take a couple of teaspoons of sugar, put it in a cold glass of water, stir it up real good and we’d have sugar-water with our mayonnaise sandwiches. Something was always turned off. My mother never had enough money to keep all the utilities on. Something was always turned off.
I realized that poverty was a terrible thing growing up in that alley at five years old. My mother joined the Galilee Baptist church when we moved into the alley. She was a Christian, but she had strayed away from the faith. When dad left, she joined the Galilee Baptist church, and we all started going to church. When I went to church on Sunday morning, I saw that there were men who are married that had children. Families! Biblical families! And they looked like they were happier than my family. The dads were dressed nice—had on suits and had hats—some of them had cars. I would always look at those guys and say, “Man, I sure wish my dad could dress like that and have cars like that.” Their wives were nicely dressed, a whole lot nicer than my mom was dressed. And I’d look at those women and say, “Boy, I sure wish my mother could get her hair done like that and could wear clothes like that.” Their little children would get out of the car; they would be so much nicer dressed than me and my sisters and brothers, and I say, “Man, I sure wish we could wear clothes like that.”
The men of Galilee Baptist church gave me a vision of what a family was supposed to be like, and I wanted a family like that. And one Sunday after church, we were lying on the front room floor of our little shotgun house, watching a little black and white TV with a coat hanger sticking out of the top of it, because we had broken the rabbit ears off of the television. Putting a coat hanger in the holes where they used to be gave you a little bit better reception. Now, I use the term rabbit ears. I just need to clarify: we didn’t cut off a rabbit’s head and ears. We didn’t have cable back in those days. So we were watching TV; it was the Andy Griffith show, I remember very well. We heard a siren in our alley in front of our house. We sprang to our feet, opened the front door, and right in front of our house wasa big red Shreveport fire department fire truck. Ms. Mattie’s house was on fire. I looked at those firefighters that day and looked at my mom and my brothers and sisters and I said, “I want to be a fireman when I grow up.” And the grownups used to ask us back in those days, all the time, what do you want to be when you grow up? I think they were forcing us to dream beyond the ghetto, beyond poverty. And I would always say, “I don’t want to be poor. I want a family, and I want to be a fireman.” And this is what they taught us, everywhere we went they’d said, “All your dreams are going to come true in this country, if you believe in and have faith in God, if you go to school and get a good education, and if you respect grownups and treat other children like you want to be treated.” They said all of your dreams are going to come true. And I was so determined for my three dreams to come true. I just believed them and I was obedient to what they were teaching. God prepared me through the faith and patriotism that I was raised up on as a kid for the termination that I experienced in 2015. I saw the mighty hand of God deliver my family out of poverty and welfare and food stamps when I was a kid, and seeing his hand as a kid, strengthened me for when I was terminated in 2015.
Then God prepared me through my career. In 1981, I became a Shreveport firefighter; my dream came true! But it was also a difficult, dark time, because I was one of the first African Americans on the Shreveport fire department and we were not wanted. So I was treated with utter hatred and disdain, racial slurs, racial jokes. There was a bed designated for the black firefighter. Some of the fire stations even had designated plates, forks, and spoons for the firefighter. I had a captain who made me wash the dishes in nearly scalding water, just to make sure that whatever I had on the plates, forks, and spoons would not be transferred to one of my white brothers, in those very, very difficult years. But how I was raised as a kid prepared me for those experiences. I still applied those four principles. Have faith in God, get an education, learn the job, get good at the job. Respect the authority of the Shreveport fire department, no matter how they’re treating you. And no matter how your brothers are treating you, treat the other firefighters like you want to be treated.
And the favor of God was on my career. In four years, I became a Captain; it usually takes 12-15 years. In 10 years, I became an Assistant Chief; it usually takes 22-25 years. In 18 years, I was the Fire Chief in the Shreveport fire department, with 18 years! Eight years later, Mayor Shirley Franklin in Atlanta recruited me—I didn’t even have to put in an application. She recruited me to come to Atlanta to serve as her Fire Chief. I served her faithfully for two years. President Obama gets elected and appoints me to the highest fire position in the country to head the United States Fire Administration, in the Department of Homeland Security. Now, here’s a guy who was born in poverty—single mom, six kids, welfare and food stamps, living in a shotgun house, had a dream on the front porch of a shotgun house—now the highest fire official in the country. No God, but our God; no country, but our country can make that happen. To God be the praise! And I was there loving that job but about a year later, Atlanta had elected a new mayor, who came to Washington, DC, said, “I can’t have anybody but you. We’re going to make the city the safest city in the country, and I got to have you on my team.” I went back and we did exactly that. Through the fire department, through the police department and the corrections department’s strategic plans, Atlanta became one of the safest big cities in the United States of America.
But, a year prior to my termination, I wrote a book for Christian men. And when the pages were discovered where I had spoken about biblical marriage and biblical sexuality, I was terminated from employment, and it ended that career. So you probably say, “Well Kelvin, up to that point you had a wonderful career.” I had a wonderful career! Even with that I had a wonderful career, that didn’t take away from it. But the preparation for that day of termination came from the fact that from the time I entered the fire service, I was having challenges. And every time I had a challenge and I went to God about it, every time he came through and delivered me and elevated me, every single time. Had my termination been my first exposure to career adversity, I probably would have fallen apart. But I had seen the hand of God over and over and over again, and I knew God was going to be with me when I was terminated.
So he prepared me through my career and then he prepared me through my family. I believe God is doing the same thing in your life. He’s prepared you in your childhood. He will prepare you through your career calling experiences, and he’s preparing you through the development of your family, even your whole family. And so where does all of this go? What is it about a Christian men’s Bible study? It is simply when you speak the truth in our current culture, the consequences are there, but when you stand on the promises of God, he’ll show the world that yes, there are worldly consequences for standing on biblical truth, but there are kingdom consequences, and the kingdom consequences are always greater than the worldly consequences.
I never knew that I would love a career greater than I loved the fire service, but being the Chief Operating Officer at Elizabeth Baptist church, it’s more joyful. I still love the fire service, but I love being a church administrator a lot more than I love being a firefighter. And chief is still in the title! “Chief Operating Officer.” It’s still there! I wasn’t vested in my pension when I was fired, but God exonerated me there. The settlement that the City of Atlanta had to pay me and the income that I have garnered since I was terminated, is far greater than the pension that I would have had if I had stayed and retired. God is true and faithful to his word.
So, how do I conclude this? I conclude it with the word of God that has strengthened my life, my whole life, but had more meaning when I was terminated. Psalm 27 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life, of whom shall I be afraid. When the wicked, even my enemies and my foes came upon me to eat up my flesh, they stumbled and fell. … And now shall my head be lifted up above my enemies, roundabout me. He shall set me up on a rock. … Thou has been my help. Leave me not neither forsake me. Oh God, of my salvation.” And then David ends that Psalm in a way that I want to end in encouraging you. He says, “Wait on the Lord and be of good courage and he shall strengthen thine heart.”
Our back is not against the wall. We are not at the end of our rope. Throwing in the towel is not an option. I have decided to follow Jesus, I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back, no turning back.
God bless you.
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