Alice Faison made history when she became the first Black woman hired at the Ocala Police Department during a turbulent time in American history and she has continued to be an inspirational trailblazer for the community.
In 1969, Alice Faison was hired by Ocala Police Department (OPD) Chief Kenneth C. Alvarez and began working in the records department. As the first Black female employee, she performed various tasks including record filing and fingerprint classification. But it didn’t take long before Alvarez recognized her potential and approached her with the opportunity to become a police officer.
“Chief Alvarez told me that I was too valuable to be on the inside,” she recalled. “I needed to be out on the outside.”
Faison accepted and she became an officer, which was another first for OPD. When she joined the force, segregation had only just “officially” ended, but she explained that its shadow and discrimination both still “unofficially” existed in Ocala.
“One day I was late for work, going up the stairs, and this officer told me, ‘You better tell your Black sisters and brothers if they throw a rock at my car…’ and what he was gonna do,” she shared, stopping short of sharing the threat. “I heard that some of the women said that I better not ride with their husbands,” she added. “I didn’t pay them any attention. It was just a whole lot of comments like that. But you know what? It didn’t bother me at all. I laughed at it.”
But there were also racial slurs hurled at her, and even death threats. She recalls having to type up a letter and give it to the police chief detailing the incidents. She praises Chief Alvarez, explaining that he was very protective of her.
“He did not tolerate it,” she said.
As an officer, some of her duties included patrolling the streets, working car crashes and going undercover. She served until 1985, when she retired after being hit by a drunk driver while she was off-duty and sustained serious injuries from the accident. In the last years of being with the department, Faison served as a Community Crime Prevention Coordinator. Over the course of her career with OPD, she earned multiple commendations for her exemplary work, including a commendation for the work she did with the force on improving relations between the community and the police.
Her greatest accomplishment, however, was in breaking down barriers for future generations. She blazed a path at a time of discrimination and divide in this country. Yet, she handled the racism with grace, opened doors for other Black officers and to this day continues to serve the community of Ocala. Her impact, she believes, was creating “better communication” between Blacks and whites that led to further inclusion within the department.
“She and I share a unique story because she’s the first in line to wear the uniform and I was the first in line to make all of the different ranks of the police department. So, for me personally, she paved the way,” explains OPD Community Liaison Coordinator Tara Woods. “I was doing the same job she did, and I found her story really inspirational. I always wanted to bring her back to say thank you to her.”
And the department she called home for many years did, in fact, welcome Faison home on February 1st of this year. She returned to OPD headquarters and was recognized in a special ceremony held to commemorate her achievements and pioneering spirit during Black History Month. At the ceremony, Chief Mike Balken and Woods presented her with a plaque and a hat made with her old badge number.
“I wore this hat with respect,” she offered after placing it on her head. “And let me tell you, it was hard some days and some days it wasn’t.”
Faison spoke from the heart to a group of colleagues and her family members about her time with OPD.
“One thing I would like to say, and I thank God for that, I was born color-blind. I do not see color. Never. And I tried to treat everyone with respect,” she offered. “I just wanted to be a police officer because I love people and I wanted to fight crime.
I saw it as a chance to talk with people, help people and get them back on the right track. Then there were times when people just didn’t obey and they had to go to jail,” she continued, eliciting a burst of laughter from the crowd and a chuckle from Faison herself.
The 76-year-old, who was also a chaplain with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office for 13 years after she retired from the police department, now serves as a pastor at the Sisterhood & Brotherhood Outreach ministry where she provides resources to those in need.
In fact, she has earned the nickname “Momma Faison” among community members, who regularly seek her out and confide in her.
She says they have been able to “tell me things like a ‘mom would,’ to inform me about issues within the housing projects,” Faison said. “There was a young man who was arrested by (us) for selling drugs. Years later, he came into my congregation, walked up and thanked me.”
Faison shares that the man is now on a new path and has a career working as a physical therapist. She explained that it has been very rewarding to have served and protected the community and is now using her voice to inspire others to love more and do good for others.
“That’s my heart,” she offered. “That is my passion.”
At the ceremony, Chief Balken announced, “That day in 1969 was historic for both Ms. Faison and the city of Ocala. When you think about the first Black, female police officer that we ever hired, to have her back here in 2023, I think sends a message when our young, new officers see that.”
And then he issued a heartfelt invitation, “To officer Faison and her entire family…we are hiring.”
It’s nice to see that 54 years after paving way as Ocala’s first Black woman officer, to serve in the days following the end of racial segregation in the South, Faison is still opening doors for new recruits. OS