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Anaré Holmes Is Redefining What an American Hero Looks Like

The image of a firefighter in the minds of most people looks pretty much the same: burly dude sporting a mustache and driving a red truck with a Dalmation riding shotgun. They’re sorta like a living, breathing Norman Rockwell painting of a red-blooded, all-American hero, and for good reason. They are heroes, selflessly throwing themselves in harm’s way to put out blazing infernos and, more importantly, protect us. Anaré Holmes fits that bill to a tee, only he admittedly doesn’t check all the traditional boxes of your typical firefighter. As an African-American in the Deep South, award-winning journalist, LGBT activist and self-described humanitarian, Holmes is changing the game and challenging how people envision firefighters. He’s out to prove that “everybody can be great because everybody can serve. And anybody can be a hero.” 

Holmes isn’t just anybody. He considered firefighting as a vocation during theater class in high school, but only for a minute. The class pianist also happened to be a firefighter, so the notion crept into Holmes’s subconscious as a dormant spark of inspiration. 

He went on to study journalism with the dream of becoming the “black Walter Cronkite,” citing a passion for storytelling and informing the community as the driving force behind his career. That path eventually took him to Atlanta, a city that Holmes instantly fell in love with. “I love Atlanta,” he says. “I loved what it represented for the black LGBT [community] and just black people overall. It’s one of the best places I think an African-American can live. It’s the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement.”

Holmes worked his way up from the bottom of the competitive news industry, paying his dues and eventually winning the prestigious Ida B. Wells Best News Story Award from the National Newspaper Publishers’ Association. He made it his mission to share under-reported stories from the community and shine a light on figures who weren’t at the forefront of the public’s consciousness. 

There was a motto that served as a sort of mantra throughout his professional life: “We lift as we climb.”  The phrase was a tenant of the National Association of Colored Women but quickly became the rallying cry for African Americans on the move. “When you do well, you’re instructed to make sure you pull up other people behind you,” says Holmes. 

With public service as the foundation of his career as a journalist, Holmes took pivoting to a whole new level. He set aside his reporter’s notebook five years ago to become a firefighter and hasn’t turned back since. Part of this was inspired by Holmes’s holistic approach to life. “When you really start walking into the other side of who you are and the fullness of who you are, you realize that you have the power and the control to create who you want to be,” he says. 

Since joining Atlanta Fire Rescue, Holmes has also taken on the role of LGBT Liaison and Assistant Public Information Officer, putting his storytelling abilities and passion for community engagement to good use. For him, it’s not just a day job. It’s a calling. Going through professional shifts of this caliber and overcoming a lifetime of obstacles and assumptions, Holmes has been able to redefine what it means to be an American hero. Finding your fit in this world, says Holmes, “is really about freeing your mind from all of the preconceptions and the standards, because when you start talking to people, you find out that there is no ‘normal.’” 

It’s taken a lifetime of hard work and hustle for Holmes to break boundaries and become the man he is today, but he’ll be the first one to remind you that the clock is ticking for everyone. If you want to achieve something, you need to work for it right about . . . now. “Everybody thinks they have so much time, but they don’t,” he says. “You have to learn to let time be a friend. And if there’s something you want to do, don’t wait. Do it now. Start right now. And get it.”