CHICAGO (CBS) — A dream deferred for nearly two decades is finally a reality for more than 100 African-American firefighters.

The dozens of men and women were in their mid-20s when they joined a discrimination suit against the city. Now, they’re in their mid-40s, poised to join the Chicago Fire Department.

CBS 2’s Dorothy Tucker was there Thursday when they took the next step to their new careers.

“It was like a fulfillment of a dream,” Michael Taquee says.

A dream deferred for 15 years. That’s how long Taquee and 110 other African-American men and women waited to become Chicago firefighters.

Black applicants filed a discrimination suit against the city in 1995. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the group. Taquee was among those who returned to retake the test and eventually entered the academy.

“This class scored higher than any other class on the EMT side. They had a 91.6 average, which is the highest average in the history of the Chicago Fire Department,” Gregory Boggs, president of the African-American Firefighters and Paramedics League, says. “This shows that had they been given the opportunity in the beginning, they would have done well.”

Eighty-six members of the class-action lawsuit graduated today. Their average age: 46.

“While you deal with something painful from the past, justice and right is served by being up-front about it and correctly,” Mayor Emanuel said during the graduation event. “We are a stronger city for today and every day going forward, for having dealt with our past.”

Of the remaining members of the lawsuit, 22 must complete another test before they graduate.

The new graduates report to their assigned firehouses on Nov. 10.

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