I was 17 years old when I first considered working for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Linda Iley, the Tribe’s Higher Education adviser at the time, had planted the seed during one of our many telephone conversations before I started college in 2007. She pitched the idea of working for the Tribe after finishing school. At first I was reluctant because I didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally. But over the next few years, I decided that working for the Tribe was the route to go and the Advanced Career Development (ACD) program would take me there.
While growing up in New York and North Carolina, my non-tribal mother would tell my twin brother, my older brother and me of her experiences with Seminole culture while we lived on the Brighton Reservation with my father. She stressed the importance of knowing our history and heritage. She taught us about Osceola, how Native Americans and black slaves helped each other during slavery and many other aspects of African and Native American history.
Although most of my life was spent outside the reservations and had nothing to do with my Native American roots, I always felt that I had to give back and represent my ancestors properly.
I grew up poor. The night my twin and I graduated from kindergarten, my mother took us to a restaurant to celebrate. My mother saved for several months just so she could afford to take us out to eat. I think the meal was like $50. It took years for my brothers and me to learn how bad things were financially because my mother hid it from us. Despite the circumstances, we never lacked anything, nor felt there were limitations to what we could accomplish. As an adult Tribal member, those childhood years of struggle and scarcity seem a distant memory. We’re so abundantly blessed that it can cause many to lose motivation and sight of the things that truly matter.
After graduating from high school, I left Kannapolis, North Carolina to attend Gardner-Webb University. I remember being so anxious and excited to go to college and thrive. I wanted to enjoy the freedoms (and responsibilities) that come with being an adult. But once I legally became one, things changed. Over the next couple years, I noticed that my drive to succeed was depleting. There were times I felt as if I were existing instead of living. I lacked direction in life. Relationships with friends and family began to change. I had poor money management skills. My grades suffered. I didn’t feel worthy of having good things happen to me. I was extremely miserable.
Then, after I became a father, things improved. I realized that many of the negative experiences I had in college, and in my life, originated with me. I had spent so much time blaming others and feeling sorry for myself that I failed to see how fortunate I was. This realization led to me loving myself more and letting go of those thoughts of self-doubt and uncertainty. I had more peace and joy. More money. And, most importantly, a truer sense of purpose. After earning my bachelor’s degree, I was burned out from school. So for the next two years or so, I worked on building a stronger foundation in my life. I married, traveled and just relaxed. These things helped me get out of the despair I had grown so accustomed to.
While in college, Linda Iley believed that Seminole Media Productions would be the department I’d work well in because I was majoring in communications. Prior to moving to Florida, I did entertain thoughts of staying in North Carolina. Everything was starting to flourish while living there. In the end, I felt that working for the Tribe would be the better long-term decision. So, this past spring, my family and I moved to Florida.
I met with Alphonza Green, the tribalwide educational services manager, in August to discuss working in ACD. He heads the program, which allows Tribal members to work in the department that best caters to what they have a degree and an interest in. Over two years, they gain professional work experience throughout the various departments. I had briefly considered working for the Tribal Career Development program, the casino’s management program offered to Tribal members. Ultimately, I chose ACD because I wanted to utilize my degree.
Before I started working, some feelings of self-doubt resurfaced. I was very anxious to work. Was I prepared to work? How will my colleagues treat me? I decided that by doing my best, I couldn’t go wrong. Cousins, friends and colleagues – and many others – have supported me, which has helped tremendously. I definitely feel as if I’ve been working in the Tribe for years. That’s how comfortable people have made me feel.
My first few weeks were spent working in the Executive Operations Office, where I learned of different departments and their functions. But throughout my duration in the ACD program, I will primarily work in Seminole Media Productions, starting with The Seminole Tribune, then Broadcasting and Business Marketing. After completing the program, I hope to be versatile in many aspects of media and business.
Learning even more about Seminole culture has helped me better appreciate the sacrifices our ancestors have made. Their selfless acts paved the way for the success we experience now. Many of them gave their lives fighting for what they believed. No matter how tough things seemed, they never quit. We are all born with that warrior spirit. It seemed as if they were always thinking of something greater than what they experienced and saw at the time. We are their descendants. Once I started to truly understand the magnitude of how blessed we Seminoles are, I knew I had to show my ancestors that I was truly grateful.
Working for the Tribe is my way of paying back, showing my respect and doing my part to help our people continue toward a bright future.